Making His Own Mold: Dwayne Fischer Jr.’s Story

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Dwayne Fischer Jr. is an “Inventory Control Specialist” at a Walmart location in Toronto. On a nightly basis, Dwayne manages both the merchandise and the backroom associates. Part of his job includes organizing the stock, pulling it from the bins it came in, and “putting it away afterwards”. Dwayne also delegates duties to others.

What Dwayne loves most about his job is the actual opportunity to be working. After hitting a rough patch, Dwayne was able to create a better life for himself with the help of Walmart and is now thriving in his workplace: “I love my job because they gave me the opportunity when I didn't think I had any. I was unemployed for a year because I chose to step away from a previous career due to various reasons. I'm not going to say anything bad about my former employers but I made the choice to move on. I was getting fairly depressed and I couldn't find any work and finally Walmart gave me a shot. I am grateful for that.”

Dwayne began working at the Hanover store, not far from where he lived in Chesley, Ontario. Dwayne’s hard work and determination led to the position he has now as well as to a new home in Toronto: “I have worked my way through the company on nightshift. I started with stock, moved to fresh and frozen and maintenance then transferred to Toronto after one year.” Dwayne’s work ethic was noticed right away and after one month of being employed in the city, he was promoted to “Instock Supervisor”, which served as training for his Inventory Control Specialist position.

At an early age, Dwayne discovered that he was gifted and participated in the TRAIL (To Realize Advanced and Independent Learning) program in public school. This program helped him to realize that he is a very creative and intelligent individual. He describes himself as “a guy of all trades”.

“I can do a bit of everything, get along with everyone and learn anything almost instantly…” Dwayne explained. At times however, he has felt as though he is “too creative”. Since he is capable of so many things, it has been hard for him to choose a career and he has “never fully known” what he would like to do with his life. Because of this, Dwayne’s work path has been fairly diverse so far.

After high school, Dwayne enrolled in the Electrical Engineering – Accelerated program at Fanshawe College: “I liked the small computer electronics and was good at it, but it was accelerated and too quick.” (He now uses the electrical skills he learned as a hobby.) Dwayne then transferred into the General Arts and Science program. For three years, he worked in the television and film industries where he “got to experience a bunch of different areas on set, on lots of different projects”. 

Although working at Walmart was not something he intended to do, Dwayne says that he plans to keep advancing himself within the company: “It was never my mainstay plan, but it seems to work out for me very well.”

Coming from Bruce County, Toronto is a big change for Dwayne Fischer Jr., but it’s worth it! He doesn’t want others to miss out on similar opportunities if they have the chance: “I would say don't be afraid to shake things up, even if it is a little intimidating. Wayne Gretzky said, ‘You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take’. My main advice is to work hard and show your loyalty. Don't try and fit anyone else's mold, make your own.”

Feeling at Home at HomeSense

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

If you have been seeking out the perfect item for your home and you need a friendly face to help you find it, Ashley Bryan is the sales associate for you! Ashley began working at the new HomeSense location on Fairview Drive in Brantford, Ontario in July2015. After graduating as a Medical Administrative Assistant, Ashley was unable to find a job in her field, so she used her previous work experience and her love of HomeSense to her advantage.

Prior to going to Fanshawe College, Ashley was employed at the African Lion Safari. Although Medical Administration, tourism and working in retail are all different, they have one thing in common: working with the public. Ashley has always looked for jobs where she “could interact with people”. She explained that the Safari taught her about working with cash as well as “how to work effectively and quickly in a busy environment” while working “in close quarters to other people”.

After finishing post-secondary school, Ashley began the daunting task of looking for work:”I was looking for some positions and nowhere was hiring. I saw the HomeSense store was opening and I knew how much I loved the store, so I figured I would try my luck and see if I could get a job!” Luckily, everything worked out and she secured the position!

Ashley is very enthusiastic about everything she does and has high praise for her customers, co-workers, and the store itself.  As she puts it “I love interacting with the customers and seeing how happy they are when they find a piece they've been searching for. The support given by management is fantastic and it is a very supportive and nurturing environment”.

For Ashley, “seeing all of the cool stuff first” is one of the best things about working in a store that she already enjoyed as a customer. She often thinks about where she would put the items in her own home if she were to buy them. “I also love hearing what people are going to do with the things they get. I love that you never know what you're going to find in there, so it's like Christmas every day.

