Career moms in the making

Catherine Williams’ dreams are not unlike that of many other parents. She wants to provide stability and a better life for her two sons, complete with a home of their own and a large backyard to play in.

Though these seemed like unattainable goals for Williams a few years ago, she has been taking steps toward reaching them since last March, when she completed Kitsap Community Resources’ Pregnancy to Employment Program. And now, thanks to newly secured state funding, other women will have the opportunity to do the same.

A contract was signed earlier this month between Bremerton-based Kitsap Community Resources and state DSHS providing the necessary funding to revive KCR’s P-to-E Program, which shut down in March because of state budget cuts. The program is tentatively scheduled to begin anew early next month.

The P-to-E Program was restructured and shortened from 16 weeks to eight, but the basis of the program remains the same: helping pregnant women develop work skills and parental skills so they are more prepared to transition into a job after their baby’s birth. Program eligibility is determined on an individual basis, but basic requirements are that women be referred by DSHS, on federal subsidy (TANF), and be pregnant or have a child less than 12 months old.

“When this population arrives here, they’ve been pretty well defeated. As I put it, the air’s out of their tires,” said P-to-E Program director OJ Hogan. “They’ve perhaps not been as successful as they’d hoped in finding jobs and so one of our keys at the beginning is discovering what strengths they have.”

After uncovering their interests and transferable skills through heavy assessment, staffers help the women create an individual development plan. Each woman refines her plan, which is filled with short- and long-term goals, while participating in the program. At the end of eight weeks, participants have developed a career map for the future.

“We boost their confidence back up and we show them their strengths. Watching their mindsets change is really fascinating,” said P-to-E Program facilitator Mary Vincent. “Part of our program is stepping up to independence and achieving self-sufficiency. By the time they get out of our program, they are just raring to go.”

Women in the new P-to-E Program will meet 16 hours per week for eight weeks, totalling 128 hours of instructional workshops, guest speakers, parenting classes and group discussions. Along with job skill training, factors that may discourage women from working are also addressed, including stress management and motivation. The parenting classes, offered through KCR’s Parenting Place, range in topics from parenting young children and single parenting to helping children who have witnessed domestic violence.

“The workplace-family balance is another piece of what we help these ladies with. So many of them see either/or. We’re helping them see that you can do both,” Hogan said. “For many this is no easy task and we realize that. They’re going to move through these eight weeks with a tremendous amount of staff support.”

Vincent, who helped develop both the old and new programs, said group members also offer advice and encouragement. By sharing their experiences, the women often find common bonds on which to build friendships and form support networks with each other.

“I wanted to pick the brains of who’d gone through the program and meet women in the same situation as me, and I did,” said Williams, 32, of Bremerton. “They sort of became role models for me. I got information, friends and a support network, which is something I never had.”

Williams began the old 16-week program in October 2002, when her second son, Earl, was 6 months old. Since completing the program, Williams has been working part-time as an administrative assistant at Bremerton Foodline, a nine-month (maximum) internship that is paid through KCR’s Community Jobs Program.

“I wanted to get through the rough times and say there’s a job with my name on it and that I can make it as a single mom,” said Williams, who also has a 10-year-old son. “My goal is to make sure my boys can do everything I couldn’t do because I didn’t have the means.”

Williams said she is not sure where she is going to work after Foodline, but that’s not due to a lack of options. She is currently considering a couple of different job offers, either of which will mesh with continuing her college education. She finished her first quarter at Olympic College in June and is working toward a two-year degree.

“I don’t think I would have gone to college because I wouldn’t have thought it was possible. I’d probably be frustrated beyond belief or struggling to make ends meet,” Williams said. “I’ve got options now. I used to lead a simple life but now I know that life isn’t simple.”

Williams said much of her success stems from having taken the P-to-E Program seriously and utilizing KCR and other community services, which she wishes more women in this area would do.

“Educating them in resources is such a big part of it – trying to make it less financially burdensome so they’re not stuck in a rut of poverty and stress,” Vincent said of the P-to-E Program. “It’s not just about the pregnant women that come in; it’s got the ripple effect with the children. We’re just opening up a lot of good possibilities.”

Sarah Mullen, 21, of Bremerton said more opportunities have opened up for her having gone through the old P-to-E Program, which she began while six months pregnant in June 2002. Following the birth of her now 10-month-old son Tristen last September, she continued job training through KCR and two weeks ago began a nine-month customer service internship at Bremerton Foodline through the Community Jobs Program.

“I like working. It’s nice to have a different routine and I like going and helping other people,” Mullen said. “I learned a lot about self-esteem and I’m more confident now. The Foodline is a start and I’m confident in a few months, after the community jobs program, I’ll get a full-time job.”

Hogan estimated about 120 women went through KCR’s original P-to-E Program, which began in 2000. He said they are planning on about 60 women completing the new program within a year, likely in groups of 5-10 per session, though the total number will depend on the amount of state funding available.

Hogan said when most women finish the P-to-E Program, some find jobs on their own and others enter into various KCR employment-based programs. He said the new P-to-E Program will focus more attention on computer skills and workplace culture because it’s more geared toward getting the women into employment and/or a work environment upon completion.

“This is one of our programs that so clearly spells out and interprets KCR’s mission and that is to provide hope and opportunity,” Hogan said. “And we’re back in the ballgame.”

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