Helping Women - Employment & Economic Independence

by Women's Employment Network

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:

  • Average FICO credit score was 578, with the lowest score being 416;
  • Average monthly net income was -$333.39, with the lowest net income being -$2,745;
  • Average net worth of -$16,795, with the lowest monthly net worth being -$224,929;
  • 22% of clients who completed a credit report discovered they were completely unscored;
  • The average number of outstanding collections was 5.3, with the average amount of debt in those collections being $8,395.

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.

Marti Kernodle and Phyllis Collins
Marti Kernodle and Phyllis Collins

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.

A client tries on interview appropriate clothing
A client tries on interview appropriate clothing

Thank you for being the Women's Employment Network's (WEN) partner in bringing change to the lives of unemployed and underemployed women living in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The women who come to WEN are ready to make a change and determined to live a better life. Thanks to the support of the community and WEN's staff, women are able to find greater economic stability and reach their goals.

Tracy is an example of one such client whose focus and determination became her ticket out of poverty. Having a clear goal in mind has proven time and again to increase one's chances of achieving that goal. When Tracy first came to WEN, she knew what her goal was. However, at that time, she was unemployed and her four children were living with family members with only food stamps to contribute to the household. As anyone could imagine, the home was crowded and Tracy was eager tomoveto a place of her own. She first needed steady employment and a living-wage, so she turned to WEN for guidance.

While attending the Women's Employment Network's five-week Employment Preparation and Career Transition Training Program, Tracy illustrated her determination to change her life every step of the way. First, she decided that to address her financial struggles head-on, meet with WEN's Financial Coach, complet a financial assessment and reviewher credit report. After  gaining a full picture of her personal debts and household expenses, Tracy was able to establish a budget and work on building her credit,which included disputing incorrect information on the report and then paying off debts once she became employed.

Soon after graduation Tracy was offered a temporary position. She was back to work! Once she had received a full paycheck, she came back into WEN to create a new monthly budget. This budget was built to support her goal of saving enough money to be able to move her family to their own home. Over the next few months, she worked to pay off some of the bills that had fallen behind so that she could focus on her future and save. The Financial Coach continued to work with her on her credit action plan by helping her to understand the report and the steps she would need to take to increase her score.

It didn't take long before, Tracy had great news to share with WEN. She was offered a permanent position at the company she had been working at and the promotionto full-time also incliuded and a higher salary. This stability gave her the confidence and the income that she needed to pursue her goal and move her and her children into a new rental townhome.

In just over a year, Tracy has accomplished amazing things. Not only has she achieved the goals she declared when she bgan WEN's Employment Preparation and Career Transition Training Program; but along the way she has accomplished financial feats that will support her stability in the future.

WEN truly appreciates your support of this program, and of the women like Tracy we serve everyday. Thank you!


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Organization Information

Women's Employment Network

Location: Kansas City, MO - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Mark Halastik
Development Officer
Kansas City, MO United States
$59,920 raised of $65,000 goal
495 donations
$5,080 to go
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