On May 1, 17 women graduated from Starting Point 2.0 and EmpowHER, two programs designed to help women ages 18-29 with financial skills, empowerment and career planning. The goal of the programs is to prepare the participants to successfully complete post-secondary education, leading to family supporting wages, according to a press release from the Women’s Fund for the Fox Valley Region.
The fourth cohort of low-income mothers and their pre-school age children graduated from Starting Point 2.0. Eight women with a total of 17 children graduated from the program. At the same time, the second class of women graduated from EmpowHER, a similar program geared toward women who are not mothers. Eight women graduated from that program.
“I saw a flyer in the (Fox Valley Technical College) Financial Wellness Center and it caught my eye,” said Angie Furger, who graduated from EmpowHER. “I liked all the talking points they had on there, like healthy relationships and self-esteem and all that kind of stuff that I wish I had had 10, 20 years ago.”
Furger was not the typical participant, but got a lot out of it nonetheless.
“I’m a little bit outside of their age range scope. They usually focus on 18-to-29-year-olds and I’m 38 ,so they let me kind of squeak in, but I still found it really valuable,” she said in an interview with FoxValley365. “They had the financial people come in and do budgeting, which is always helpful for me. They talked about time management, and then there was like the personal stuff like self-esteem and healthy relationships and watching for abuse cycles and you know, that kind of stuff, and that was really, really important. I struggle in some of those areas.”
Furger, who works three jobs and also volunteers weekly while attending Fox Valley Tech, said the 11-week program also helped her connect with community resources she never knew existed.
“I learned about even just some of the staff at Fox Valley Tech, people that I could talk to if I need a mental health counselor or a career counselor, any type of people you can just go to if you’re struggling in whatever it is. There’s something, there’s somebody for everything,” she said. “I actually have been going to the Partnership Health Clinics just for, you know, normal, just, check-ups and stuff like that, but I didn’t know that existed before. I even learned about a program for car repair. I ended up using it.”
Furger said her only regret was not getting into the program earlier.
“I loved the program and I really wish I would’ve had it when I was these girls’ age. I think it would have saved me a lot of heartache,” she said. “I think having that empowerment and having the ability to teach how to stand up for yourself and what’s acceptable and what’s not, I think is huge, especially when you’re that age. You know, even at my age I think it’s still valuable. I still got a lot out of it too.”
Starting Point 2.0 is a collaboration between the Women’s Fund for the Fox Valley Region, Fox Valley Technical College and B.A.B.E.S., Inc. Child Abuse Prevention Program. It is based on the Aspen Institute’s two-generation approach to addressing generational poverty by meeting the needs of the family together. Topics such as life and family strengthening skills, how to overcome mental and emotional hurdles, opportunities for employment, and how to prepare for career and college success, among many others, are part of the coursework. While mothers attend class, their young children receive age appropriate early childhood education at B.A.B.E.S.
Bophary Green was one of the women who graduated from Starting Point 2.0.
“I always wanted to go back to school. I’m 22 and I just had my fourth kid, so I was just like, I should start getting some help to get back in school. This program gave me the courage to go back, and support. Just so I can get this done,” she said.
Green said it was the positive attitude of the program and the group that spurred her to finish.
“Every class we learn about something new. One of the topics was stages of change, and then another class, we talked about overcoming adversity,” she said. “So we all talked about our issues and how we can get past it and that it’s possible from hearing other people’s story. That was one of them. And the also from the girls there in the class, they could give me positive feedback and it’s just a positive thing to be surrounded by positive people. Having positive thoughts about moving forward and staying focused.”
Green said she doesn’t want to stop here, and that she’s working hard to earn her GED, and then keep going from there.
“One of the things to get into this program is to be dedicated and make sure that we get to class,” she said. “So I want to take this same energy to getting what I need to get done. In the long run I would like to become a nurse practitioner. Baby steps, but I know I will do it as long as I stay focused.”
New this semester, was the addition of mental health services thanks to a grant from the Bright Idea Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.
Fox Valley Tech counselor and program instructor Kara Nowak identified this need after noticing that some of the students’ struggles were more complex than what could be addressed during class or from the FVTC counseling staff. This pilot program provides an initial assessment and nine counseling sessions from The Samaritan Counseling Center for up to five women, according to a press release from the Women’s Fund..
Other program collaborators include Child Care Resource & Referral, Building for Kids, Appleton Housing Authority, Partnership Community Health Center and the Financial Wellness Center.
“It’s been remarkable to see these programs grow to include more collaborators over the past two years,” Women’s Fund Executive Director Julie Keller said in a statement. “We are fortunate to receive such great support from the community.”