Thompson Rivers University

Kindness helps students dress for success

  Posted on: December 17, 2019

Suit Up For Work

Sultan Sandur shows Trish Terry (Aunty Trish) a dress and jacket combination. He demonstrates that you can be fun with a colourful print, while being professional with dark, conservative tones.

Your practicum is around the corner. You’re nervous, yet ready. But do your clothes suit the occasion?

“Practicum is a topic that’s discussed in class and we talk about what you wear, what you don’t wear what’s appropriate, what’s not appropriate,” said Roxane Letterlough, a St’át’imc Nation member who is Indigenous cohort co-ordinator for TRU’s education department.

“When you have those conversations, it builds anxiety and as a student, you’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, what do I wear? I don’t have anything like that.’ So not having the right clothing creates another barrier to success in a program that requires you to complete a practicum. But you don’t have the resources.”

Tackling the issue

In October, after hearing the concern, she jumped into action. Letterlough posted to her personal Facebook page, sent emails and got word out to friends and colleagues. She asked for donations of clothing that would be suitable for elementary school classrooms.

Letterlough’s mother and program Elder Trish Terry—affectionately known by the cohort as Aunty Trish—helped out by driving around to do pick ups.

The response was swift, the selections thoughtful and the quantity abundant. Every student who came forward went away with something.

The need didn’t stop there. With winter practicums approaching, the Faculty of Education and Social Work put a call out to its faculty members for donations of assorted sizes of dresses, pants, blouses, shirts, belts, footwear, sweaters and other items.

Aunty Trish again lent her support, though because faculty brought their items to TRU, she didn’t have to drive around town this time. Master of Education student and lifestyle blogger Sultan Sundur joined the team and contributed his expertise in promotion, organizing items for display and assisting students with mixing and matching their new wardrobes. Faculty of Education and Social work Dean Airini also got involved and worked with Sandur to expand the project to more students.

Campaign gets a label

Suited Up For Work belt shoes and pants

People generously donated belts, shoes, scarves, pants and more.

With the project growing and needing an identifier, Sandur named it Suit Up For Work.

Like Letterlough’s first round of collecting donations, the pop up clothes shop appeared at the All My Relations office in the House of Learning. Items were hung on racks and folded on tables, and a storage closet became a change room. Food was put out, music played and burning sage scented the air. Overwhelmed by the generosity, students ‘shopped’ with enthusiasm.

“There’s been so much love and laughter,” Aunty Trish said during a lull in the activity. She is also from the St’at’imc Nation.

“Everyone has been so excited and it’s become a team, a family effort. When something doesn’t fit, someone would say, ‘Try this on. It will look good on you.’ It’s been wonderful to hear that, and to see everyone helping each other.”

And because of donors’ generosity, everyone received more than expected.

“We set it up so that every student would go away with at least one thing,” said Sandur. “But most have gone away with more, which is great. The main focus of this is to meet the basic needs of students.”

Letterlough added: “We have been constantly telling people there is no such thing as taking too much. ‘Really? I feel like I’m taking too much.’ ‘No, no. Keep looking.'”

Can the idea go bigger?

With two successful drives under their belts, what’s next? Letterlough doesn’t dream small, but in XXL, and believes her grandiose plans are within reach. She sees a permanent situation one day where donations are dropped off and students stop by. The initiative could open to all students, and staff and faculty could participate through a swap format.

Students continued to stop by late into the afternoon. They arrived a little apprehensive and left with confidence and smiles. Sandur received a text earlier that summed up the gratitude felt by all students.

“Thank you for all the help with fashion,” the text read.” It really is helpful getting clothes for practicum, and eventually a job—they are expensive. So, this was a lovely gift today.”