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A win-win situation

Clare Yazganoglu, the executive director of WIN, the Victoria Women in Need Community Cooperative, helps struggling single parents achieve independence.

When the Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo dropped on Jan. 1, thrift stores across North America were suddenly inundated with record-breaking donations as viewers were inspired by the host’s message to keep only possessions that “spark joy.”

Clare Yazganoglu, executive director of Victoria Women in Need Community Cooperative (WIN), a business member of Coast Capital Savings Federal Credit Union (572,304 members, $19.6 billion in assets), which operates five resale shops in Greater Victoria, certainly saw a bump at the drop-off centre. “It was a lovely surprise,” says Yazganoglu, who oversees not just the cooperative’s retail operations but also the social enterprise programs and services that their surplus revenues fund.

As an entirely self-sustaining non-profit that has never sought government funding, WIN has, however, always enjoyed an extremely generous base of public donors and program partners who don’t need a television show to help them understand the real “life-changing magic” (to borrow from the title of Kondo’s bestselling book) that their contributions can make to vulnerable women and their families on the path from crisis to wellness.

“I’m always amazed by how much everyone in Victoria cares about community and supporting one another,” says Yazganoglu, a member of Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (535,000 members, $23 billion in assets) since the time she moved there in the mid-aughts to pursue post-graduate studies in social work.

Yazganoglu first encountered WIN while doing her practicum with a consultant who was helping the organization transition from society to cooperative. The transition would help ensure that the organization would survive and remain connected to its core values after its leaders retired. It would also give the workers and volunteers — the people who have the best knowledge about how to keep it successful — a more active role as members. “It was just an unbelievable coming together of all the things I cared about,” Yazganoglu recalls.

“I’m always amazed by how much everyone in Victoria cares about community and supporting one another.” – Clare Yazganoglu

WIN has been with Coast Capital Savings since the very beginning. “They have supported us in many ways, including being wonderful to work with, being flexible in meeting our banking needs and they have also provided us with a grant towards youth programming in the past,” says Yazganoglu.

The support WIN provides to its clients starts with practical solutions such as crisis referrals and furnishings for new homes but also paves the way for incredible personal transformations by instilling empowerment at every step. A typical WIN client, says Yazganoglu, might have two children and have been recently separated from her husband after years of emotional and physical abuse. Her employment might be part-time work as a receptionist at a dental clinic. The mom may have been able to secure low-income housing but was struggling to pay the bills, especially childcare and medical costs, as one child happens to have special needs. Years ago, she had started a dental hygiene course but had to drop out of the program after becoming pregnant. She loved the dental industry and dreamed of being able to return to school.

Such clients, when they come to WIN, would have pressing issues: the daughter had outgrown her winter coat, the son was in need of waterproof shoes, the toaster had stopped working and the car tires needed replacing.

To help such clients get back on track, WIN would give the mother a $125 gift certificate to purchase essential items for herself and her children. She might then receive $150 worth of emergency funding, which could be put towards used, but safer, tires. Lastly, she may be given a$1,000 self-sufficiency bursary to complete her dental hygienist training. With her new certification, the woman would be able to find full-time work at a higher wage, giving her breathing room in her monthly budget and a head start on the journey to financial independence and self-sufficiency.

Yazganoglu stresses that there are often common threads among clients; a large proportion are single parents who are experiencing poverty, housing and food insecurity. Many also have a history of relationship violence, which still happens “too much,” even though rates of reported assaults are going down across Canada, says Yazganoglu. But every women’s story is unique, requiring WIN programs to be flexible.

Even just the simple act of going into one of WIN’s five resale shops, where the quality donations are displayed with care, and being able to choose the items they want — for some, it’s the first time they’ve had the freedom to pick their own furniture — can be a very powerful spark of joy that catalyzes change. “The most important message they receive is that
they matter, that they are not alone and that they have choice,” Yazganoglu says. “They have support, encouragement and opportunity to pursue their own self-defined journeys towards self-sufficiency and wellness and a whole community of people support this journey.” ◊