Sprawled on the floor, a handful of young women smacked metal stamps with 3-pound mallets. Some twisted their mouths as they concentrated on the personalized, hand-stamped jewelry. For them, it was more than just creating something beautiful. It was hope for a better future.
No one seemed to notice the cries of babies wafting into the room. Still, baby sitter Brea Moffett occasionally appeared at the nursery’s dutch door, allowing an unhappy child to watch Mommy at work.
The young women, in their teens to late 20s, are part of the Teen and Young Moms JOBS Program at First Glance Student Center in Akron. And they mean business.
Each of the bracelets and necklaces has to be perfect — or the women don’t get paid. But it wasn’t so much the money that seemed to be pushing them during a recent visit, rather an unidentifiable drive. Perhaps it was a pride in just knowing that they were creating a thing of beauty, an item someone else would purchase because they saw the same beauty in it.
The mothers are paid by the piece, rather than the hour. And when payday rolls around, they are encouraged to save a portion of the money and donate some.
“Even if we don’t get much out of them, it’s job skills,” said young mom Danielle Herman, who gathered with the others to brainstorm a new design.
Address the obstacles
For six years, First Glance has been instructing girls and women in parenting skills and helping them further their education. Yet many lack the skills to gain employment and sustain their families.
Volunteers, including Karen Freeman, director of the Teen Moms and Young Moms programs at First Glance, came to their rescue, offering a four-session summer workshop taught by Tami Goson, a retired local businesswoman. Staff taught the young mothers soft skills, including how to dress for a job and fill out an application, to respect authority, arrive early to work and demonstrate a positive attitude. To be in the program, the women had to have graduated from high school or be working on their GED.
“The two biggest obstacles were day care and transportation. So we wondered what would happen if we provided those two things. Would they step up to the plate?” Freeman explained.
Indeed they did. Fifteen came, by bus (with passes supplied by First Glance), by private transportation and by foot — bringing their children with them. And while the mothers learned, sitters watched their babies.
“Some didn’t know how to carry themselves to get a job, or that they shouldn’t wear slippers with pajama pants when picking up an application,” Freeman said. “They had homework, had to stay through the whole session, be here on time, wear [uniform-type] shirts and lock up their cellphones. The thing is — they wanted to learn. And they wanted it badly.
“I want to see them off of welfare,” Freeman said. “I want to see them be able to financially take care of their children.”
Two researchers from the University of Akron conducted a focus group with First Glance JOBS participants. The study showed that the women were pleased with the skills they learned from the class work, group discussions and homework in the program.
“As a group, the participants showed a great sense of maturity, and responsibility both for being a mom, and for life in general,” concluded the study by the Institute of Bioscience and Social Research.
Karen Lile, the former owner of Award Fundraising, fronted the money for the JOBS program, an acronym for Jump On Board for Success.
“My motto is hands up, not hands out,” Lile said.
Since that workshop, participants have been busy making jewelry and hand-sewn snap scarves, which are sold on Etsy, an online marketplace.
During a recent visit, five of the mothers were experimenting with new jewelry designs.
“Every one of those girls today are wonderful young ladies,” Lile said. “They appreciate the fact that they even have this to do.”
Giving them a chance
The JOBS program is drawing some attention from employers who have contacted First Glance about hiring the girls. The notion is that while the girls lack experience, employers know they have the support of Freeman and her crew to help.
For instance, one of the young mothers already had a job but was at risk of losing it. Freeman called the employer and asked that the girl’s schedule be adjusted so that she could attend the workshop.
“I promise you that she will be a better employee if you let her do this,” she told the employer.
Since completing the workshop, the girl has been promoted.
“The girls who practiced what they were taught in the workshop got jobs,” said Freeman, adding that another workshop is being planned for this spring.
For those interested in hiring one of the young women in the JOBS program, the staff will help with online applications.
“This is the only thing I ask — if there is an issue with a girl and the way they are performing, please let us know before you let them go. We want the first opportunity to work with them.”
While most of the participants are eager to get a job and earn a living, it’s not unusual for other people in their lives to push them to stay at home and collect assistance.
“I will have girls go to work and family members will say to them, ‘Why would you go across town to get a job when you can stay here and make the same amount of money?’ ” Freeman lamented. “So, I fight that mentality. We tell them, ‘Even if you are not making any more money, you will feel better because you earned it.’ ”
Breaking the cycle is key. And until that is done, Freeman added, nothing will ever change.
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or firstname.lastname@example.org.