Jaclyn is one of those WEN graduates we will never forget -- her journey in getting to WEN, her fearless mindset, and her courage to speak to others about her experience is exceptional. We want to share her journey today. The following is from Jaclyn's essay that she read at graduation.
"On November 15, 2014, the life I had been living as a consummate worker bee came to a halt. The last 16 years of getting up every day, going to the same place, interacting with the same group of people and getting a paycheck all stopped. I was terminated.
I thought I would rest my mind, body and spirit, regroup in a few months and everything would be okay. It was not. I really did not commit to a job search until April. I had every confidence I would find employment, especially with 27 years of experience and knowing all the players in my profession. I believed a door would open for me. It didn't.
The journey to WEN began in April and culminated on a July evening when I made a phone call that would change my life. By the time I made this call, I couldn't leave my bedroom -- I was scared, felt unworthy and had nothing but negative thoughts about myself. When I finally picked up the phone, I was told in a kind and reassuring voice to come in and register. I felt a wave of peace.
I remember the day of orientation so well - sitting with these other women, I wondered what I was doing and wanted to run. But I stayed. The flood gates of emotion opened, a feeling of connection came over me, and my a-ha moment came when each woman introduced herself and talked about her journey to WEN. I realized at that moment that I was not alone, and if I put in the work, I would be supported. The energy of these women in the room made the light shine just a little brighter that day. I felt I was listened to, I was energized to come back to the program, and I actually looked forward to getting up the next day.
I attended many workshops during my time at WEN -- I cannot convey how thankful I am for the wonderful women who gave their time to uplift me and solidify the decision I made to come to WEN. My journey to WEN has given me pride in myself, the confidence to move outside of my comfort zone and the support of women I will stay close with for life. My personal journey has been blessed with an offer of employment. With the tools I was given at WEN, I'm ready to move forward."
Chronic and persistent poverty and unemployment (or under-employment) is a prevalent situation for many of the women WEN serves. Over 80% of WEN clients live in the state of Missouri, where the economic status of women is a real concern. In January 2015, a report released by the Women's Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the University of Missouri Institute of Public Policy found that, out of the 950,000 Missourians living in poverty, 55% are women.
WEN clients are not only facing un- or under-employment; they experience gender pay gaps (making 71 cents for every dollar earned by a male in Missouri), child care and transportation conflicts, inadequate health care/insurance, and lack of access to or knowledge of available services and support. Approximately 75% of WEN clients have incomes below the federal poverty level and 40% of WEN clients are the sole provider of income for a household that includes dependent children. Fifty two percent of clients served during 2014-2015 reported a household income of under $10,000 -- less than the current federal poverty guidelines set for a 1-person household, which is $11,770.
Approximately 27% of clients report income between $10,000-$19,000, and 11% report a range of $20,000-$29,000. The remaining 10% have incomes upward of $30,000 per year. The following statistics illustrate the dire economic status of the women WEN serves. Between April 2013 and June 2015:
When we consider these income levels along with the amount of debt held by a WEN client, it's clear that our clients are struggling, and many are losing the fight. Increasing debt makes it difficult to emerge from the cycle of poverty, even after finding employment.
WEN takes a proactive approach in shaping our clients’ future careers and financial stability with a highly personalized program that addresses their talents and challenges on an individualized basis. What we do is bigger than helping women find jobs. At WEN, we help each woman build a set of job search skills that enable her to rebuild her future on a strong new foundation.
Volunteers have always been an important element of WEN's mission and goals as an organization. Our ability to effectively serve our clients through their life-changing journeys has touched the lives of hundreds of volunteers who have served WEN over the years. The impact WEN has on our volunteers is illustrated in this month's volunteer spotlight of Marti Kernodle and Phyllis Collins.
Marti Kernodle began volunteering at WEN in 2010, presenting diversity workshops to the clients. Marti had been associated with the Women's Business Center and, during her volunteer tenure at WEN, she presented "Workplace Diversity: Appreciating Differences" and "Decoding Generational Differences in the Workplace" workshops.
Marti says "I truly believe that what keeps WEN going is their great staff and their great group of volunteers. In knowing that, I was always looking for other good people to add to the depth of the volunteer base." In her quest to deliver fresh, relevant volunteers to the organization, she immediately thought of Phyllis Collins. Marti knew Phyllis to be a great trainer, speaker, leader and dear friend. In order to introduce Phyllis to WEN, she invited her to the 2010 WEN luncheon as her special guest.
According to Phyllis, "My good friend Marti Kernodle invited me to the WEN Luncheon in 2010 and said, 'I think you need to take a look at this organization'. She believed that the same personal development training and coaching I provided my business clients could be provided to the clients at WEN - to help women transform their lives at a time when they needed it most". During the luncheon, Marti introduced Phyllis to Lynnette Williams and Sherry Turner. Two months later, Phyllis began to volunteer at WEN by facilitating a workshop called "Facing Your Fears & Winning Your Inner Game". It was a volunteer match made in heaven for Phyllis, who says "I get to witness the continual transformation of the WEN clientele and hear about their successes following the program. Four years later, I was honored to become a WEN Board Member. In 2015, to thank Marti for her introduction to this organization, I invited her to be my special guest at the luncheon."
