Helping Women - Employment & Economic Independence

by Women's Employment Network

In 1986, two Kansas City philanthropists and visionaries, Beth K. Smith and Marjorie Powell Allen, had a profound idea of how to “help women help themselves”. Together, they worked to form Women’s Employment Network (WEN). 

WEN was founded to help women who are trapped in the cycle of poverty effectively transition into jobs that will allow them to achieve economic stability. With a focus on self-esteem and personal responsibility, WEN serves women from all walks of life and all ages who are: unemployed, underemployed, affected by job layoffs and outsourcing, those who are new to or returning to the job market, and displaced homemakers. After 30 years, WEN is proud to continue serving women in Kansas City. Here is an example of one woman who benefited from WEN's programs. Her story is only one example of the impact WEN has on the community. 

At WEN's recent 30th Anniversary luncheon, our client keynote speaker, Amanda, shared her story about overcoming homelessness and other barriers to employment. She discussed how she found the strength to move forward and ultimately finding her way to success. Excerpts from her story are outlined below.  

"During a particularly bad day of Army training, the kind of day you wonder why you enlisted to begin with, a crusty old Sergeant offered some words of advice. He said, “Soldier, you can be better or you can be bitter. Either way it starts by embracing your challenges.” And she did just that.

"I began to understand and embrace the idea that we have to go through the tragedy, the abuse, and the tough situations to find our stronger selves. I would like to say that I immediately began to embrace the challenges in my life but with all great lessons learned, time must pass." 

"As time passed, the obstacles in my life became overwhelming, to the point that radical change was my only option. I finally began the difficult journey of transitioning out of an abusive marriage finding myself divorced, homeless, unemployed and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which now requires me to use a service dog. Despite my years of experience as a freelance journalist, professional photographer, published author, veteran status and recently completing my Bachelor's degree in English, no one seemed to want to hire me. I applied for over 100 positions across the country and even in Europe, only to receive the same answer-if any answer- you’re experience is compelling but we’ve hired someone else. I felt myself losing hope, until the lesson finally stuck, I could get better or I could get bitter. I embraced my challenges."

"With a little discipline, the security of full-time employment, and a lot of luck I will write that book or better still those books. I have gone from homeless to hired, all because I learned how to be a good employee from WEN and because I embraced my challenges, allowing them to make me better, not bitter."

Today, WEN is pleased to share that Amanda found her dream job as a professional editor, working on behalf of the military.

For women and families who have struggled to make ends meet, a secure job is the first step toward financial stability. But, it’s only the first step. As a Financial Opportunity Center (FOC), WEN now provides long-term, one-on-one financial coaching to help take a client out of a downward spiral. During the 2014-2015 fiscal year:



In the 60-minute Banking Basics workshop, clients find out how to choose a bank (or credit union), learn about banking tools in your management, and how to balance a checkbook.

The Credit workshop teaches ou how to: select a credit card, understand FICO scoring models, read acredit report and make a positive impact on credit.

Thirteen workshops have already been conducted since September 2015. Outcomes from these workshops so far include:


Three satisfaction questions were also asked at the conclusion of each workshop. The participants found the instructor's knowledge and presentation style to be fantastic, and thought that the handouts were extremely helpful.


In addition to satisfaction questions, workshop specific skill questions were also asked. Participants were asked to rate their confidence in each skill after the workshop, with the following results:

For more information on the upcoming workshops and to register for the free 60-minute sessions, please click here.

Jaclyn shares her emotional journey.
Jaclyn shares her emotional journey.

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:

  • 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.



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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
$58,754 raised of $65,000 goal
468 donations
$6,246 to go
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