Natasha’s Story of Resilience
A Woman on the Path to Economic Self-Sufficiency Recounts Her Steps to Success
Natasha’s story is featured in our 2019-20 Annual Report
Participants at the Center for Work Education and Employment (CWEE) who are gainfully employed are invited to participate in CWEE’s subsequent Steps to Success (S2S) alumni program.
S2S, funded in part by The Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s WAGES program, was designed to alleviate the negative impacts of the well-documented phenomenon, the Cliff Effect. It’s where recently employed individuals or individuals who receive pay increases lose eligibility for certain programs, such as child care assistance or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). The unfortunate irony is that they can end up in a worse financial position than before.
In 2019, 40 women participated in S2S, equipped with new skills and tools to remain gainfully employed. One of those women is Natasha.
Overcoming self-doubt and gaining employment with CWEE’s help
Admittedly, Natasha, who was referred to CWEE by her county, arrived with a healthy dose of skepticism. When she had utilized employment services previously they did not help. “In the past I’ve gone to programs where they just put you in front of a computer and tell you to look for a job,” she explained. “It’s easy to lose focus and motivation.”
But CWEE was different.
“We work toward long-term viability and durability,” said Kiara Wright, CWEE’s career retention specialist. “It’s not just helping our clients get the job, but also advance, get new skills, and grow in their confidence.”
Although Natasha had already earned an associate degree, she struggled with self-doubt and anxiety throughout the job seeking process. She had never received training for interviewing, writing a cover letter, or following up.
While at CWEE, Natasha found a job on the Colorado Nonprofit Association website as a case manager at Volunteers of America (VOA), a nonprofit dedicated to helping those in need rebuild their lives and reach their full potential. The job sounded perfect to her, but that familiar self-doubt edged into her mind.
“I cried before I went to the interview,” she said. “The benefit of being at CWEE was that the staff gave me the confidence to get up and go. They treated me with dignity and understood my anxiety.”
CWEE’s earnings supplement kept her going
With the support of CWEE staff behind her and a growing sense of self-belief, Natasha was offered the job after two interviews.
After starting their jobs and remaining employed for three months, CWEE graduates are invited to join S2S, where they receive additional mentoring, job coaching, career planning, and professional financial coaching. Participants also receive an earnings supplement in months three, four, and five of full-time employment.
“We’ve noticed that the Cliff Effect really starts taking effect on the third month of employment – that’s when TANF and other benefits start to fall out,” said Kiara.
The supplemental income kept Natasha going in the early months of her new job. Because of CWEE’s cash assistance and financial coaching, she was able to buy her daughter a gift for her birthday. She also used the stipend to buy a used car that her neighbor sold her for $200.
“I have to take the situation I’m in with grace. I could go to a car lot and get a car, but my credit score is bad. Now, I’m able to get to and from work.”
Gainfully employed for over one year: Retirement savings, health insurance, and growing confidence
The challenge of getting to and from work led to her unemployment two years ago. She was working as a home health aide, balancing up to six clients at a time. However, her car broke down and it became impossible to maintain all of her appointments while relying on public transportation.
Natasha has now worked at Volunteers of America for nearly one year. She feels blessed to have found a full-time position with benefits before COVID struck. Benefits such as a retirement savings and health insurance are profoundly satisfying to Natasha, but so is the feeling that comes along with building a promising career.
“I always wanted to be a case manager and pay it forward and work with single moms in transition. I am working with vets and have my own business card.”
Natasha feels that the sky is the limit at VOA. She is on a sound path to economic self-sufficiency with CWEE’s help and her own determination, though, she hasn’t traveled as far down the path yet as she would like to be.
“I want to be self-sufficient and I want to be able to pay my bills, but I’m not there yet.” To make ends completely meet, she works overtime hours when she can, and she also plans to take on a second job at a women’s shelter.
Moving forward on the tough days
Natasha’s daughter keeps her moving forward on the tough days. “She’s been my motivator,” she says, proudly recounting that the 8th-grader once cleaned her room for her after a long day. Her daughter is fascinated by the field of aviation and wants to be an engineer or a welder. Natasha feels confident that her own journey over the past couple of years has shown her daughter what’s possible.
“When you’re ready for change, that’s when the changes start happening,” she said. “When I accomplish things, it feels good.”
Read WFCO’s 2019-20 Annual Report for more stories like Natasha’s.
Photo credit: @GreenEarth Photography