Staff Profile: Kathleen Nicoll, Clothing Programs Coordinator

As Clothing Programs Coordinator, Kathleen Nicoll helps oversee the general day-to-day operations of GLOW, as well as planning and executing special events like the Prom Boutique, Teen Shopping Days, Seniors Days, Back to School, Spooktacular and more.

Kathleen joined New Circles in September and last week, we sat down with her to find out more about her background – and how she found a way to make her passion for helping people into a career.

Can you tell me about your professional background before New Circles?

Before I came to New Circles, I was working for the Red Cross, running their mobile food bank, as well as a transportation program for seniors and others who can’t access public transit. I also worked as a volunteer coordinator. I was with the Red Cross for almost 11 years, but I haven’t always worked in the non-profit sector.

I went to school for visual merchandising arts, and then the recession in the early 90s hit and nobody wanted to hire merchandisers. So I started working in telemarketing and did that for a couple years. One day, I dropped into a local non-profit charity and they needed help. I’m a helpful sort of person, so I started volunteering and I really loved the work. Then I had the opportunity to go to Los Angeles and do an internship at a rescue mission in downtown LA. That 10-week program turned into 10 months, and I came home and started working at the Salvation Army drop-in centre. At the time, I worked as the kitchen manager, which really consisted of making a big pot of soup and a couple hundred sandwiches every day! When the centre turned into a full-time shelter, I stayed on as a frontline outreach worker until I left for the Red Cross.

I’ve always been a helpful person – you know, the one to put an Easter Seals team together or coordinate a community initiative. Doing work in the community was always something I loved to do, and I don’t think I realized it was something I could do as a paid job. This work found me.

What was your first impression of New Circles?

I had actually been to New Circles before I had started in this position – actually before I even applied for the role of Clothing Programs Coordinator. I had started working on a part-time, casual basis with Foresters Financial. It was an extra job I saw posted one day, not a lot of hours, but a really fun opportunity that combined all my favourite things – organizing events, working with the community, and working with volunteers. In this role, I coordinate different activities, like community volunteer projects or fun family events, for our members. And that’s how I got introduced to New Circles the first time. There was an event scheduled to put together hygiene kits.

My first impression is that New Circles really seemed like a nice place to work and that they did good, unique work in the community. When I actually got here, and I came for my interview, that’s when I really fell in love with it. The work culture is very comfortable and friendly.

What interested you in the Clothing Programs Coordinator position?

I love coordinating events! So I was really interested that aspect of the job. As I mentioned before, I also had a background in visual merchandising, so retail and fashion was something I had experience and an interest in. And I was already familiar with New Circles through my work with Foresters. So it all came together!

What is your favourite thing about working here?

So far, I think my favourite thing that I’ve done has to be sorting the Halloween costumes, because it was just so much fun! To see the detail in the costumes and to imagine what the kids will look like when they pick out their costumes really makes me happy. I love Halloween, and I’m also very “do-it-yourself,” so I see the potential. And of course, making a child happy is so wonderful.

I think with the Special Initiatives like Halloween and Back to School and Prom, it’s that little bit extra. It’s giving the clients “something more” than just the basics, to make them happy. We can have the basics, but it makes people feel special to know they’re able to participate in a cultural event, or their prom, or pick out their own clothing and go to school and not have to feel like they’re different.

What has been the most surprising or challenging aspect of your job?

It takes a lot to surprise me, but as far as challenges go, I like a challenge, so I don’t think I see challenges as problems so much as opportunities. I’m never bored, there’s always something going on, and many different personalities to work with, but none of that surprises me. It’s what makes the work exciting!

What unique thing to do you bring to your job?

I’ve been told that I’m calm and cool all the time. I can take things in stride and I’m not easy to panic. I like to stay cool under pressure, because otherwise less work gets done!

What is your vision for the clothing programs at New Circles?

I’m still new and I haven’t experienced all the clothing programs yet, but it seems like New Circles has been doing a great job so far. I’d love to see us expand and offer our services to a larger catchment, such as all of the GTA or Scarborough, and for us to be the go-to clothing program in the city.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Believe it or not, when I’m not working, I do a lot of volunteer work! I usually help coordinate various fundraising events. I have several colleagues and friends who work for non-profits or have causes that are near and dear to them, and I often help organize their events, or organize my own. Roller-skating is a passion of mine, and I used to coordinate a Charity Old School Roller Jam. I don’t skate as much as I used to these days, but there is a Sunday night old-school funk roller-skate event that I like to attend. I also like to take road trips in the summer, exploring up north. I just bought a new car, and I’ve done a couple little road trips so far this year, but nothing major is on the horizon right now.

New Circles' GLOW clothing service is the largest clothing bank in Toronto. We help 12,000 people of all ages annually.