Ashley’s bubbly and upbeat personality is well suited for her job at HomeSense and people are noticing: “I've had a few customers tell me that I am ‘an excellent person to be doing this job’ because I am very friendly and make all my customers feel welcome. And another asked me, ‘are you always this happy, or do you have to be to work here?’ It was just nice to hear”, she recalled. With her kind and helpful nature, she is sure to hear many more compliments in the future.

If others are looking to apply at HomeSense or a similar position in retail, Ashley Bryan recommends wearing a good pair of shoes and a smile: “Some advice I would give is to make sure you have very comfortable shoes! HomeSense is a fantastic place to work if you enjoy dealing with the public. Having a bright smile is something that is a must because it makes your customers happy and they will be more likely to remember you and how nice of a store they are in.”

For more information about HomeSense, click here.

Overcoming Isolation through Art: Heather’s Story

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Heather Wodhams is a part-time retail employee with a full-time passion for art and photography. “When it comes to art,” explains Heather, “nothing about it feels like a job!  It is my essence and something that brings me so much fulfillment.”

“Art and photography are an outlet for me, a way of expressing who I am as a person and what I believe in without having to really explain myself. It is a way of reaching out to the world to see how people from all walks of life respond to me and my creations.  In this way, even though I would categorize myself as an introvert, I am still able to relate to the world and feel connected so that I don’t feel isolated.”

Heather was born in Georgetown and raised in Tara, Ontario with “an incredibly active imagination”. She has always had a love for reading fiction and being out in nature, which is often reflected in her work today: “I believed, and still do, that all life is precious and that there is importance and strength even in the smallest things, maybe because I’m so small myself!  I realized that I could help other people see what I saw by recreating or documenting things that inspired me.... It becomes quite obvious from looking at my work that nature is a prevalent and recurring theme in anything that I do.  It is ever-changing and provides endless inspiration.”

Nature is something that Heather has become quite at ease with, but that doesn’t mean she is a one-trick pony. Wodhams has created a diverse body of work using a variety of methods including, but not limited to: photography, collages, painting, illustrations, digital art and more. She is always willing to work outside of her comfort zone and to try something new:

“In recent months, I have started photographing people and families, something entirely new and challenging to me.  But I don’t limit myself to any one subject-- the same way I don’t constrain myself to any one medium.  People make requests for things I’ve never done, most recently photographing cars, and I love the challenge!  Still, lately I do have an affinity for watercolour, ink, and of course any type of photography.... I work in a variety of mediums because I never want to become complacent, or comfortable with what I am doing.  There is a vulnerability and an excitement that comes from working with a material that you haven’t yet mastered.  For me, art is not about flaunting my abilities. It’s about constantly learning and growing.“

 Although being an artist can be a solitary occupation, Heather is open to collaborations. One of her earliest collaborations was in Grade 12 at Chesley District High School (now Chesley District Community School) where, at the time, the entire student body consisted of  only 300 people. Heather was chosen to create a mural that would be on display in one of the school’s hallways. She painted the Chesley Cougar mascot in front of several yellow and black bricks. Then each brick was filled in with a unique design created by the equally unique individuals in Heather’s graduating class. She recalls the experience as follows:

“Back at CDHS, I felt so strongly that the school was very special in that we were a tight-knit group of students.  So when I had the opportunity to create the mural I knew I wanted it to represent the students and the bond we shared, to be a lasting tribute to the positive aspects of high school. I absolutely loved to see the people filling in their own section of brick on the mural, because they were the building blocks of the school community and it helped to show their diversity and individualism.  I was warned that vandalism may happen to the piece later on and I thought ‘well, if I give these students the opportunity to be a part of this mural they will be much less likely to want to deface something they helped create’.  It was a way of working with my peers instead of isolating myself from them.”

Today, Heather continues to collaborate through commissioning her work, which gives her the chance to create something that she would not have necessarily thought of on her own. She has a connected with others from around the world through her Facebook page and  Instagram account which allow her to display and sell her work without being in “a traditional gallery setting”.

Even though she excels at what she does, Heather’s journey into the art world has not always been easy and has taken some unexpected turns. Before working with a variety of mediums, Wodhams mostly focussed on painting in college. This ended up depleting her creativity instead of increasing it. She admits that she was at a point where she didn’t paint for “over a year” after she graduated from Fanshawe. However, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because it opened her eyes to other creative and work-related opportunities:

“After high school I made the difficult decision of going to post-secondary to study art.  It made sense to my friends and family, but to me there was always a fear a failure, and of coming out the other side with nothing but debt and a useless diploma.  I graduated in 2010 from the Fanshawe Fine Arts program and immediately got a job at Fotoart (a camera and photography store).  From there my passion for photography grew exponentially. I was then offered a job at Lens Rentals Canada (LRC) and jumped at the opportunity to connect with photographers from all across Canada, and to use gear that I could have normally only dreamed of using.  These jobs helped me gain a confidence and a drive to want to be my own boss, focus on my own business and see if I could apply the things I learned to my career as a freelance artist.  So with some hesitancy, I left LRC in October 2014 to start my own venture, which of course leads us to the here and now!”

