Opening Doors

  • Shanti Hahler<br>Edmonds Enterprise editor
  • Friday, February 29, 2008 7:37am

EDMONDS — A year and a half ago, 50-year-old “Amy” had spent most of her life as a stay-at-home mom. She home-schooled her six children but as her marriage began to fall apart, she felt isolated and the constant stress often gave her crippling headaches.

After a divorce, Amy, who asked her name not be used, said she felt she had nowhere to go, and her self-esteem plummeted.

That’s when she learned about a class called Pathways to Work, hosted by Lynnwood’s Pathways for Women instructor Wendy Clarke.

The class, which is offered at different locations in Snohomish County and Shoreline every month, is designed specifically for women who need to re-enter the workforce because of divorce, separation, death or disability of a spouse, or loss of welfare. There is no cost to those who participate.

Typically, the class includes women who qualify as “displaced homemakers,” Clarke said. These are women who have stayed at home full-time for at least 10 years and who’ve had a recent decline in their income that’s forcing them to go back to work.

The current class is at St. Peter by the Sea Lutheran Church in Edmonds and has six participants with a range of backgrounds and economic situations.

“We’ve had women who have been on public assistance, and women who have been married to doctors,” Clarke said.

The similarities, though, are usually what bring the women to the class.

“They are all wrestling with the question of ‘what do I do now?’” Clarke said.

Through the intensive 58 hour, 10-day class, Clarke works with the women to first stabilize their situation and peace of mind. Participants go through personality testing to discover their talents and interests. They also have access to two free counseling sessions as well as help with resumes and interview skills. Participants also get three complete clothing outfits for interviews through the Everett YWCA working wardrobe program.

“When (the women) walk in, they usually feel hopeless and overwhelmed,” Clarke said. “But when they leave, they have a direction and they feel that they can do this.”

Amy found this to be very true for her. Now 51, she works in an office and has renewed self-esteem. Her divorce is now final and her children attend public school.

“The class was a lifeline for me,” she said. “I see people and the world much differently.”

Debrah, 48, had a similar situation and said she felt “totally uneducated and uninformed.” She asked her full name not be used.

A Shoreline resident and stay-at-home mom to four children, Debrah had been out of the workforce for many years. When she finally decided to go back to work, she quickly got “burned out” working clerical and managerial positions for area hotels. She attended and graduated from Pathways to Work in October.

‘It’s done wonders for me and has opened all kinds of doors,” Debrah said, adding that she plans to attend Everett Community College in January to begin working on a degree in multimedia design. “It’s literally been life changing.”

Debrah said the bonds she formed with the other women in the group also has helped her to succeed.

“They’re struggling with the same things, and you feel lost but there’s people like Wendy out there with their hand out to help you,” she said.

“(The class) is the door that opens all the other doors, starting with the inner door that leads you to a better understanding of your own self.”