Program brings new hope, help to the working poor

Inside Catholic Charities
Ken Williams is the executive direc- tor of Catholic Charities.

by Ken Williams

“I haven’t even gone to bed yet, and I already can’t wait to get home from work tomorrow.”

We’ve all probably been there. It’s easy to take our jobs for granted. We are paid enough to take care of our families. We are able to put our God-given talents and experiences to work. We are blessed.

For the working poor, it’s a very different situation. Lack of higher education or training results in pay that’s insufficient to take care of their family. There’s no hope for advancement. It’s a dead end.

Although tuition assistance programs are readily available, for the working poor, the cost of tuition is only a small part of the battle. They struggle with barriers such as access to affordable child care and reliable transportation.

If they receive public assistance, they are required to work 20 hours per week. Even the thought of entering a 12-month trade certification program while dealing with these barriers is too much, and perhaps impossible, for most people.

This fall, Catholic Charities launched the St. Rita Center designed to help eliminate barriers that keep people from pursuing a trade certification that will lead to livable wage employment.

Six persons were selected to participate in the pilot program, each receiving a full scholarship based on their specific needs.

One participant is Destiny. A single mother, she’s been raising four children on a $10.50/hour job that she’s held with the local school district for the past 12 years. She enrolled in Kansas City Kansas Community College and selected machine tech as her career path.

The St. Rita Center provided a 12-month “scholarship” to Destiny, enabling her to leave her job and focus full time on school and her family. Her scholarship covers child care, transportation and basic living expenses.

In addition to classes at the KCKCC Trade Center, Destiny also attends soft skills training through the St. Rita Center. She and the other five participants attend classes and workshops taught by Catholic Charities staff that focus on job retention skills such as time management, conflict resolution and communication.

The required curriculum also includes financial literacy and family budgeting classes to help participants manage their money wisely.

St. Francis of Assisi reminds us: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and, suddenly, you are doing the impossible.”

In the last 12 years, Destiny has been doing what’s necessary. In the next 12 months, Destiny will do what’s possible — completing the trade certificate program and beginning a new career in machine technology with an earning potential she never imagined.

The St. Rita Center is about more than providing a trade certification for a livable wage job.

It’s about providing hope, and making what seemed impossible, possible.

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