United Way Program Keys on Women's Challenges

United Way Program Keys on Women’s Challenges

By Sue Panek
The Oshkosh Area United Way is working hard to move people out of poverty — women in particular. As one of the backbone organizations in the hub initiative, OAUW has committed to providing funding to help remove barriers to employment for single women with dependent children (SWw/DC). 
The hub is a network of 25 local organizations working together to provide wrap-around services to people in need to help them get ahead and stay ahead. One main element of the hub is the coaching model where participants are matched with a hub coach who assesses the current situation, looks at the strengths the participant brings to the table, helps them develop goals, and provides motivational support. The success of this model is based on participant progress along the hub self-sufficiency matrix, the bundling of services, and a shared but confidential database.  
This year, OAUW initiated the EMPOWER project. EMPOWER is a word that conjures up different thoughts in different people. To the OAUW, EMPOWER means to support and promote the achievement of a person’s full potential. The OAUW developed the EMPOWER initiative to fill a gap in existing programs that support single moms. 
The objective is to offer services and resources that can help SWw/DC improve their financial stability through full-time employment paying at least $15 per hour. The initiative is intended to remove barriers by providing financial support for single moms who are motivated to improve their lives by increasing their level of income.  OAUW will provide barrier removal funding for women who are engaged at hub-approved coaching sites for up to $5,000 a year for up to three years. Qualifications include being a single mother with a dependent child or children, living in the Oshkosh Area School District, and being eligible for benefits such as Food Share, BadgerCare, free or reduced lunch, or the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. 
Participants must be willing to actively engage in the development and execution of an improvement plan and coaching through a hub partner coaching site, and demonstrate progress toward improved financial stability through full-time employment paying at least $15 per hour.
The Salvation Army hub coaching site has three women who are receiving support from the EMPOWER project. “Alberta” (not her real name) is a single mom with a 1 ½-year-old child. Alberta previously completed her cosmetology certificate and while she has many strengths, needs help overcoming some barriers. The biggest barrier to gaining employment was having her driver’s license reinstated. 
With the EMPOWER grant, Alberta completed the classes she needed and was able to pay off her fines in order to get her license back. This is the first time she has had her license in more than five years. Needless to say, Alberta is very thrilled and grateful. The EMPOWER grant has also paid for six months of car insurance for her to enable her to safely transport her daughter and herself to and from daycare, work, and eventually school. 
She is planning to attend Fox Valley Technical College to complete the Phlebotomy Certificate Program. She has experience in this field and greatly enjoys it. After doing some research she learned she was eligible for some financial aid and the EMPOWER is helping with the remaining tuition and books.  She has registered to attend classes in the spring semester, and the grant also will assist her transportation needs as she will need to drive to Appleton for classes.
Throughout all of this, Alberta has done all of the background work and research for the things that she is trying to accomplish, and has demonstrated high motivation to achieve her goals. She is very excited about the prospect of starting school and this worker is anticipating future success.
These are the kinds of success stories that will continue to make projects like the hub and EMPOWER help people in our community turn their lives around and ultimately break the cycle of poverty. A special thanks to Lisa Winkler and Al Rolph at the Salvation Army for embracing the hub model and working with the Oshkosh Area United Way to pilot the EMPOWER project. 
The EMPOWER project will continue to provide barrier removal funding for Alberta. If she continues to work with her hub coach, continues to make progress on the self-sufficiency matrix, and achieves her personal goals she will eligible to receive up to $5,000/year for a total of three years. The EMPOWER project is moving women and children out of poverty, one step at a time. 
The Oshkosh Area United Way fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in the Oshkosh community. United Way relies on donations from individuals and businesses to provide support for 50 health and human service programs in our community. For information about how to make a donation or how to volunteer, call 920-235-8560 or email sue@oshkoshunitedway.org
Sue Panek is Executive Director of the Oshkosh Area United Way.