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The third cohort of women in Youth Job Center’s WILL program is poised to graduate on Nov. 15. The 26 participants are young women ages 18-25 with a high-school or equivalent degree, working in what would be considered dead-end jobs.
As they progress through the program with support services to help them continue, they transition to getting further education and jobs that promise a future. They are Women Interested in Learning and Livelihoods.
To help keep the women in the 18-month program, “We provide wrap-around services,” said Precious Wright, the WILL Project coordinator at a panel discussion of the project on Oct. 29. The services include helping the young women secure child care or stable housing, assigning each one a successful woman in the community as a mentor.
When the women in the present cohort began the program, the most any of them made was $10 per hour Ms. Wright said. One young woman earning $4.95 per hour plus tips now has a job at $13 per hour. “The average wage is now $12 per hour. They are enrolling in school, transitioning from part-time to full-time status [in jobs] and realizing personal goals like getting into stable housing and paying down debt,” Ms. Wright said.
“These young women who are in low-wage jobs are not anomalies,” said Alecia Wartowski, director of programs at Northwestern University’s Women’s Center.
“Nationally, 9 million single mothers earn less than $25,000 per year. Only a third of them receive child support. Forty-four percent spend half of their money on housing. How are they going to get ahead?” she asked, adding, “Education is a key factor in closing the economic gap. The work that WILL is doing – helping [young women] transition to jobs and getting post-secondary education – will help end this … cycle.”
A panel composed of Patricia Vance, Katie Bailey and Denise Clarke described some of the challenges and support that helped them get where they are.
Ms. Vance served as executive director of CEDA/Neighbors at Work for 24 years and as Township Supervisor for 12 years. Ms. Bailey, a member of the District 65 School Board, consults for non-profit agencies and works with several Big Shoulders Fund high schools in Chicago. Ms. Clarke, an alumna of the second WILL cohort, is a director of District 65’s School Age Child Care programs.
Each was asked to give “advice to your 19-year-old self.”
“Embrace your mistakes,” said Ms. Bailey. She added, “Pick your battles. … Say, ‘Thank you.’ Proof your work. Return phone calls, reply to emails. Listen more. It’s hard to understand somebody else’s background, but if you listen, you can relate to the common thread.”
“Break the generational curse,” said Ms. Clarke. Many women who grow up in single-parent households where the mother has no education tend to repeat the pattern. “Create your own path,” she added.
“Pay attention to the type of jobs you choose to get into,” said Ms. Vance. “It’s OK to say, ‘I can’t do this’ and to start all over again. … Set up networks. Reach back with both hands to bring someone up.”