Woman overcomes adversity, dispels myths about welfare
Immaculately dressed, confident, Wendy Woods smiles when asked about her job as a bank teller as El Dorado Savings Bank. One would scarcely guess that slightly over a year ago she was unemployed and receiving welfare.
When she was in her late 20s, Wendy’s third child was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Shortly after, her husband left, taking their car. They had been living in his parents’ home and she was pregnant with a forth child.
“I didn’t have a job, money or a place to live. I ended up living in my dad’s garage. I couldn’t get a job because I was pregnant and I couldn’t leave my son anywhere,” she explained.
Society’s welfare stigma also took its toll.
She tells a story of attempting to obtain immunizations on Medical. After receiving a list of doctors accepting Medical from Barton Hospital, she went to the one nearest to her home. After waiting two hours, she overheard the doctor say to a nurse, “I wish those other doctors would stop dumping their garbage on me.”
The embarrassment didn’t stop there. In the same grocery line, Wendy paid with food stamps, while a cousin paid with cash. Only the cousin was thanked by the cashier. Eventually, she only used her food stamps in stores where she didn’t recognize anyone.
Unemployed life was lonely as well.
“One week I didn’t get dressed or leave the house for five days. Nobody even noticed. It was just very depressing,” she said.
However, after two years of receiving public aid, Wendy became part of the Welfare to Work program, which is designed to help public aid recipients back into the working community.
The program was instituted in accordance with 1998’s welfare reform, with the focus of helping participants find a job. It also provides educational opportunity and counseling.
A mandatory part of the program is Lake Tahoe Community College’s employment success class, which teaches skills to obtain a job and keep it, as well as time management skills and developing goals.
“It changed my whole outlook on myself” she said.
She made the transition from “feeling like an unemployed mother of four” to “feeling like I could do anything.”
The major turning point came when a teacher was speaking about her investments. “I thought, ‘She’s just a person. I could do that,'” Wendy said.
She learned to present herself on a resume and in an interview, which she feels was a key element to getting her current job – a job she found herself.
Wendy would like to dispel what seems to be popular opinion that people on welfare are lazy or not intelligent.
“You just don’t know what’s going to happen to you. I was married and owned my own house, with two cars and everything,” she remarked.
She is also educated, with some college under her belt, and was working at a convalescent hospital as a certified nursing assistant prior to receiving public aid.
A sharp contrast to a time when she and her four children lived on food stamps and $100 a month, Wendy now has money in the bank. She is ecstatic that she can plan to take her children to Disneyland, something many take for granted.
“We’re going to do the things we couldn’t,” she said.
Wendy thanks Dale Jackson, her employment success teacher for the skills she received, and El Dorado Savings Bank’s Kelly Sheehan for offering her a job. She is also grateful to LTCC’s Day Care Center, which provides hard-to-find child care.
“I couldn’t do anything without them. … They’ve saved my life,” she said.
Future plans include attending nursing school when her children are older, and purchasing her own home, for which she has drawn up a plan.
“I hope (my children) see me working hard, that they don’t (view) me as sitting around for those two years. I always tell them to make smart choices in life,” Wendy said.
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