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Opinion

Ask Susan Taillieu for a memory that sticks out from her volunteer work and she has trouble narrowing it down to one.

"I don’t think we’ve ever had clients where it wasn’t a meaningful experience," she says.

Taillieu volunteers at Dress For Success Winnipeg. Located at the South Winnipeg Family Information Centre in Fort Garry, the program promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing them with professional business clothing for job interviews.

Taillieu was serving on the centre’s board when the program began in February 1997 under the name the Clothes Closet. "I think it was a service that was needed and I just wanted to be part of that service," she says. "They haven’t been able to get rid of me since."

The Clothes Closet changed its name to Dress For Success Winnipeg at the beginning of November after becoming an affiliate of Dress For Success, an international organization that has 150 affiliates in 30 countries.

In Winnipeg, women are referred to the program through a network of 65 job-training and social-service agencies throughout the city.

About 60 volunteers outfit more than 400 women each year.

Volunteers welcome clients and assist them in selecting an interview outfit, including footwear, jewelry, accessories and outerwear.

Volunteering with the program is a good fit for Jane Martens, who is passionate about clothes.

"I love making women look great and feel great," Martens says, adding people don’t always realize the potential for their looks and what sorts of outfits are available to them. "It gives them a whole new self-image and confidence they need to walk into a new work situation."

Throughout the process of working with clients, volunteers offer a lot of encouragement, Tannis Johnston says.

"We always have clients walk away with a smile on their face," she says. "It’s always good to see someone go off with more self-esteem than when they came in. It grows on you. You kind of get addicted to it and you want to come back for more."

Volunteers are crucial to Dress For Success Winnipeg, according to Tricia Robinson, the centre’s executive director. "We wouldn’t be able to do the things that we do without volunteers," she says, adding she regularly receives feedback from women who have visited Dress For Success.

"Often, we hear that they’ve been able to get a job, so it’s really making a difference in the lives of women across the city," Robinson says.

Dress For Success volunteers fulfil different roles, depending on their availability and interest. They may choose to work with clients, assist with sorting and processing clothing donations or help with the semi-annual clothing sale.

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