Women in Transition: Helping the Displaced Homemaker Achieve Self-sufficiency

By: Pamela Macek

Most local area residents traveling on Hamburg Turnpike near Valley Road can’t help but notice the old, historic, little white school house proudly standing out amongst the surrounding businesses. What was once the Upper Preakness School is now the not-for-profit agency, Wayne Counseling and Family Services. Dedicated to serving individuals, families, businesses and other organizations in Northern New Jersey, Wayne Counseling and Family Services offers a variety of outpatient counseling services, educational and prevention programs.

One of their most prominent programs is Women in Transition. For over two decades, this program has maintained its vision to meet the needs of displaced homemakers in Passaic County by providing free vocational training classes and support services to all women needing to re-enter or make an initial entrance into the work force.

Displaced homemakers are women who have lost their primary source of income due to issues of domestic violence, separation or divorce, as well as death or disability of a spouse or partner. Since their primary job was homemaking or caring for their families, these women must now transition from home to the workplace to provide the needed financial support for themselves and their families. They represent homemakers from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Since its inception, this grassroots program has been run by Kate Mcateer, who continues to oversee all aspects of the services offered. Back in 1977, Kate was a displaced homemaker herself when she applied for the position of Program Coordinator. Once accepted, she then asked herself “What did I need?” Kate focused on the women who were right there in front of her and assessed their needs. While she doesn’t provide training herself or teach any of the classes, Kate instead endeavors to create options by advising with and developing an individualized roadmap for every client she meets.

Kate shared, “The program started with a grant and the initial classes offered were in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher.” Today, Women in Transition offers 15 displaced homemaker programs for their clients. “The women who come, get help to find work and hopefully earn an undergrad degree. The ultimate goal is self-sufficiency for these women.”

The services provided are practical and create value. “We offer vocational assessments, interview coaching, job search assistance and resume writing to all.” The needs of the women go beyond developing job-specific skill sets, as they are also dealing with the emotional upheaval and stress of abuse, death or divorce. Kate realizes this and explained, “We also developed and give workshops on self-esteem, assertive communication, empowerment, nutrition and wellness, and countless other topics which resonated with the needs of our clients.”

 

Women in Transition focuses on three main areas in which classes are created and services offered. Work readiness is geared towards developing an employable skill set for the work force. In addition to the initial computer classes offered, there are now classes that include a pre-employment workshop series, interview techniques and coaching, resume and cover letter writing as well as job search assistance and a weekly job club.

Career Counseling helps women set goals and provides career planning services. They also offer assessments to identify the best interests and personality traits of their clients to help them focus on how to best prepare for a successful career. Lastly, they provide referrals and guidance for training and education.

The third area is just as important as the others, which is emotional support. Because displaced homemakers face sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges, the staff at Women in Transition have created divorce support groups, assertive communication classes, self-esteem and confidence building groups to help their clients in their journey. Equally as valuable are the Family Law legal education and financial planning workshops that take place throughout the year.

The monthly bulletin for March has been sent out to all women on the mailing list. The theme is Standing Up For Yourself, with a calendar of events scheduled for women to choose enrollment in. There will be a 3-part series addressing March’s theme. It is challenge that is not uncommon among displaced homemakers. Also scheduled are classes for Microsoft Word, as well as a Legal Workshop, which is funded in part by the New Jersey State Bar Foundation. All are fee, but pre-registration is required. The program has done so well that the agency now works with William Paterson University, offering short term certificate courses which provide certificates upon completion. This is a valuable asset for building a resume.

As a program which relies upon outside funding, measuring success is important. While clients finding and securing employment is one way to measure that success, it is not the only way. Ms. Mcateer agreed, adding, “We have had many successes which we gauge by the growth and journey towards self-sufficiency that women take. For some it is brief, like the mother who became a regional director for a major statewide charity in a matter of months after coming to us; or much longer, as happened to the stay at home mom who struggled for several years through a devastating divorce from an alcoholic spouse to become a teacher. Our clients have gotten jobs in business offices, fashion, customer service, medical translation, schools, hospitals, banks and construction. Some are in interim jobs as they build their resumes, and others find satisfying employment with livable salaries. All work hard and we are their support system.”

Women in Transition is considered a safe haven, providing every client who is enrolled in any program complete confidentiality. Kate shared how the program is a support center where compassion and respect are given, and trust is earned. “Many of the women have been or are still living in abusive situations. They need more than a job.” Kate realizes that she and her staff cannot meet all the needs. “Coming together in small groups and classes, our women form connections and find comradery with those experiencing similar challenges. They are each other’s greatest inspiration and motivators.”

Women in Transition is focused on serving women in Passaic County, but will not refuse anyone seeking help. Oftentimes, these clients continue with their connections to Kate and the staff even after their initial classes are complete. “Some women get jobs and leave while others return after time to further build their abilities to move on toward better employment. All are welcomed.”

Looking back, Ms. Mcateer reflected on what the program has provided. “Over the nearly 22 years in which Women in Transition has served displaced homemakers in Passaic County, we have witnessed over 1,000 divorces, aided with legal education and attorney led seminars, helped widows through grief and loss, supported women whose spouses were disabled and who often became their caregivers, comforted and offered advice. We also provided referrals to hundreds of women who may not have qualified for our free services to find help and direction elsewhere.”

When asked if there was a common theme that resonated from the clients who completed the Women in Transition program, Kate shared, “Over the years we have received many calls and letters from grateful clients, often years after attending the program, and they have a similar theme: that change takes time, healing takes time, support is critical, and nothing is impossible for a determined, hard working person to achieve. Here is an excerpt from one of those letters:

“It has been a long, difficult journey; however, my experiences have made me realize that I can do anything I put my mind to, it just took some time.  I no longer feel sorry for myself and I realize that I am a strong person. You and your organization put me on this path and for that I will be forever grateful.  I hope you realize that you helped changed my life for the better and now I’m also changing the world by being an educator. I can’t ever thank you enough for your guidance and helping me believe in myself. “

Women in Transition is not the only program being offered in the State. There are currently 15 Displaced Homemaker centers in 14 of New Jersey’s 21 counties, with approximately 750,000 displaced homemakers eligible for services. According to some statistics, New Jersey ranks 8th nationally in the number of displaced homemakers. The NJ Department of Children and Families is also now partnering with the NJ Department of Labor to provide training funds to individualize training for women. This is one way Women in Transition continues to develop and offer ongoing services to displaced homemakers. It is clear to see that Kate and her staff are making an impact in an area of society where the need is real, and solutions are now available. If you or anyone you know is a displaced homemaker and in need of help, they can contact Women in Transition for more information or to schedule an intake interview by calling (973) 694-9215, or email Kate Mcateer at mcateerk@wcfservices.org or stop in to schedule an appointment at The Wayne Counseling and Family Services, 1022 Hamburg Tpk., Wayne.

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