Employment Training: Lifting DC Women Out of Poverty

As The Women’s Collective’s care program targeting women living with HIV grows so does the number of women participating and the wide range of services that are required to meet their need.

Again and again we hear women identify job readiness programs that would provide education and employment support as a priority.  So many women come through our doors and express frustration around the fact that they have difficulty getting experience, finding available jobs, filling out job applications, creating an attractive resumes, and drafting an effective and compelling cover letter.

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/report/2008/10/08/5103/the-straight-facts-on-women-in-poverty/
Center for American Progress. The Straight Facts on Women in Poverty. October, 2008.

They are desperately seeking a way out of poverty for themselves and their families—a poverty that is incredibly pervasive among women and African-Americans in D.C.  In all racial and ethnic groups, women are poorer than menBlack and Latina women are twice as likely as white women to be living in poverty. In fact poverty is the single most important factor  in whether inner-city heterosexuals are infected with the AIDS virus according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Our medical case managers take a number of steps when a woman comes in looking for a job or for help with a job application.  Often, staff members (whether it’s the medical case manager, community health worker, or even a youth team member) take the time to help clients edit their resumes, craft their cover letters, and fill out and submit their applications.  However, staff have full case loads, and are not always able to carve an hour or two out of their already packed day to work on an application or a cover letter with a client.

In addition, we make a wide range of referrals to job readiness centers throughout Washington, D.C. that provide job skills, resume assistance, mock interviews (including both the interview and “dress for success”), computer skills, on-site counseling. One relationship we have begun to forge is with Byte Back that seeks to improve economic opportunity for individuals. Their goal is to provide high quality computer courses to unemployed and underemployed residents and support them in obtaining employment that pays a “living wage.”  They also provide job readiness assistance such as mock job interviews, resume writing skills, and assistance with job searches.

Mom & Daughter 1These services are critical for the support and opportunities they provide to women but they’re not enough—services need to be more accessible as many women face barriers in accessing them. For example, women often do not have the extra funds to get to sites around the city as the costs for public transportation continues to increase. Women often do not have child care for the time that they need to attend a class or meet with a counselor. Another significant barrier is access to professional clothing for job interviews. To address this we created an onsite “clothing closet” so that our clients can find attire to wear for an interview. (Donations are always accepted for gently used clothing and shoes so stop on by with a bag or two!)

If community-based organizations (CBOs) that are already providing myriad support services for women had additional funding to hire staff, they could either free up time for their current staff to work one-on-one with women who are seeking employment search support or they could hire employment counselors and computer training specialists that would provide services on-site.  This could work in two ways: women who are in need of employment support services might be more encouraged to see their medical case managers, and check in about their care, because they’re already on-site and, likewise, women who are already on-site for any of the other services offered by a CBO would be able to take advantage of the employment support services without the added burden of additional transportation or child care.  We will be seeking ways to build this type of funding and more synergy with CBOs throughout D.C. and across a range of services.

Each service and referral that The Women’s Collective provides is important to the women we serve.   The Women’s Collective provides a combination of services for women to overcome barriers that keep them homeless and/or destitute and that prevent them from accessing care and taking control of their health.  We can only do so much—we need additional unrestricted funding and strong partnerships with CBOs so that we can continue to keep women moving forward on a path out of poverty.

The Women’s Collective will continue to foster, nurture and provide encouragement to turn a life around.

Sisters Helping Sisters to Thrive…This Spring and Summer at The Women’s Collective!

What is all the excitement about this spring? Well The Women’s Collective’s Care Team is busy as bees making sure activities are blooming for you. Taking a fresh lead in providing services for women of color in the District of Columbia, our task is to ensure that your needs are met. We are looking forward to the participation of new as well as old familiar faces that we have not seen for some time, engaging in our fresh new curriculum. We have developed a calendar of events that are ongoing and some are for a limited time to empower you with skills to succeed in this ever changing time.

SabrinaWe started out April and May with a variety of successful groups addressing vital issues of your concerns and are looking forward to their continued growth. The months of May and June promises to deliver even more participation in these activities as the weather becomes more favorable to getting out and about. We have really put our heads together this time to create a diverse agenda that awaits your participation.