Women's Employment Network is extremely thankful for all its volunteers and friends that spread the word about our good works in our community. Thanks to our Global Giving donors, WEN can continue these good works and keep helping women help themselves.
Credit card debt, accounts in collection and regular use of "payday loans" or other predatory lending companies is a big problem for many of the women that WEN serves. A great majority of WEN clients try to "keep up" by making small payments here and there to keep themselves afloat or just to keep the heat or water turned on in their homes. They know that their financial problems are beyond the scope of cutting expenses here and there, but don't have the knowledge or tools to get themselves out of their never-ending cycle of debt. Many women get to the point that their minimum payments on credit cards are only covering late payment fees, or are purely interest. Staying in this cycle all but ensures that their ability to get out of debt slips further away each month, and that the balance they owe will never decrease. Long-term unemployment and underemployment exacerbate already critical financial situations by fostering a reliance on credit cards and predatory lending. Increasing debt makes it difficult to emerge from the cycle of poverty even after finding employment, if the worker's paychecks must be directed toward loan repayments with high interest rates. Teaching financial literacy helps individuals move away from living paycheck to paycheck and toward developing a long-term plan for financial stability.
While WEN's programs have always included an element of financial literacy, the hiring of a full-time Financial Coach and addition of Financial Coaching and Credit Building to WEN's curriculum was a major development in our efforts to support all areas of clients' financial growth. WEN is now able to provide measurable, long-term support for clients as they overcome financial challenges. The Financial Coach meets individually with each client to determine financial goals and define an individualized game plan for clients to reduce their debt, build assets, and establish or repair their credit. WEN's program offerings are uniquely structured to meet the varying needs and skill levels of women in all stages of un- and under-employment. And, by regularly meeting with the Financial Coach, the clients learn how to transform their financial behaviors and shift their money management priorities. One of the great advantages to the Financial Coaching program is that behavioral shifts are often immediate, once clients are given the knowledge and tools. Therefore, the connection between action and effect (reward) reinforces the client's dedication to budgeting behaviors and debt management.
December is a very special time of year -- a time of reflection, a time of togetherness, a time of giving. Women's Employment Network knows how important these elements are to the season, to the women we serve, and to the families that depend on our clients to make this season one to remember. As we have said time and again, the women that come to Women's Employment Network (WEN) are ready to make a change in their lives and are determined to live a better life for themselves and their families. Thanks to the generous support and contributions from you, our supporters near and far, we can continue to support these women and their families in their time of need.
One of the most recent examples of a WEN client who has overcome obstacles and worked hard to turn her life around is seen through the journey of Anya. Anya is an extremely established, accomplished woman who found herself stuck in the mire of life and the cycle of domestic abuse. Anya says:
"I came to WEN because I needed guidance and direction on putting my pieces back together, so that I could once again have a life that I am proud of experiencing. I had tried every resource and agency I could find. Each agency was amazing in some way. Yet I needed more. I’d heard of WEN in passing, and had even checked out their website. However, my daily struggles and appointments with other agencies had kept top priority in my life. My insides were battered and weeping; my need for healing repeatedly frustrated me and, in turn, I felt hopeless and powerless.
Today, I am so grateful for finally making the life-changing call to WEN just over one year after fleeing domestic violence with my son. Coming to the program, I saw beautiful, strong women fighting to thrive, rather than just survive -- women who were leaders, mentors, supporters and educators, among other things.
I had no idea of who I was before coming to WEN. I was lost and detached from myself, my body in a struggle. I felt as though my soul was fighting to stay within my skin. Now, I feel like me. I know me. I believe in me. I know what I want. I am aware of my strengths, talents, abilities, likes, dislikes, weaknesses, style, and desire. I see and believe in me and others again. I feel safe in the world. I trust myself to make good decisions for myself and my son. Through WEN, I have friends who support me in a strengthening and empowering way."
WEN staff works with every woman that comes to us to discover their individual struggles with barriers to finding and maintaining employment. Whether it is additional support in cases such as domestic violence, substance abuse, mental or physical health issues, WEN takes a long-view of our clients’ lives and futures. We abide by the adage of “teaching a woman to fish, instead of giving a woman one fish.” What we do is bigger than just helping women find jobs. We help women find careers and a path to a future that includes self-sufficiency and stability.
The outlook for WEN's future--and the women like Anya we serve--is extremely bright. This is due to the ever-increasing number of women graduating from WEN's five-week program, our added financial coaching element, excellent staff and, of course, our amazing and generous supporters.
On behalf of our entire Board of Directors and the women we are privileged to serve, thank you for your support and best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season.
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