Currently, Wodhams’ struggles with art are more positive because her mind is now over-run with ideas and it is difficult “to bring them all to reality!” For Heather, each new idea leads to another, “so that the thrill of a new creation never fades.” In the future, she would like to continue learning the video editing process as well as working with stained glass and jewelry-making!

In the words of the beloved “Ms. Frizzle” from The Magic School Bus, Heather Wodhams would advise her younger-self to “Take chances, make mistakes and get messy.” She emphasizes, “If there is one thing I could tell my young artist-self, it would be to not feel pressure from anyone to alter the way you create art.  We all have our own process and even though some may not understand yours, the important thing is that you do.  Even if you can’t explain why you create, there is an instinct within you that leads you in completing a piece. Trying to fit yourself into a mold of what an artist is will quickly drain any joy and passion you had for art.  Trust your instincts....  After all, art can be an incredibly personal and intimate creation, and to others it is simply a whimsical outlet, so just try to maintain a truth with yourself and that way no matter what anyone thinks, you will feel confident in your work knowing that you love it.”

From Faber Drive to Abbey Road: Andrew Stricko’s Story

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Widely known across Canada by his last name and for being Hello Operator and Faber Drive’s drummer, Andrew Stricko has returned to music with a new band, Kids in Despair (K.I.D). Fresh off the “I Still Live with My Mom Tour” in the United Kingdom, Stricko has discovered he has fans world-wide! He also found out what it was like to walk across one of the most famous roads in music history!

“Aside from music,” says Andrew, “I have a retail job that I do between shows/tours when I have some time off from the band life. It's not 'glamorous' or whatever, but it keeps things interesting and a roof over my head!” he laughs. “To be honest, I don't spend as much time practicing drums or thinking about them that I should. Obviously I love drumming and everything about it, but now that I'm in my late 20s, responsibilities and free time are a thing. I try to do as much music as I can between 'taking care of business'!”

Sometimes Andrew’s retail and music worlds collide as K.ID’s music is often played on the radio while he is working. He loves both jobs, especially when people sing along, whether it’s at a concert or along with the radio: “I love meeting new people. I've become a lot more outgoing since I started touring in my late teens, so that's the number one thing I like about touring or working a day job, whatever it may be.”

 

In terms of his musical influences, Andrew credits his parents for taking him to “concerts, choir rehearsals” and “anything musical” from an early age. According to Stricko, both of his parents are also very talented: “My father was a professional keyboardist/synth player, and he can shred the accordion really well! My mom is amazing at piano and can sing in ways I wish I could!”

Like many other young people before him, Andrew was also inspired by The Beatles: “I knew that I wanted to be a 'professional' musician pretty much my entire life. I remember the first time I saw a Beatles cover band at the ‘Festival of Lights’ in my hometown of Peterborough.... I wanted to be on stage. It's funny and crazy to think that over 20 years later I headlined the closing night of that festival with Faber Drive.” Crazier still, Andrew has now travelled with his new band to Abbey Road and its recording studio namesake, which have become some of his most memorable moments as a fan and a musician, but that’s not all:

 

“I feel I've had an unrealistic number of memorable moments when it comes to me and music,” says Stricko, “but if I had to pick, I'd say the first time I saw Sum 41 play in 2003 at ‘Ottawa Bluesfest’. The most memorable moment to date touring is tough, but I'll share this one: I just started playing with this new band named K.I.D. and we just got home from a UK tour.... The first night of the tour we opened for Bleachers (including members of Fun.) at Dingwalls in London (look it up!). The venue has an insane history and playing with Bleachers was destined to be amazing. The show was packed and there were kids in the crowd singing our songs as we were playing them! Never in my life did I really think I'd be across the world and people would know who my band was, it's insane!”

Andrew has achieved a lot in a short amount of time. Around the age of 19, he met the members of British Columbia’s award-winning band, Faber Drive, and he soon became their drummer: “I was playing with this band from Toronto, Hello Operator. We ended up on Faber's ‘Seven Second Tour’, became pals and the rest is as they say history.”