Let’s see what we have in store!  “Lunch and Learn Series VI”, is bringing the fireside chat UP Close and Personal this month with conversations selected by the group. (What do you have a burning desire to discuss that, until now, you have been reluctant to talk about?) Our Lunch and Learn groups have been strictly educational in the past and now, we are making an effort to create an agenda that will also cover subjects that matter to and are suggested by the women we serve. Our goal is to make sure your needs are met. Having an opportunity to have an open and honest dialogue with other women with similar concerns is the opportunity of a lifetime to make sure your voice is heard and to build your support network.

These groups, as well as the others that we are adding to our calendar, are crucial to engaging women and girls living with HIV in care.  It’s easy for someone to sit at a desk, in a cubicle or office, and tell someone what they need to do (get to a doctor, take medication, etc.). But we have found that peer support makes all the difference in linking and retaining women in care. It’s easy for a woman living with HIV to feel isolated, desperate, and concerned about her family.  But we strive to make sure that women do not feel alone. Here at TWC they can sit together and support each other, share their struggles and successes, and tell their stories to other women who have been there. They can learn how to navigate the challenges of being a woman, being a mother, and being HIV positive from others who have faced those same challenges.

There are few things as powerful as hearing, “I lived through that. I got through that. And you can too.”

These are just a few of the things that you can expect from our fresh new approach this spring and beyond. Check our calendar, come on out and join in the activities that are being planned for the upcoming months that are fun filled and cannot be designed without you.  We are very excited and look forward to your participation in the days to come.

Woman-centered Supportive Services are Crucial for Women Living with HIV

The Care Team at The Women’s Collective (TWC) includes four medical case managers (MCM) and two community health workers (CHW) who work together to support our clients so that they consistently stay linked to medical care, treatment, and support services that improve their health outcomes and quality of life. The services we provide are woman-centered and family-focused, which is so necessary in the fight against HIV/ AIDS.  Globally, women make up 54% of people living with HIV. In D.C., women make up 28% of people living with HIV, and Black women represent 92% of women living with HIV. Women of color face challenges that make them more susceptible to HIV and less likely to enter and stay in care, such as gender and racial inequality, discrimination, stigma, poverty, and gender-based violence.  Despite this picture, women are often overlooked or ignored, and are underserved at other agencies.  Our services provide a safe space for women living with HIV, and meet their individual needs as mothers, caregivers, and heads of household.

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Our team provides support well beyond clients’ medical needs, in an effort to address all the issues that might interfere with their ability to enter and stay in care.  The Care Team frequently assists clients with food shortages, housing placement, career planning, emotional support, family services, and substance abuse treatment. Women come to TWC for a hot plate of food for themselves and their families in our Community Kitchen, which has food delivered twice weekly, or shop through clothing donations in our Resource Room. The Care Team provides a Play Room for children while women meet with their MCM. It’s not uncommon to see the Director of Care Programs walking around bouncing a client’s baby, while mom uses the computer in the Resource Room to find employment! In addressing the numerous issues that are specific to women as care-givers, providers, and mothers, we are offering unique services that many women living with HIV/AIDS who reside in D.C. cannot find elsewhere.

The Care Team has historically provided the Coffee House Support Group to clients as a safe space to address issues affecting their daily lives, to share resources, and to develop important social connections that break feelings of isolation. During last month’s Coffee House, harm reduction strategies were introduced to the group as a means to address risk that could compromise women’s health. Medical case managers discussed intimate partner violence (IPV)with women and a range of other topics on different ways women are at increased risk of HIV infection.  Coffee House is also fun!  We recently welcomed a dance instructor to teach some line dances!

The Care Team has also introduced a range of social support groups in response to the varied and nuanced needs of the women we serve. For example, we now have a support group for women who are living with HIV/AIDS who love women.  In April, the Care Team will debut additional support groups that will provide clients with various life skills and emotional support.  Be sure to keep up with our calendar of events to see all of our upcoming groups!

We look forward to using this space to showcase the needs of the women we serve and the myriad ways we meet those needs as women, mothers, and caregivers.