Changing directions, overcoming difficulties
Two Prineville women credit Adult and Family Services and Goodwill Industries with helping them change their lives aroundFor women who find themselves alone in the world, short on education, a couple of kids and a serious lack of job experience, the future can seem quite bleak. With the combined help of area service organizations, two such women from Prineville are now facing a brighter future.
Like many women without resources, both Prineville's Niki Keller-Dill and Sharrell Fluty eventually found themselves at the Adult and Family Services (AFS) office, signing up for food stamps and filling out applications for Welfare assistance. But unlike others, Keller-Dill and Fluty had the fortitude to turn their lives around.
According to the Welfare to Work Partnership, more than 5.6 million Americans have taken themselves off the welfare rolls since 1996, when President Clinton initiated dramatic welfare changes. Today, there are 44 percent fewer families and 46 percent fewer individuals receiving welfare.
In cooperation with AFS, Goodwill Industries routinely coordinates individuals with employers in Crook County to create jobs based on the needs of local industry and the ability of the individual.
Meeting with each of the women, the task of AFS case worker Shari Beisenhertz, was to assess each situation individually and guide them toward making choices which promoted positive change.
A prime candidate for the program, Keller-Dill, a 32-year-old single mother of three, came to the end of her rope about a year ago. With a sporadic history of working seasonal jobs, Keller-Dill had been struggling for some time to keep her family together. At one point she and two of her children were living in a tent.
"I was homeless and living with my mother at the back of her trailer with one of my children. I just had had enough. I didn't know where I was going or what to do, so I went to the AFS where I met Shari. She hooked me up with this new program with Goodwill where I got training and a job."
Fluty, a 34-year-old mother of two and breadwinner for her family went through a similar process.
Although Fluty had held down jobs in the past, she hadn't been employed for more than two years. With the help of AFS and Goodwill she eventually found employment with Morgan's Restaurant.
For Keller-Dill it was a matter of securing a stable housing situation, furnishings for her `new' home, getting a driver's license and acquiring appropriate clothing for work.
Last August Keller-Dill was ready for the next phase of the process and she was referred to the Goodwill Industries Community Work Experience program. Under this program a local business, in this case Rite-Aide, agreed to take her under their wing, and train her, while Goodwill paid for her wages. After 80 hours of work experience, Keller-Dill was hired as a permanent employee.
For Fluty the first steps toward independence and self-sufficiency included obtaining a GED, getting her car fixed, finding suitable work clothes and taking a trip to the beauty salon.
Last July Fluty was ready to enter the Community Work Experience program and was signed up with Morgan's Restaurant where she started out as a dish washer.
After successfully completing the assessment period she too was hired as a permanent employee. She works as a prep cook today and is currently continuing to advance her training and experience.
Businesses who make up the Welfare to Work partners have reported that former welfare recipients make dedicated and reliable workers. In fact, eight out of ten executives who have hired former welfare recipients have found them to be "good, productive employees." And the majority of business leaders report that their welfare to work hires stay on the job as long as -- or even longer than -- other entry-level employees.
Both Keller-Dill and Fluty agree, the difference between what and who they are now compared to a year ago is like night and day. Each woman says she is much happier in her personal life and feels like she is supported by a new-found community of friends.
Beisenhertz explained that the success of Keller-Dill and Fluty is directly attributable to their courage to make changes in their own lives.
"I'm looking at these two girls now, and there's no way they looked this good a year ago," said Beisenhertz.
"We were both pretty bad off, and had no self-esteem. We both probably suffered from lack of wanting to try because we were already failing. But Shari helped us a lot. If it wasn't for her I wouldn't be here," Keller-Dill said. "Today I have a home, a car and a job, and a much brighter future."
The changes in the Welfare program have made it difficult, if not impossible, for people to simply collect a check. "In the old days we used to give people benefits and didn't expect them to do anything in return," Beosenhertz explained. "It's a lot different today. When people come in we don't want to put them on welfare. If they are able to work we put them on assessment for 30 days to see what we can do to get them job- ready."
She added that the goal overall is to help folks become independent, but once in the system, they are not cut loose until they are fully capable.
"We don't just let them go," Beisenhertz emphasized. "Sometimes people say these people get a job, but they can't live because they don't get any benefits. But usually they get food stamps, a medical card and employment related day care. As long as they cooperate with the jobs program we can do quite a lot to assist them, until they find a job. We've really been lucky with people getting employed."
Perhaps the real proof of success is the bright smiling faces of Keller-Dill and Fluty as they talk about their ability to provide for their families, and pay their bills. Certainly these women are stepping into a new role model for their children as well as other women just entering the program.