Speaking up about their experiences, the newcomers to the Women’s Employment Resources Corp. traded hard luck stories about navigating the welfare system.
Most of the small group of less than 10 young women had been receiving welfare payments for years and they are moving toward a turning point in their lives when they will leave welfare behind and go to work.
The women are participants in a four-week employment workshop at the Women’s Employment Resources Corporation, a jobs powerhouse that operates out of a small office building at 3362 Adeline St.
Anticipating a major change in their lives, the women complained about the past, about glitches in welfare administration, social workers switching off their cases, not enough money.
“Like most of our clients coming off welfare, they have a lot of problems to resolve, but this is a new day,” said Carole Brown, director of the Women’s Employment Resources Corp.
She said the clients are fearful, worried they won’t succeed, but they want to leave welfare as long as they can support themselves.
Brown, who earned a master’s degree in social work from UC Berkeley, said that in her experience, which goes back to the 1970s, she said she has not seen welfare programs as productive as the one CalWorks currently is providing. She said the healthy economy is a strong contributing factor.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.
She said the county’s welfare program pays childcare providers directly for participating women, pays for their transportation and their clothing to wear to work.
The county also offers mental health and domestic violence programs. Brown believes the healthy economy is a strong contributing factor to improved programs.
Welfare reform has been tried before, but “this one is doing everything possible to help women get off welfare, “ she said.
Previously, she said, participants “didn’t have a voice in their destinies, there were programs planned for them, the follow-up wasn’t too good, and you didn’t really get that sense that the system wanted to help you.”
Brown said the state receives about $180 million from the federal government for welfare programs. The state then distributes that funding to counties.
She said her agency is one of several that contracts with the county to provide services. It acts as a liaison between CalWorks and the community.
The center, which worked with more than 100 clients this year, Brown said, is in its second year of its contract with CalWorks, which monitors the center’s program.
The center receives an allocation, about $526,000, which it must earn based on the services it provides. She said Women’s Resources also receives an amount “under $50,000” from the City of Berkeley.
Brown said they work with the city’s One-Stop program, at 1950 Addison St. The program is available to Berkeley residents to use its computers and fax machines and telephones at no charge for their job searches.
Women’s Resources also helps find resources for people who have been laid off from their jobs and haven’t been able to obtain unemployment compensation.
It’s a job information center for Berkeley residents who are seeking employment or other information about job training or schooling.
Brown said she receives calls from a range of people from the down-and-out unemployed, people seeking lawyers, or grants, and from UC Berkeley graduates.
“We’ve been here 16 years. We don’t know who will hit the door tomorrow,” Brown said.
The Women’s Center follows clients’ progress on their new jobs at 30-, 90-, and 180-day intervals. It also acts as an interpreter for the mountains of paperwork that loom in the life of a woman who is exiting welfare for a job while raising her children.
Women’s Employment Resources Corporation has a contract with CalWorks to be a liaison between the welfare department and the community.
In turn the center is in contact with scores of employers in the Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville area.
The way to say good-bye to welfare is by getting and holding a job that pays a living wage. Brown said the center is not aiming at minimum wage jobs but those paying $10. If they pay $8, she said the center wants the jobs to be accompanied by benefits.
The center offers training programs, including computers, and life skills lessons. “The reality is that you can get all the training in the world, but if you have a bad attitude, you won’t get the job,” she said.
On a promotional flyer, the Women’s Employment Resources Corp. advertises for clients “on CalWorks,” noting that the center can provide help with sanctions, skills assessment, mentoring, resume preparation and career counseling and workshops.
Timiza Joseph, a single parent who is taking a leave of absence from operating a hair salon business, said she turned to the center to learn more about possible government grants she could apply for.
Tracy Watson, who was temporarily disabled with a thyroid problem that remained undiagnosed for months, preventing her from receiving county aid, finally found a job working at Women’s Resources.
The center allows her a flexible schedule, and while she still is recuperating, she is teaching computer skills to clients and advocating for them with a newfound sense of urgency.
“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Watson – and she’s telling clients where to find the