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County assistance helps people gain work skills, jobs and independence

WILLMAR -- The challenges of being a 27-year-old woman with four kids but no high school diploma, no off-the-farm job experience and no driver's license could seem insurmountable to many.

But that is the life that "Mary" leads. She also was forced to leave an abusive home situation for the safety of the women's shelter.

Cooperative efforts by the Workforce Center and Kandiyohi County Family Services -- and Mary's "can do attitude" however -- are helping her tackle each challenge.

"Success is a process, and she is making great progress," said Pat Jacobs, from the Workforce Center.

"I have no doubt that she is going to move ahead."

Jacobs told the story of Mary (not her real name) to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners to demonstrate the struggles people face and how real-life assistance can improve the lives of families -- especially women and their children.

According to Jacobs, 80 percent of clients who receive assistance through the county's Minnesota Family Investment Program are women. Fifty percent have less than a high school education, 25 percent are working and 25 percent have limited English-speaking ability, she said.

The program provides cash, food assistance and child care assistance to help families become self-sufficient.

There's a lifetime limit of 60 months for the program. The average enrollment is 12 weeks, Jacobs said in her presentation Tuesday.

The Workforce Center helps train people for jobs and helps them find employment.

The cooperation of county partners helps people get the "temporary assistance" that they need, she said.

Both entities are housed in the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building. Their close proximity has enhanced their shared goals of helping people, said County Board Chairman Richard Larson.

With the help of other community partners, including the Shelter House, Kandiyohi Area Transit, the Willmar public school system and Goodwill, Mary is making progress in becoming financially independent, Jacobs said.

For example:

- Mary had never lived on her own before. With the help of advocates at the Shelter House, she applied for financial assistance and she and her children now have an apartment in Willmar.

- Mary has less than a 10th-grade education in hand and is now attending adult classes to obtain her GED.

- With no job résumé other than working on a farm, the agencies arranged a temporary position for her at Goodwill where Mary received training and work experience. Because she excelled, Mary was offered a part-time position based on her own merits, Jacobs said. "She is growing in confidence," she said.

- Without transportation, she rode a KAT bus at least four times a day. She and her four kids would take a bus to day care, and because the bus couldn't wait while she took the children inside, she had to get another bus to go to work. The routine was repeated in the evening.

"It took a lot of time, but she did it," Jacobs said. "She was very good at planning her time."

With a new day-care provider, Mary is now able to walk her children there and then ride a bus to work, which reduces the amount of time on the bus and the number of bus tokens purchased.

- Mary is also taking classes to obtain a driver's license and would be a good candidate to receive a free vehicle through Heartland Community Action Agency's "Helping People Get There" program, Jacobs said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750