Volunteer Spotlight: Maria Juana Aristizabal

We had the opportunity to meet Maria Juana Aristizabal, one of the volunteers at Working Gear. Maria regularly volunteers at our shop and helped organize this year’s Gear to Give gala. This year’s event raised $48,000

How long have you been involved with Working Gear?

I have been a volunteer and part of the fundraising committee for six months. 

What motivates you to help this cause?

I have been very fortunate and haven’t experienced any significant setbacks in my life, so it makes sense to me to help others. This cause in particular spoke to me because it’s about giving people opportunities, something I have been given many times in my life and therefore I know how important they can be in setting you in the right trajectory. This cause also seemed like something relatively simple that could make a big impact on someone’s life. 

How much of an impact do you see Working Gear is making in the community?

As a volunteer, I have seen men and women from all walks of life light up with new clothing that helps them get a job. It’s not only a practical tool but a vote of confidence in themselves. I have been given many hugs from our clients who are so glad a place like ours exists – a place where they feel welcomed, pampered and cared for. 

What can you tell potential donors or partners about this organization? How will their donations contribute to your cause?

We need relatively little to make a huge difference. Many of us see clothes as disposable and we take it for granted that we can go and buy more when we need to. But many people can’t, and what is really sad is that this prevents them from being able to work. If people knew the stories of those we help and the difference it makes, I am convinced that everyone would be happy to contribute. 

Special thanks to Maria Juana Aristizabal for sharing her story with us. 

Working Gear is always looking for motivated individuals interested in volunteering with us. For more information about how to get involved, please email us

WHY SHOULD YOU VOLUNTEER WITH WORKING GEAR?

  • Opportunity to get involved and make a direct impact on lives in your community
  • Establish long lasting relationships with people from diverse backgrounds working towards a common cause
  • Help us continue to empower hundreds on their path to financial independence

Photo by: Maxine Bulloch

5 Reasons You Know Your Donation Is In The Right Hands

 

It’s well documented that as we get older we look back on life and consider the things we did. We measure it not based on the things we had but the people we came in contact with. We are hard-wired to remember things connected to humans. Perhaps it is because our ancestors relied on others to survive and prosper.

On the surface, modern society does not value the community as it once did. But this is not the entire story. When we offer assistance, we feel a sense of worth. Sometimes it just takes an opportunity to give which allows us to enrich our own lives by helping others.

“I’m reminded that no matter how hard we try, nothing we do is in a vacuum.”

― Mike McIntyre, The Kindness of Strangers

Congratulations on making the decision, or at least considering to offer kindness to a stranger. We give you permission to brag it up and celebrate it. We certainly do. We believe you have found the right place. Here is why Working Gear is the right choice for your donation.

 

Not a handout, but a hand up

Working Gear is a very special organization. It takes discarded clothing, skills of volunteers, and donated dollars and turns them into life tools. We provide hard to come by, high-quality clothing and footwear essential for attaining and holding work to the men who desperately need it.

Our clients are motivated to make a new start. No matter what life circumstance caused them to fall down or why they are under-employed, we believe in their ability to take what we can offer and run with it. Our success stats may be anecdotal, but very compelling.

The thing which is so rewarding about Working Gear is our volunteers and partner organizations are very motivated to give our clients everything they will need for continued success.

Clients receive our volunteers’ empathy and skilled advice along with their clothing. Styling, hair cuts, and personal stories are all valued tools to launch their success. Clients get more than a suit, it’s a suit fashionably styled. It’s not a work shirt, it’s whatever they need for several days of work. It’s not a handout, we are providing a helping hand up for people referred to us who are ready to change their lives.

 

Our Clients Stories

Due to the nature of our work, our donors will likely never meet the people whose lives they change. We let you see them through the words of our volunteers and partners. We have many stories to tell, and many volunteers eager to share them.

 

We once helped “three young Syrian men, who recently arrived in Canada and secured jobs in ironworking. There they were. [ I remember ]  He was trying to find something in a 3XL for the youngest, who towers over us at an impressive 6’8″… He was ecstatic when we found him a few things to fit his frame, including a brand new pair of size 14 Stompers Raindance boots.”  – Viberg Boots, Partner Company

More at http://workinggear.ca/blog/were-giving-unemployment-the-boot-with-help-from-our-friends-at-workboot-com/

 

“Many of us share a similar circumstance to the men who look to Working Gear for help. A couple missed paycheques, one hard setback; that’s all it took for the majority of the gentlemen we met with that day, to put them in an uphill battle.”  – Lani Brunn, Volunteer coordinator & Board of Directors

More at http://workinggear.ca/blog/people-that-are-ready-for-a-life-change-get-to-have-their-chance/

 

Clothing holds a powerful connection. One of our volunteers who was collecting boot donations shared this story: “I met an engineer who was seconded to us. As I got to know him I learned that he lost his father, also an engineer and his infant son within about a year of each other. He had his dad’s boots that were almost new and he just couldn’t part with those boots until he met me, what a legacy to his father.” – Tonia Jurbin, Volunteer

More at http://workinggear.ca/blog/meet-working-gears-tonia-jurbin-volunteer-stories/

 

Your donations go directly to our clients

There are many great organizations, we do not deny this for a moment. Each has its place and goes about their offering in different ways. For some of these organizations, the path to helping is complicated.