After more than five years on tour with both bands, Stricko began to feel “burnt out” and took a much needed break from the music industry, but drumming still remained a part of his life: “After I left Faber Drive, I had a couple jobs, but I was mostly teaching drum lessons in my hometown at the same store I took lessons from as a kid. It was very rewarding and nice to give back in a sense. I want nothing more than to help someone realize that they can do this too! Accomplishing your dreams IS possible and you shouldn't stop for anything or anyone.”

Along with teaching drums, Andrew “spent almost two years working random crappy jobs”. He recalls that he “definitely needed to reset” himself and find the “passion” and “fire” he had for music once again in order to continue accomplishing his own dreams. Stricko “snapped out of the funk” he was in when his friend, Miles Holmwood of the band, Stereos introduced him to Kids in Despair: “[He] was raving about them telling me how I should play their drummer in their music video etc. I got in touch with the band and we hit it off. I auditioned for them along with my friend Adam [Dugas], who played bass in The Envy and our lucky stars aligned! I've never been happier to be playing music than I am now.”

When asked about his advice for others, Andrew Stricko responded with the following: “If I could offer any advice to anyone who wants to do what I do, what another band does or whatever the thing, BE YOURSELF! Work hard, put in the hours, learn your instrument well, write lots of songs because practice makes perfect. Take it seriously, but have fun! I never thought when I was watching the tribute version of Ringo Starr that twenty-something years later, I'd be walking across Abbey Road myself on a day off during a tour. Crazier things have happened! Believe in yourself!”

To see more pictures from Andrew’s experience in the UK, you can follow him on Instagram.

For more information on K.I.D. please visit www.kidsindespair.com.

Stylerunner: Julie & Sali’s Fashion Story

Another entrepreneurial sibling story!  Australian twins Julie and Sali were looking for workout clothing with fashion and style – all in one online shop.    Finding nothing that fit the bill, they made some decisive career moves and launched Stylerunner!  Sylvia Pennington tells their inspiring fashion story!

“…It was a business opportunity that couldn’t be passed up, says Julie Stevanja, who was living in London at the time. She packed in her job with a film streaming technology start-up and hotfooted it home to Sydney to team up with sister Sali, a recruitment consultant, in getting the venture off the ground.”

For more about Julie and Sali, have a look here and here.

More Than Counting Pills

By Karli Steen, WorkStory Ambassador

 Salma Ghanie was introduced to pharmacy work through a Which Career is Right for You? test in Grade 10. She had always had a fascination with medications and what they do to the human body, but had never known what to do with that fascination. When she took the test, most of her career results were something to do with the outdoors but, interestingly, one of the final ones was a “pharmacist”. Salma decided to act on this and in Grade 11 she tried a co-op placement at Shoppers Drug Mart, which she loved!  A few years later, that experience made applying for her program an easy choice.

 Salma studied at Fanshawe College for 2 years in the Pharmacy Technician program, and loved it: "It was hard and tough, for sure, but it was fun for me. There's a ton of math, chemistry, and pharmacology. We had a course on pharmacy law that was brutal. Like most people I always thought that a Pharm Tech just counted pills; but no, there is so much more to what I do than counting pills and putting a label on a vial or a box."

 In second year, Salma had the chance to experience both a hospital and retail placement opportunity. She did not find the retail portion very helpful, as she was only able to shadow, and didn't really gain any hands-on experience.  When asked what courses were particularly beneficial, Salma shared the following:  “Pharmacy law for sure, math, compounding (making drugs), pharmacology and the practical retail course I took, that course taught us so much. Retail Pharmacy, it was a two part course and taught us everything from, drug names, chemicals, Latin, math, communication, and how to count things properly."  She uses aspects of these every day.

 In spite of the retail placement not going so well, Salma grew to love the retail setting as, according to her, you actually get to see and interact with the people you're helping. In her current position at Shoppers Drug Mart in St. Thomas, Ontario, Salma does just that. Her day is filled with answering phones, processing and dispensing prescriptions, and communicating with doctors, patients, and customers alike. She shared the most rewarding part of the job: "I think the most rewarding thing is that once you get to know patients, they will confide in you and they will tell you what's on their mind and how they are feeling and it’s really nice knowing someone trusts you. Whether they are 30 or 85!  People know my name and when they want my help specifically, that’s when I know I've made a difference"

 As content as she is right now, Salma would like to continue up the ladder to be a full-fledged pharmacist. Her ultimate goal is to become a pharmaceutical chemist.

