WRA provides women education, tools to thrive

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For 44 years, the Women’s Resource Agency has stayed true to its founding mission of helping women attain jobs and financial independence.

Founded in 1972, the WRA in Colorado Springs empowers girls and women to reach their highest potential, providing resources and support that allow them to accomplish their goals and find fulfilling work.

Located in The Citadel mall, it’s the oldest women’s human services organization still operating in the Pikes Peak region, and has helped thousands of women re-enter the workforce, said executive director Melissa Marts.

“We’re really grateful that the community values the work we do and has kept our doors open,” she said. “We’re also thankful for other women’s organizations such as TESSA, that works with domestic violence victims and allows us to primarily focus on helping women figure out their path to work.”

In the early  ’70s, Virginia Neal Blue, Colorado’s state treasurer and its first female elected official, noticed a high number of women struggling to find their way into the workforce and provide for their families after divorces.

So Blue obtained funding through federal and state governments to create 11 women’s resource centers in the state. Colorado Springs’ WRA is the only center still operating under the original mission.

“Others have closed, become domestic violence centers or facilities that provide medical services for women,” Marts said.

The nonprofit consists of three paid staff and on average has between 48 and 62 volunteers every month, some of whom are men, Marts said.

“They usually help with IT or teach classes in the computer lab,” she said. “We want to cultivate a culture of diversity, but are very conscious of males that volunteer at the center. Women come in who are in domestic violence situations, and we’re aware of those sensitivities.”

The center offers workshops and classes for women 18 and older, helping them dress for success, sharpen their resumés and interviewing skills, and learn the latest technology.

“It’s a full gamut and fits under the word choice — as it relates to career, health and opportunity,” Marts said.

The agency’s next goal is to grow its administrative professionals class, currently taught by volunteers and not offered on a regular basis, Marts said.

“There are a lot of open admin positions in the community, and many women interested in the work,” she said. “We have a great six-week program but want to grow it and help women cross over into the field. I’ve written a grant requesting additional funding.”

In 1998, the WRA added programs for teenage girls such as Intercept, for at-risk youth ages 14 to 19 in the Harrison School District. It’s a camp that encourages them to make positive life choices through coaching, group meetings and community-service projects.

“It’s an opportunity for teen girls going through weird stuff at home to talk about relationships, communication and goal-setting for the future,” Marts said. “Each night is a different conversation, topics also include drugs and alcohol, mental health, family issues and nutrition.”

Intercept Too is an intervention program for girls in the juvenile justice system. Marts said 99 percent of girls who go through the WRA’s programs will graduate from high school, and fewer than 5 percent will get in trouble again.

She said the organization’s programs reach about 100 girls; this year, the center’s goal is to reach at least 112.

“There is a crisis with young girls dropping out of school,” Marts said. “Today, in El Paso County alone, it’s estimated that 6,000 will drop out.”

And it’s essential teen girls have an adult in their life whom they trust, she said.

“Studies show girls need to be in gender-specific groups and able to talk with adults who support them through their struggles,” she said. “Females need opportunities to talk and reflect more than boys, and we want to inspire and help girls foster a mindset that makes them feel in charge of their life.”

The center’s newest program is Intercept at Work, a boot camp to help teens find work.

“We want to expand our programs for girls and improve their opportunities for work,” she said. “Results are really important to us at the WRA, tracking the data, and figuring out, ‘Are girls getting what they need? Are women getting jobs?’”