They show up, fleeing from abusive situations. Battered, afraid, not knowing what their future will be.
Usually getting or keeping a job is not the first thing on their minds. But it soon will be, experts say. Providing for themselves and their children is often the first step toward stability.
That’s the impetus of a new pilot project -- the only one in the state -- headed up by the Suncoast Workforce to develop job skills for domestic violence victims.
“The idea is brilliant,” said Laurel Lynch, chief executive officer for Hope Family Services, the Manatee County service provider for domestic violence victims. “We know the lack of money and not having the ability to be self-sufficient is a barrier to being independent and getting away from a domestic violence situation.”
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Hope, along with its Sarasota counterpart SPARCC (Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center), is partnering with the Suncoast Workforce, which was given $500,000 to administer the program and has set up mini-career centers at each of the shelters, equipped with computers and trainers.
Three staff members work on the empowerment project, said Runa Badal, special projects manager with Suncoast Workforce. Once at the shelter, women are given job skills and aptitude tests to determine their strengths and abilities.
The three major components of the project involve upfront employment activities like crafting a resume and searching the state’s job database, occupational skills training for specific careers like certified nurse assistants, and a life skills workshop series dealing with a variety of career-focused skills like understanding learning styles, communications, conflict resolution, finances and stress management.
Theresa Hamrick, who has been at Hope Family Services for a month and just graduated from the life skills workshop series, thinks the classes have given her knowledge and built up her self-esteem.
“I’ve learned how to deal better with coworkers, how to write a resume and how to assert myself,” she said.
Hamrick has had a variety of jobs in the past 13 years, from being a cashier to a sewing machine operator. But she became disabled when she was working as a cook. With back problems, her physical abilities are limited, Hamrick said, but she is hoping the program will help her find part-time employment.
“My aptitude assessment came out high; it says I can do a lot of things,” she said. “I’m hoping they can help me find something.”
The classes with other women at the shelter have encouraged them to open up, Hamrick said.
“We are all kind of shy, but we’ve been able to talk about things we have trouble with,” she said.
Those involved in the pilot project are hoping its success will mean more programs of its type across the state.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for us to bring to light the issue of domestic violence and show how women can start to get their life back on track by giving them job training and placement,” said Carolyn J. Mason, Sarasota County commissioner and chair of the Suncoast Workforce committee overseeing the project.
As a community activist who has worked with Goodwill and the Salvation Army, Mason said her experience with domestic violence victims has shown that low self-esteem and the lack of job skills are big stumbling blocks for them, something she thinks this project can address.
Employment can be a control issue for the abuser, so victims often don’t have successful workplace experiences. Many victims Lynch works with have limited job skills and have worked at entry-level, minimum-wage jobs most of their lives.
“People who have the power of a checkbook and a credit card may not come to us,” she said. “We are usually dealing with the underemployed and the unemployed.”
Some of these women were not allowed to even look for work.
“They are on their own for the first time,” said Badal. “You’d think they’d be relieved, but they are more scared than anything.”
The life skills classes offered through the project focus on what people need to be successful in a career, said Lynch, who has had her employees learn how to be trainers.
She worries that a year -- the project ends in November -- will not be long enough to measure its success.
“Sometimes we measure things differently,” Lynch said. “There are intangible benefits you can’t measure. A woman who never had enough confidence to go on job interviews, but now does and looks good, that is a success.”
Badal expects to see a lot of activity in September when school starts back up.
“We hope they’ll call SPARCC or Hope and ask about the empowerment project and take that first step,” she said.
Mary Helen Kress, chief executive officer of the Suncoast Workforce, hopes the program will succeed and continue.
“If we are successful here, the plan is for the program to be implemented statewide,” she said. “That would be wonderful, because there is such a need for programs to combat domestic violence.”