A program to support women who are seeking employment
by assisting them with resume writing, interview skills, and
THE EVOLUTION OF A MENTOR
By Freddy Zylstra
In April, BPW launched its 8 step business skills program. At inception, our plan was to mentor women currently living in shelters, such as Hetty’s Haven.
We gave much thought to the steps in the program, and developed guidelines we could follow. We knew we were in uncharted territory – this had not yet been done in our community. Most of our clients are getting counseling to assist with their emotional trauma. What was missing was a way to help them develop or awaken job skills that would enable them to succeed in life.
How naïve we were. We assumed the extent of the program would be to work with a client for an hour per week, developing a plan with them (goal setting), refining their resume, performing mock interviews.
Lynn Wenzel and I were the first to be given clients. I don’t believe we had any idea what our journey might be like, how much we would learn in a few short months, or how fulfilling it would be. I can honestly say I have grown and changed as a person more in the past few months than in the several years prior.
We have two graduates already. One is not only already employed, but has been promoted. Her employer thinks she is a star. So do we. In the beginning, she was unable to carry on any conversation without tears, because she, like most of the women we work with, suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. By the time she went to her first job interview 5 months into our program, she was told she had given the best interview ever evaluated by that employer.
Our second graduate is planning to start at Sierra College in the spring semester. She now has a solid plan, achievable goals, and a mentor to walk through the steps with her.
Four additional clients have joined us, and are starting their journey toward independence, self-confidence and the joy of pursuing a career they will love.
For the mentoring committee, learning and growing is an incredible benefit we had not anticipated. We are now a 501 (c) (3) non-profit, which will allow us to pursue grants and donations to cover educational expenses. Additionally, we have found that transportation is a huge issue for these women – many either have no vehicle or one that is suffering from a terminal disease. The conundrum is that you need a job to buy a car, but you need a car to get to work. It is our plan to be able to use grant money to assist graduates of our program in the purchase of reliable, yet inexpensive transportation. All these are requiring us to develop new knowledge and skills along with our clients.
I recently read an article in which a number of high-powered CEO’s were interviewed about their path to success. Each had a different story, but the one thing they all held in common was having had a mentor. Mentoring is powerful. A mentor can teach you, in baby steps, how to move forward, how to achieve your goals, and best, that a perfect stranger can see your strengths and cares about your success. For the women with whom we work, many have never experienced someone in their lives being supportive; to have a mentor gives them hope and power to face the world.
This fall, we held a ground-breaking meeting in which 16 separate non-profits, state and county agencies attended. The goal was for each of us to learn what the others do and how they support women and families in our community. We now have forged relationships with those agencies, so we can refer clients to them as needed, and they to us. A position in our own organization, that of ‘Transitional Advocate’, allows us to have a volunteer who can communicate with each of those agencies, to be certain none of our clients experiences a delay or interruption of benefits.
We are still evolving. That we are challenged to learn and grow as mentors is a huge part of the joy. Seeing our clients transform from low self-esteem to proud, strong and capable is a wonderful feeling.