 As for advice, Salma says you have to be caring and compassionate, as well as know how to multi-task with things like phone conversations and counting pills and dosages at the same time. Patience is also key when the pharmacy is busy. If you are not good with math, a pharmacy is not the place for you. It is also necessary to learn how to read “doctor scribble”. As hard as some of this may seem, Salma says it all comes together with practice.  

Retail Associate Reaches for the Stars

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Danielle Smelko is a Retail Associate at Maurices (stylized by the company as “maurices”).

She spends most of her time at the women’s clothing store, located in the Seaway Mall in Welland, Ontario and she wouldn’t have it any other way!  Not only is fashion her passion, it’s her job! Danielle says her position enables her to be “so much more than a retail associate” and describes her role at Maurices as “a customer and community focused fashion advisor”.

When asked why she loves to work for this company, Danielle  mentioned that it is “fun and exciting” and there are many reasons why.  As she put it, her work “allows me to get to know the women in my community,  as well as get involved with charities, fundraisers, and the like, all while expressing my passion for clothing, trends, and personal style.”  Danielle  also finds Maurices to be an inspiring place to work. She feels motivated in many ways to keep “reaching for the stars” and believes that the sky truly is the limit at Maurices.

 Like many people trying to find their way in the world of work, Danielle took a “confusing and unexpected path” in terms of how she got to where she is today.

 “I have always been in customer service. I started with call centre work and bounced from business to business finding my niche. As time went on, I decided I wanted to go to school and start a business, preferably in the nail lacquer industry or [something] fashion related.  So, off I went to Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake to study business.”

 Unfortunately, the stunning campus and all of Danielle’s amazing professors and peers were not enough to keep her there:

 “I hated it. It was so hit-and-miss for me and I ended up finding myself down-right miserable.... Business wasn't for me, so I decided to continue obtaining work experience. I stayed with customer service, seeing as my strongest quality is dealing with the public. I bounced around between the food industry and the fashion industry and found myself more drawn to fashion.”

 Danielle faced a few “gruelling years with some very unappealing, unorganized, and ethically awful companies”.   Eventually she found herself at a turning point in her career and knew that making a change was essential to maintain her positive outlook on life. Although she cannot name where she worked at the time, Danielle explains that the difficulties she had in the past led her to a job she loves at Maurices as well as a better life in general.

 “There was a point after a certain company where I realized I would never again tolerate being miserable at work. I have no room in my positive mentality to not feel valued or appreciated in my work place. Growth within is important to me.”   Looking back on these experiences, Danielle would now like to thank the unmentionable companies for the hardships she went through, “because if it wasn't for them, I would never know just what I stand for in my career!”   She has also learned that there are things she has no tolerance for in her life as well. She concluded the interview by saying, “Now that I’ve found Maurices, I couldn’t be happier!”

 If you are interested in an internship, a career opportunity,  or a new outfit from Maurices,  here’s the link www.maurices.com .

Supply Chain Analyst: e-Commerce

What I do:  I work for one of the biggest retailers in the world where I sincerely believe one has the chance to make a difference. The corporate culture is fantastic especially when you know about the employees who work there. I was hired initially within the Space Planning team where I conducted space analysis and provided business recommendations on how to optimize space across all stores. I worked cross functionally with new store planning, store operations, replenishment and merchants to execute successful planograms. I also got to manage several “space optimization” projects to improve process accuracy and efficiency within our stores.

After working in that role for around 10 months I recently had the opportunity to become a Supply Chain Analyst and made the switch into eCommerce. This is our biggest growth area and I am now part of an amazing team who are trying to build the next generation of Walmart Canada. My job is to manage the flow of goods from our vendors to the customer and ensure all our items on the site are in-stock. The best part about the job is because we are a learning business, you get to learn something new everyday!

 What I like about it: I have the best team. I couldn’t ask for better mentors and bosses when I look up. I work with fantastic people with wonderful stories and it really makes a difference. On the other hand, the work is extremely engaging, very cross-functional and strategy-oriented.

My path:  I went to school at King’s University College, Western University. I was heavily involved in student government, sports and extra curriculars in general. I have been fortunate to come across wonderful teachers and peers who have instilled much confidence in me where I feel I can really overcome any foreseen challenges that lie ahead. My advice to anyone interested in my path would be to go & be involved in school, to meet people and share ideas and find ways on how you can make a difference!

Barshan Quadry