I was the office manager for a not-for-profit organization on the Downtown Eastside. I was second in command and loved my job. My days were full and important, but the office had changed when I returned from maternity leave. A young co-worker seemed to be having an inappropriate relationship with my married boss, and within five months, I was told the organization was restructuring and my position no longer existed. I was terminated. I had two beautiful children and no severance, so I asked my boss if I could please work one more month to qualify for EI. He refused and showed me the door. I later found out that my young co-worker was offered my job at almost double the salary.
In 2003 I didn’t know anything about legal recourse or litigation or human rights. I didn’t go to Employment Standards or hire a lawyer about this unjust dismissal. All I knew was that my boss said, “Go home and apply for welfare!” I was speechless.
It took me a long time to apply for EI. I’m not one to take advantage of the system. I am a loyal, hardworking woman. And even when I was on EI, I looked for a job. And when I say I looked for a job, I do not mean I said to my friends, “Let me know if you hear of any openings” or “I check the classified ads once a week.” What I mean is, I was ready for an interview. Dressed and ready. From 8 am – 4 pm, I looked for postings online and in the newspaper. I tailored my cover letter and resume specifically to every posting. I cold-called, walked up and combed the bulletin boards. I applied for so many jobs. If I got to actually see an employer, they said, “You are overqualified. You’ll leave me as soon as I’ve trained you.” Others said, “Oh dear, you missed out on it by one person.” I was speechless.
For a year and a half, I had to rely on donated groceries so I could feed my kids and myself. I’d pick up the groceries of pasta and beans, and the bags would often be topped off with overripe, rotting tomatoes, rotten onions and rotten green peppers. Everything in the same bag. I was frustrated and miserable. I felt that the foodbank volunteers must think of me as garbage if they are giving me garbage. “Just cut the bad part off”, they would say.
I stopped accepting perishables because it just added to my deep sadness. My self-esteem was at an all-time low.
I struggled balancing being an immigrant single mom and getting a job.
My son cried, “Mom, I want YOU to pick me up from school.”
“I can’t, sweetheart; my job is to get a job.”
When I finally got a job, at BC Paraplegics Association, someone referred me to Dress For Success Vancouver. I said, “No, thank you. I don’t want help.” However, I was encouraged to go to get an updated outfit for my new job.
When I showed up for my Dress for Success Vancouver suiting appointment, I was beaten down. At the lowest point of my life, with little self-confidence. I didn’t have any hope because my experience with other helping organizations hadn’t always been positive. I thought I was garbage.
At Dress for Success Vancouver, I was genuinely welcomed as soon as I stepped into the boutique. Lucia swept across the boutique to me, greeted me with the smile of a friend and as she welcomed me, she extended her hand. She said, “Hi, you must be, Jess! We’ve been waiting. I’m going to place you into the hands of your personal stylist volunteer.”
The stylist introduced me to people in the office, and everyone treated me with dignity. I did not feel stigmatized. I felt like royalty. The stylist had selected two outfits for me; however, as we talked, she started grabbing garments from the boutique. I timidly made a suggestion, and she leapt at it! “Jess, this has to work for you!” She pampered me. A blue pantsuit and a brown skirt-suit with accessories. I even left the boutique with my own makeup, low-heeled black pumps and a matching purse. My hair, my steps, and my feelings bounced joyfully. I was a new person. A superstar with a wide-open smile. I was happily speechless!
I realized that for 1.5 years, I had been riding an out-of-control train through the darkest tunnel. Every day, I’d wake up and fall asleep trying to visualize light. Who would have thought Dress for Success Vancouver would end up being that bright light I was yearning for.
Dress for Success Vancouver is not just about outfits, they lift up women! I joined the PWG, and leadership program where we receive monthly workshops about finance, how to take minutes, how to style ourselves, and other valuable classes that help women stay employed. This program opened and changed my life. Coming to Canada at 14, I had no female role models. Dress for Success Vancouver offered me the mentors I longed for.
I would not have known that a genuine embrace from strangers would be what my soul needed to be scraped off the road and start to rebuild– stronger than before!
Just this year I passed on that brown skirt suit to someone in need. I hope it brings them as much success as it brought me!.