The Women’s Resource Agency: A Lifeline for the Colorado Springs Community
I remember the days I used to spend sitting in the lobby of the Nashville, Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) after school, waiting for my mother to get off work. Just like the families she worked with on a daily basis at the DHS, our family also received provisions from the government. In fact, most of my friends’ parents received food stamps and housing vouchers, so I didn’t feel too awkward or ashamed about our situation, at least not most of the time. I was proud of my overworked mother, a woman who was not only raising three kids by herself and working a full-time job, but also going to nursing school so that eventually she would no longer need assistance from the government. She had also just separated from my mentally and physically abusive alcoholic stepfather. Even as a ten-year-old girl, I understood how smart and strong my mother had to be in order to make the difficult decision to get out of that abusive relationship and how hard she would have to work to care for her children on her own. Fortunately for me and my siblings, my mother’s parents always made sure that we were cared for, even when we lived in a broken-down trailer and wore Wal-Mart clothes.
As a mother of two young girls, I now find myself thinking about all the mothers and their children from broken homes who don’t have a granny and a papa to help care for them. What or who is their lifeline? In my community, hundreds of homeless families struggle to survive every day, particularly single mothers who are in their situation only because they are trying to escape an abusive relationship and protect their kids. So where do the underprivileged and poverty stricken women of the Pikes Peak community find support and guidance? To whom do they turn for help? In Colorado Springs, the Women’s Resource Agency (WRA) serves these vital needs.
The WRA is the oldest continuously operating women’s human service organization in the Pikes Peak region. Since 1977, it has helped thousands of women each year by providing them with group counseling sessions, computer training classes, and job-readiness skills such as resume and interview tips, job search assistance, and personal and professional seminars. They even provide wardrobes and stylists to help the participating women feel more confident before an interview.
In addition to all these programs, the WRA also offers many teen courses designed to help educate and strengthen young girls’ self-images to make sure they never regress back through the system. These courses cover a wide variety of topics, including sex education, nutrition and wellness, goal setting strategies, and how to best utilize community resources. By offering these courses, the WRA is not only actively helping women currently in debilitating situations, but the organization is also helping to prevent teen girls from one day ending up in their mothers’ shoes. In essence, the WRA is teaching, empowering, and advocating for the women and teen girls oppressed by personal or financial circumstances.
Most of the women participating in these programs are referred to the WRA by their partnering agencies such as TESSA, a local domestic violence prevention agency, and CASA, a program that is specifically designed to address the unique needs of abused and neglected children and those involved in high-conflict custody disputes. They are also partnered with the El Paso County Department of Human Services; the local Goodwill Industries; Pikes Peak Community Action Agency, which works with poverty stricken families; Ecumenical Social Ministries (ESM), a nonprofit program that fills the needs of low-income, homeless, or unemployed individuals who are in dire need of emergency social services; Pikes Peak Workforce Center, who help to reincorporate individuals back into a work environment by providing them with job essential skills; and Women Partnering, a local organization made up of a network of women from diverse backgrounds who respond to the unmet needs of financially vulnerable women and children in the Colorado Springs area.
If my immediate family circle had lived in the Colorado Springs area during the time period when my own mother was going through her divorce and struggling to make ends meet, she would have either been referred to TESSA by the Women’s Resource Agency or vice versa. In other words, she would have had both Tessa and WRA for support, and another great example of the collaborations between all these partnering agencies is the fact that all the clothing options at WRA are donated by the local Goodwill.
How inspiring is it that all these organizations collectively band together to make sure women have all the necessary tools, skills, and coaching to help them get a job, find a place to live, and even set them up with a wardrobe for their new job? I think Rachel Black, WRA’s director of client services, said it best with this quote: “It is with continued support from our partnering agencies that we will excel in our mission of empowering women and girls of all ages to obtain and maintain personal self-sufficiency and economic independence.”
As for my mother, she has been a nurse now for twenty-two years. She finished nursing school despite the fact that my stepfather was in rehab twice, and she ended up working graveyard shifts at a nursing home just to make sure my siblings and I were adequately cared for. I am proud to say that she used government assistance only as a temporary resource to help see herself and her children through a very difficult and trying time. Once she found a full-time job as a nurse at the doctor’s office where she still works today, we were finally able to stop receiving help from the government. Still, I will always be grateful that we were able to get assistance when we needed it most.
Today, I find myself with a good job and have an ex-husband who provides well for our daughters. But given the current economic situation, I am well aware that could all change at a moment’s notice. I am fortunate enough to know that my mother and grandmother will never let me or my girls go homeless or starve. They are my lifelines. For the struggling women in my community, the WRA and its partnering agencies are theirs.