From volunteer to valued employee: A second-hand success story.


May 16, 2024

Economical, stylish and eco-conscious, Sy’s op shopping passion has lasted a lifetime. Fuelled by an indifference for trends, Sy holds op shops as havens for personal style, offering freedom for self-expression away from the constraints of seasonal fashion pressures.

Unbeknownst to her, it was a Uniting Op Shop, nestled in her local community, that would fuse her background in business, proclivity for creativity and lifetime long love of op shops into a newfound purpose.

In 2020, Sy found herself relocating to Melbourne from Tasmania with only a boot load of household possessions after her daughter was awarded a six-year ballet scholarship.

“I spent a lot of time in Uniting’s Albert Park Op Shop when I first arrived in Melbourne, just collecting household essentials, pots, pans, cutlery, all the things that I didn’t pack,” says Sy.

“That’s where I met Allie, who was the manager of the shop. She suggested I work there. She would watch me shop and knew that I understood op shops. She knew that I was a lifelong op shopper.

“I thought I would enjoy working in an Op Shop, but the best way to work towards that, and to also see if I liked it, was to volunteer in one.”

Enter pandemic, stage left.

Two years went by before Sy could finally step into her role at the Albert Park Uniting Op Shop.

“I started volunteering two shifts a week and found that I really liked it,” she says.

“I have a flair for visual merchandising because I was a dance teacher for many years, so I am used to dressing up kids and putting them on stage.

“I dress up mannequins these days instead. Which is good because they don’t talk back, they just fall on me instead.”

After six months of volunteering, Sy began to work casual hours.

“I worked very hard as a casual. I ended up working around lots of different Uniting Op Shops, as well as in the warehouse, sorting,” she says.

“Then I applied for the full-time manager’s role at Albert Park.”

At Albert Park Uniting Op Shop, Sy has found a canvas for her creativity, transforming donated items into beautiful window displays, breathing new life into each piece of clothing.

“Whatever walks in the door of our shop is potentially a work of art or someone’s new favourite piece of clothing,” she says.

“It’s the reason I’ve always loved op shops because I’ve never been a person to follow trends in shops.

“An op shop is a way to put together something that feels like you.”

Volunteering with Uniting led to a new career path for Sy. It provided her the perfect platform to blend her business smarts, creative flair, and love of op shops into meaningful, fulfilling work.

“Through volunteering I achieved my goals. Because I’d moved to a new city, I’d never worked full-time for an organisation before. I’d always been self-employed,” she says.

“And so that was a big step for me, and I achieved that through starting as a volunteer.

“I was able to turn something that I loved into a job and in an organisation that supports good work.”

Learn more about volunteering at Uniting.

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