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Trude Huebner

Trude Huebner is one of our most involved former clients. She came to us after being laid off, and returned several years later after surviving breast cancer. She has experienced many of our programmes—dressing services, career centre workshops, and the Professional Women’s Group (PWG), through which she coordinated a Community Action Project (CAP) in 2011. These days, she’s the volunteer speaker coordinator for PWG and PWG alumni. On May 12th, Trude has been selected with six other PWG clients to walk down the runway for a fashion show at our biggest fundraiser, MAKE AN IMPACT 360.

How did you come to Dress for Success Vancouver?

Initially, I was let go in a mass lay-off within the media industry. The outplacement officer suggested that I go to a job-finding club, and the job-finding club sent me here for an interview suit. So I got an interview suit—really cool—and I got a wonderful contract, and I was very happy. And then I was diagnosed with a very serious, aggressive breast cancer. The cancer took up a whole lot of my time, a lot of treatment, a lot of surgeries, years of stuff. Then I thought, ‘well I want to go back to work,’ and Lucia had contacted me about this really great workshop that was happening, so I came down for the workshop, and then she said, ‘oh, you’ve got to come in to PWG,’ which is a programme whose cornerstone is financial literacy, and that was that. I was in! She’s never let me go since.

How has your role changed while you’ve been here?

Initially I had dressing services. Everything was fine for a couple of years. Then I was invited to a career centre project. In that career centre project, Lucia invited me to PWG. Then the CAP project. Now I’m the volunteer speaker coordinator for PWG and PWG alumni.

What are you doing now?

My current project, which I’m really enjoying, is working for some property owners and I’ve been doing renovations of rental units. That’s due to end in May, so of course I’ll be looking for another exciting thing where I can use my skills and abilities. And for the past 12 years, I’ve been the editor of the Canadian edition of Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions which is out of Stanford University, so I do the textbook and assorted materials. I’ve done four or five editions, and our current sales are more than 750,000 copies. And, of course, I work with PWG.

Can you tell us a bit more about PWG?

The PWG groups are very diverse. There’s no average here. They’re foreign-trained professionals, architects, planners, coders, of all ages and all diversities. You know, I tell the speakers: you’ve got sixty minutes to deal with sixty feisty women.

When you started with Dress for Success Vancouver, is this where you expected you’d end up?

No. I thought I would go back to work full-time. And at what I had been doing for many years. And through the speakers and the programme, which I now coordinate, I realized that I can use this downtime as an agent of change. So I did.

What kind of advice would you give to a woman who’s starting as a client with Dress for Success Vancouver?

It depends where she’s at. If she’s feeling that she’s ready to return to exactly what she was doing previously, then we let her discover through the 18-month program if that’s where she wants to stay. Or if she’s looking to advance in her current employment then the PWG and the careers centre definitely helps with that. And all the interviewing process and all that—it’s just invaluable.

And to someone who’s wanting to get involved as a volunteer?

Be prepared to be amazed.
Because the growth that happens—the instantaneous change, the opening of the flower type of thing with the dressing services—that’s just the beginning. And I’ve seen women come in here in just sweatsuits. And they leave with a current hairstyle and just amazing outfits. And that’s just—they’re just starting.

If you could compress Dress for Success Vancouver’s program into one sentence—or one word—what would it be?

I can’t. I agree with “going places, going strong.” That best describes what happens. Because you learn about your personal strengths, your core personality and values, and how that matches up with where you want to be.

What’s your favourite event that Dress for Success hosts?

The highlight for me is the one-day boutique sale. That’s where I go and that’s where I get my favourite outfits, which allow me to indulge my creative side. Although I have the straight business suits and I know I need that for certain types of interview situations for contracts, I’m also able to get some funky duds at the boutique sale so I can indulge my firecracker spirit. That is an important part of the boutique sale for a lot of women, because that’s the most difficult area for budgeting while regaining financial stability. There’s the work clothing, and then the sweats, and there’s nothing in between. This is what I’m hearing from women when they talk about the sale, that finally they have something for the Casual Fridays, so there’s not such a huge gap between the presentation at work and the presentation at home. It’s hard to live your life in sweats if you’re trying to become confident. The feedback has been really clear. That’s not what they want to look like, but that’s what’s easy to get at thrift stores.

Was there one moment when you knew that the Dress for Success Vancouver programs were working for you?

It was a process. I think watching other women overcome barriers and obstacles, and formulating their action plans during PWG was inspiring for me. Hearing other women name their goals, and reach their goals, helped me to realize that I was in the right place for me at that time in my life.

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The instantaneous change... with the dressing services—that’s just the beginning.