Catharine S. Eberly Center for Women Advisory Board (November 2005 - November 2009)
I'd like to dedicate my brick to the women I worked with over the course of twenty four years in a factory cafeteria, before Project Succeed connected me with resources that enabled me to improve my economic situation. Most of my coworkers were moms who were eligible for food stamps, even though they worked full time. The big attraction of this job was that all employees had good family medical benefits. The work was very hard, though, and the working conditions were only gradually improving as I left.
I'd like to tell you a little more about my coworkers and friends. Dorothy's son was killed by drug dealers in the late 1970's. Dorothy's daughter was murdered while in college in Atlanta, leaving Dorothy and her husband to raise their grandchild. It was painful to watch Dorothy struggle to walk from the parking lot into the cafeteria. She had heart disease and terrible arthritis. Dorothy had a stroke right in front of me. We carried her to the office and she was taken away by ambulance. She never regained consciousness, and she died a week later. Her grandson called a few days before she died and told us she was gone. He was hoping to buy drugs with our donations. It broke our hearts to see that she was going to lose her grandson, too.
Betty raised five children on her own. She had severe diabetes, and she had her first heart attack on the job. Over the years she lost most of her toes and had a pacemaker installed, but she kept working. Shortly after her youngest daughter married, her health really started to go. She lived to see several grandchildren born, though. She was so proud of her kids! They all married well and were living happy, middle class lives. Betty didn't retire until she lost a leg. Shortly after that, she went in for heart surgery. When they opened her up, she was full of cancer, so they didn't complete the surgery. She never left the hospital.
Pearl raised five kids, too, including her oldest son who was so premature that the visiting nurse told Pearl not to bother trying to keep him alive. He was born in the south in the late 1940's. Pearl had no money for formula, and her milk didn't come in, so she fed him mashed beans and bread soaked in the broth. Pearl was in her late sixties when she retired because of arthritis and heart disease, and she went to live with that son and his wife.
Bernice was in her late fifties when I met her, but she was still was supporting her daughter and grandson. She divorced a husband who interfered with her ability to support her family, only to see him die of alcohol-related health problems a few years later. Bernice paid for his funeral--no one else would. She worked until she was in her early seventies, even after she broke her hip on the job. She didn't retire until bone cancer made it impossible to continue. Even so, it was a shock to hear that she died. She seemed invincible to me.
Teresa is my age. She has two children, but she might as well have twenty. She comes from a large, very dysfunctional family, and she is always bailing someone out of jail or putting someone up for a while. The year before I left the cafeteria, Teresa's son was sent to prison for a year. He was with friends who decided to rob a fast food restaurant. When I last talked to Teresa, she was a little hopeful--her son was working on his GED! Her daughter has some musical talent, and Teresa is very determined to get her in band so she will be eligible for scholarships. Although she isn't religious, she joined a church that offers some opportunities for her daughter. She is infinitely resourceful!
I could tell you lots of other stories about my friends, most of whom are gone now. Many of these ladies never made it to retirement. They died in the process of trying to support their families and provide a better life for their children. Many died of breast cancer, one before she was 35. When I hear from my friends now, it is the women my age who are struggling with health problems.
I would not have considered applying for a position at my current employer without the counseling I received in Project Succeed. When I began this program, I was newly separated from my husband of seventeen years. I was living in a two-bedroom mobile home and driving a car with a bad transmission. I was making $7.49 an hour at a job I'd held since high school. It was a great job in high school and pretty good in college. It suited my need for part-time work when my children were very small. It was no good at all when I found myself the sole support of three children...
InProject Succeed, I learned how to quantify the skills I already had, and I was encouraged to consider additional training and a non-traditional career. I was coached in resume and interview skills. I received extensive aptitude testing, and I was counseled on the implications of the results. There was personal counseling, too, to build self-esteem and to focus my energy on what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Project Succeed connected me with a program through the Private Industry Council that provided funding for associate degrees for women in non-traditional careers. I decided on a mechanical engineering program, but funding dried up just as I qualified. I decided to study for an apprenticeship test at GM Powertrain, and to apply for other industrial positions.
I applied for a position at an oil refinery in 1997, and was hired in September of 1998. By the summer of 1999, I had bought a small three bedroom house, and a real car! My job means a great deal to me, beyond the financial security it has given me. My job is very challenging and rewarding. My employer has a tuition assistance program for employees, and I am now financially able to send my children to college.
Itis my hope that Project Succeed will continue to offer hope to women who need it most--those whose lives have given them little reason to believe that life can be better.