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Dress for Success Ottawa co-founder Marlene Floyd shows children are never too young to start volunteering

How can an ordinary person become a change maker? One step at a time. Check out these tips:

On the first day Dress for Success Ottawa opened its doors, Marlene Floyd – the organization's co-founder and director-at-large – met a woman who would put a year's worth of work and preparation into perspective.

She arrived at the storefront from a women's shelter. The space was stocked for the charity's mission: prepare women for the work force. While visibly uncertain about the experience, the woman was positive of one thing: She did not wear skirts.

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Marlene took note. Gradually, the two women became comfortable with each another. Marlene brought the customer around to trying on a Calvin Klein suit – with a pleated skirt. To the customer's surprise, she was happy with what she saw in the mirror: a woman standing tall and smiling wide.

"Thank you for being so nice to me," she told Marlene.

In that moment, Marlene's choice to change career paths (her background is in government relations) was reaffirmed.

What drew her to politics was similar to what inspired her work with Dress for Success – a desire to empower fellow women. In this role, she could see her impact directly.

"Often, we see women when they're at their lowest," Marlene says. "They come and it seems so simple: Put on this suit. You can see their shoulders push back – they know they look great. You take that worry off their minds, so that they can be confident in their abilities."

Born and raised in Antigonish, N.S., Marlene observed how a lack of financial independence hindered women from leaving abusive situations. Add to that the importance her parents placed on giving back to the community along with her long history of volunteering with the Liberal Party, and it's clear why Marlene was destined to establish an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women.

"It's more than just a suit," Marlene says. For her, it's about giving women control over their socioeconomic status.

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The organization is all in when it comes to this. Aside from clothing, it arranges a "dress rehearsal" for customers, trial interviews led by local human resources professionals. It also offers conferences, addressing issues such as work-life balance, and provides programming on financial literacy.

These components are all part of the framework necessary to prepare people for the workplace, Marlene says. "It's about encouragement, confidence building and giving them the skills they need in order to maintain and rise up through the ranks professionally."

At home, the mother of two is applying life lessons garnered at work to her parenting style, specifically the spirit of giving back. Thanks to Marlene, four-year-old Maëlle and one-year-old Élodie will grow up understanding the role women play in society and how empowering them goes to support an entire community.

"There is this ability to drive forward and see collective and societal change when we as a group agree that we want to have inclusion – that we want to help." she says. "Dress for Success is a beautiful example of the community coming together – a community of women."

When Dress for Success moved from a small boutique to a larger store, Marlene brought Maëlle with her to help out. At the end of the day, Maëlle said: "Mommy, I helped the ladies today, didn't I?"

Read on to learn how Marlene's five tips on how to raise community-conscious kids:

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No. 1: "Teach them they're a part of something bigger."

For Marlene, instilling a sense of community from the get-go is a parenting imperative. This past Christmas, the family went door-to-door collecting food for a neighbourhood food drive, with the intention to help the children understand the concept: "Depending on age, the concept of being part of a global community may be challenging, but you can start small." Marlene's suggestion is to start by teaching children they are part of a family, then a neighbourhood, then a community, then a country, and then the world. Eventually, they will identify as being a part of a global collective.

No. 2: "Have conversations with your children in an age appropriate way."

Whether her little ones are overhearing conversations between their parents or observing the media, Marlene knows they are constantly consuming information. "We, as parents, have to help them process the information in a way that they can understand." Take the tragedy at a mosque in Quebec last January; Marlene brought her daughters to a vigil and explain the events. "We had conversations with our children about what happened," she says. "We did in a very simplistic way: 'We're going to support our friends, who are very sad. We need – as a community – to go show them that we love them.' "

No. 3: "Find ways that work for you."

Juggling a job, raising children and making time for yourself is an impossible task, Marlene recognizes. "My kids eat McDonald's when I don't want to cook; they watch Netflix more than they should; I forget to brush their teeth some days; I am not a perfect mother." What mothers can do is pick their moments. Marlene does this by asking the question: "What can I bring my kids to?" In her case, a host of volunteering events, which leads to the next tip…

No. 4: "Take them with you, where you can."

According to Marlene, this teaches two lessons. It shepherds a child who recognizes that volunteerism and giving back to the community should be part of their day-to-day lives, and it also allows organizations to look at families as potential volunteer resources. "Sure, my kids are of an age that they can't do major tasks or activities, but they can pack boxes, clean and organize items," she says. "We may not be able to do a full-day shift, but we could come for 1-2 hours at a time."

No. 5: "Define what is a need vs. a want … and saying no to the things they want, but don't need."

Saving the hardest for last, Marlene has struggled with this as a mother. Having grown up without, it is hard for her not to want to give her children everything they ask for. An exchange with her mother drives her toward this goal. "My mom once apologized to me, she said, 'I'm sorry I wasn't able to give you everything you wanted.' I responded, 'Mom, thank you, you gave me everything I needed.' "

This story is part of Living WE, a toolkit of ideas and inspiration for Canadians. It was created by WE, a movement that brings people together to create positive social change both locally and globally.

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