Supportive Employment: A Path to Independence for Women
Women who enter Amethyst with drug and/or alcohol dependency want so much more than to just become sober—they wish to live a full life in recovery, which includes opportunities for education and competitive employment. While they face significant challenges to achieving a full life, many of the women do realize their dream. In order to do so, women need to have the tools to create a life of self-sufficiency. Competitive, paid employment provides the path to economic independence, and it is essential to recovery. It is fundamental to stopping the cycle of addiction, trauma and poverty from passing to the next generation.
Amethyst works with women who are in treatment for chemical dependency and/or mental health issues. Many of these women have survived violence and trauma including human trafficking and have felony histories that have prevented them from completing educational goals and/or have presented challenges to obtaining employment.
Amethyst’s Supportive Employment: A Path to Independence for Women is a program that increases women’s economic self-sufficiency through work readiness activities, educational supports and job supports for women in recovery from addiction. The program creates social change through a shift in individual and community behaviors by engaging employers in stigma reduction efforts and reducing barriers to employment for women with criminal records, job gaps or no real work experience. The women address personal barriers to employment through the pre-employment vocational readiness activities of the Supportive Employment program while the program’s education and advocacy efforts address external barriers.
Women in recovery face both personal and external barriers to achieving successful employment. Personal barriers include low self-esteem; race, ethnicity, and cultural issues; gender discrimination and sexual harassment; attachments to unhealthy interpersonal relationships; interpersonal violence; eating disorders; sexuality issues; parenting; and grief and loss related to substance use disorders Nearly all women in recovery have histories of trauma. To be successful at work, they must learn skills to successfully address sexual harassment in the workplace without triggering a relapse of the substance use disorder. In addition to increasing educational achievement (e.g. getting a GED), participants may need to develop vocational “soft skills” such as workplace hygiene, appropriate attire, collegial interaction with others, keeping appointments, writing resumes and identifying personal interests.
External barriers to women achieving successful employment include issues of employer discrimination against people in recovery. In fact, half of the battle in achieving employment for women in recovery lies in ending stigma and discrimination that create barriers to employment. Stigma on the part of employers—that women in recovery are unreliable, they steal, or they are lazy—make it difficult for women to gain employment. Further barriers exist if a woman has a criminal history. For example, many women who have been arrested for drugs get convicted of multiple felonies: possession of illicit drugs and possession of criminal tools are two of the most common. The Supportive Employment staff members are engaged in awareness-raising in the community with local employers and organizations to bring about long-term social change for women.
Employment in the formal economy is especially important for clients of Amethyst because it prevents them from returning to unlawful activities in order to obtain income (such as prostitution, theft, etc.). Often women are unaware of the extent of their criminal histories (e.g. charges as opposed to convictions), afraid to find out if they can access educational opportunities because of loan defaults, unsure about how to address large gaps in work histories, and as a result of their trauma of oppression and defeat, are afraid to take a risk and try something new.
The Supportive Employment program staff understands these issues and works with potential employers as well as GED and higher education providers to support the vocational aspirations of each woman involved for an unlimited timeframe. They collect information from each woman to help determine her potential barriers and strategies to overcome them. This assessment process is empowering to the participant, as it gives hope to the future and allows her to begin having dreams for self-sufficiency. The staff also works to create a shift in individual or community behavior within the business community by educating employers about the stigma and barriers that women in recovery face when seeking employment and creating policy change to increase employment of recovering women, including those with criminal backgrounds.
There are countless stories of success in overcoming personal and external barriers to achieving self-sufficiency among Amethyst clients over the past 30+ years. Jeanetta R. and Amy H. have recently experienced success in this area.
Jeanetta began participating in the Supportive Employment program in December 2014. It was evident that she had excellent computer skills which she put to good use as a volunteer in Amethyst’s computer lab to help other clients in using Microsoft Word, creating and using email and uploading resumes, etc. In the spring, Jeanetta attended a large job fair and used her networking skills to engage with prospective employers. A few interviews soon led to a part-time position with Wal-Mart. She quickly moved from part-time to her current 30+ hours per week due to her outstanding work performance. Jeanetta also qualified for and is now pursuing with the courts to have her criminal record sealed.
Amy H. is a single mother who has made significant progress toward ensuring her future in a short seven-month timeframe. Amy completed the Amethyst Employability Skills for Success class in January 2015 as well as the E3 (Educate, Empower, Elevate) Program that helps low- to moderate-income working women in central Ohio reach a new level of financial stability for themselves and their families. She secured a position with Freedom a la Carte and now holds the distinction of being the company’s most quickly promoted employee. She is enrolled at Columbus State and begins coursework in the fall for a degree in nursing. In addition, Amy has been able to reunify with her two children in recent months.
The generosity of The Women’s Fund in providing financial support of the Supportive Employment program results in increased opportunities for women to live a full life in recovery.
The Amethyst card-making project outlines just one of the many magnificent ways our ladies give back to others in need. Amethyst’ Supported Employment Department partners with many local organizations; such as BESA, to create opportunities for our ladies to learn create and contribute positively to the community. Click here to see some of the cards!
Written by Amethyst Staff
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