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.

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.