Working Gear is not complicated. We operate on very little. Our administrative team is small and our rent is negotiated to be very competitive. By carefully managing our administration costs any donations, whether financial or in-kind, go directly toward our services.

Of course, from time to time we get a donation which doesn’t work for us. Although they are clothing, not all our donations are suited for our clients. But nothing goes to waste. If a local organization cannot accept the donation we have partner programs who ship such clothing to third world countries. This is something we are very proud of but rarely talk about.

Success By Referral

One of the most powerful facts about Working Gear is we want to help our clients make real, impactful changes. At the best of times, improving a life situation is difficult. We are proud to have a part in those first difficult steps.

Our clients are chosen not by us but by one of our referring agencies. The agencies know our clients and believe they are ready to re-enter the workforce. Clients come to us because they have shown a desire to succeed and we are ready to help.

We only accept clients referred to us from our approved agency list. Anyone can apply to be a referring agent and to do this is free process. This allows us to grow with the needs of the community.

See our about page for a list of the agencies we work with.

12 Years Strong

Wow, twelve years. It’s hard to imagine that we have been helping men in the community for this number of years. It is also a testament to the fact our business model is sustainable.

In the past 12 years, much has happened. We are firmly integrated into the community and have a network of support systems. Our referring agencies send us those who have a genuine opportunity to move their lives forward. They have a need which fits our ability to help.

Best yet, 12 years means we have a rich history and on more than one occasion a client who has come to us looking for an entry-level job has come back to provide us with insight, to volunteers, or to announce their progression to a higher paying position. It is very satisfying. We are fiercely proud of our part in their success your part in helping us make this happen.

A Final Word

Donations keep the doors open here, they keep our services free, and they support over a thousand men a year. As you consider your donation, know we are more than happy to answer your questions. Here are a few important links:

Are you ready to donate?

Or perhaps you’d like to start with Working Gear’s Annual Fundraiser – Gear to Give. It will be held on June 6th at the Vancouver Club. Click here for more information.

Meet Stephen Flynn, Working Gear’s founder

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Stephen Flynn, founder of Working Gear. He talked to us about the impact that Working Gear is making in the community and why it’s important for the organization to continue to receive the support it has until today…

Tell us your name and what you do here at Working Gear:

My name is Stephen Flynn, I am the person who started Working Gear 12 years ago and I’m a volunteer in the shop. I like to come here on Wednesday nights and I like to help a variety of guys get clothes and work gear so that they can get ready to go back to work.

What motivated you to found this organization?

Well when we started Working Gear 12 years ago, there wasn’t any kind of service in Vancouver or the Lower Mainland to assist men going for job interviews or onto a worksite with clothing or gear supports. There was a service like that for women called “Dress for Success” – which is fantastic organization but it didn’t provide services for men.

How much growth have you seen in the last 12 years?

Well it’s been a busy 12 years and Working Gear has been open two or three days a week for almost all of this time. We’ve seen tremendous growth; not only in terms of the size of our shop and the amount of clothing and gear that we provide to men (and now increasingly to women in the trades) but also in terms of the numbers of people we serve. At the current time, we feel that we probably provide services to about 1,000 clients a year. And on a night like tonight, it’s a busy night. We’ve got 10 – 12 clients and five or six volunteers helping them get haircuts, interview clothes and construction gear, especially work boots.

Can you tell us a story that has stayed with you in these last 12 years?

Well there are a number of clients that we’ve had come in to the shop, and these fellows have become volunteers in the shop as well. These are people that we kind of know the best, and have a really good, maybe the best, appreciation for because we’ve gotten to know them over a longer period of time. They might come in once a year, we might see them every couple of years, or they might be repeat clients over the years. And in 12 years, you know they are older, the kinds of jobs they are looking for are different but they are still really challenged to be able to afford nice looking interview clothes or trade appropriate construction gear. These kinds of things are very expensive. And for men who are living in poverty, who don’t have the best paying jobs to begin with, these kinds of support are very important.

How much impact do you see Working Gear is making in the community?

Well that’s a good question. We’re just starting to get better at tracking our statistics. But we know that we do have an impact and that the services we provide are really needed. We know that by working with our partner agencies, the employment service organizations, as well as anecdotally from stories we hear from the men and women coming into our shop that the impact that we have is critical. What we are trying to do is provide accessible clothing and gear supports for our clients to be able to return to work as quickly as possible. We are low barrier, don’t have a lot of paperwork and don’t create barriers for them to get back into the workplace. We want them to have the clothes they need to be able to get out and to find a job.

What can you tell potential donors or partners about this organization? How will their money/ donations contribute to your cause?

Well that’s a good question. Since day one Working Gear has relied upon the kindness of strangers and donors. Most of our clothing and gear is donated, although we do purchase some items such as rain gear and steel toe boots, which is part of the reason why financial donations are so important as well. We feel that, you know, we are not providing handouts to people, we are providing a helping hand up for people that are determined and ready to work. And the donations that they make help keep the doors open here, they keep our services free, and they support not only hundreds but over a thousand men a year who come in and use our services. So those kind of contributions are very important to us, and any donations that are made, whether financial or in-kind, go directly towards our services.

We invite everyone to join us at Working Gear’s Annual Fundraiser – Gear to Give held on June 6th at the Vancouver Club. Click here for more information.