By Rhonda Van Pelt
Walk into Suite 3128 at The Citadel mall, near J.C. Penney and you’ll see racks of attractive clothing, shelves full of shoes, plus jewelry, scarves and other accessories. But you won’t see any price tags, because these are tickets to better lives for women and girls.
That’s just part of what the Women’s Resource Agency provides its clients. Walk farther and you’ll notice bulletin boards covered with fliers about job opportunities, training programs and affordable insurance.
The WRA was founded in 1972, making it the Pikes Peak region’s oldest service organization for women. The agency helps more than 1,000 teens and adult women every year, but the positive results spreading to their daughters, sisters and friends cannot be calculated.
According to Pikes Peak United Way, women and children comprise 80 percent of the homeless people in Colorado Springs. The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, in its 2013 report on “The Status of Women and Girls in Colorado,” said that El Paso County is home to 16,900 single mothers; 35 percent live below the poverty level.
“For women who are single and don’t have a family, they need to make $13 an hour to be self-sufficient,” said Melissa Marts, WRA executive director. “And $10 an hour jobs are standard and pretty easy to come by and sometimes you can get your foot in the door with that, but to move on and get to the next level is hard. For a woman who has young children, she needs to make at least $15 an hour to pay for day care. And often, those women are young and don’t have a lot of work experience.”
Bottom line: WRA helps girls and women find resources within themselves, rather than turning to bad relationships, addictions or other destructive behavior.
“They’re just really stuck. Actually, they’re somewhat traumatized,” Marts said. “The last thing you really want to do is sit with those disturbing feelings. So, it’s time to sit with that stuff and let some of that come up, talk about how you want to move ahead to the next step. Taking the time to acknowledge how proud you are for making it through whatever you’ve gone through. And you are resilient, you can apply that to your next step in life, you are here.”
New client orientations include assessments of the barriers they feel they’re facing on their road to self-sufficiency.
“They answer financial literacy questions, computer questions, then we develop what’s called an individual career plan for the ladies. And talk about it: ‘Here’s the array of things that we have available; here’s where you’re having some of your struggles and issues,’” Marts explained.
Many ways to help
Programs include stress-reduction workshops, computer classes and “Suit Up for Success” — utilizing those racks of clothing and accessories for their new lives.
If the client needs daycare so she can work outside the home, WRA will steer her to the El Paso County Department of Human Resources and the Community Partnership for Child Development. If she needs a resumé makeover or nutrition counseling, WRA can help. Clients facing job interviews practice with female professionals who volunteer with WRA.
As with most nonprofits, volunteers help WRA stay afloat. They’ll sort gently used donated clothing, staff the front desk or do other important duties. Marts, who supervises two paid staffers, said the agency’s volunteer pool is divided about 50-50 between women needing help and women giving help.
“In a typical month, we fluctuate between 40 and 70 volunteers, and our hours are well over 900 volunteer hours in a month. We have a huge volunteer force.”
Eight of those women gathered in the agency’s conference room on a recent Friday morning. They told stories of retiring from the military, of living in a one-bedroom apartment with another adult and five children, of being an 18-year-old with no car looking for her first job, of the volunteering they do at WRA while searching for jobs.
The conversation was punctuated with laughter and applause, then a heartfelt rendition of “Happy Birthday” for the Army veteran.
One volunteer/client spoke up to say she’s looking forward to WRA’s resumé class and mock interviews.
“This is a marvelous program,” she said. “I’m really glad to be here and I am looking for a job. And I’m going to get one.”
For more information on the Women’s Resource Agency, go to wrainc.org. To donate via the Give! campaign, visit www.indygive.com/create-community/womens-resource-agency.