Group helps single moms succeed

Published: Friday, April 28 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

As a volunteer coach for People Helping People, Alison Nielson instructs single mothers on resume writing during workshop.

Mike Terry, for the Deseret Morning News

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Picture a single mother of four supporting her young family on $20,000 a year.

This scenario is not uncommon in Utah where there are 44,000 single mothers — 40 percent of them living in poverty, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

With the help of People Helping People (PHP) many of these single moms are able to work their way out of poverty into better employment. PHP strives to help low-income single moms and women build a better life for themselves and their children through long-term successful employment.

Linda Ivie, a volunteer coach for PHP, knows many women who fall in that 40 percent poverty statistic. She coaches them on a weekly basis.

"The number one way we help them is giving them confidence," Ivie said, noting giving women confidence in their own abilities is the biggest hurdle for them to overcome. "What I hear over and over again with women coming into this program is how (they feel they) can't do this."

PHP's unique approach makes the women in the program successful, said Kayleen Simmons, founder and executive director of PHP. The organization offers long-term, one-on-one training to help single moms develop employment tools, build self-confidence, identify resources and create support to earn adequate income.

The program was established in 1993 as a mentoring program for single mothers. Since then, the program has provided direct services to more than 1,600 women and outreach to thousands more, with the help of more than 1,000 volunteers, according to PHP's Web site.

Over the years, Simmons discovered that the working poor have the best chance at succeeding in the program. "The person who is making $7 to $8 an hour, has 2.2 kids and has been in the hole every month," Simmons explained.

PHP outreaches to more than 1,000 single moms a year with 200-300 of them participating in PHP's education program, which includes a variety of workshops from resume writing to career building, Simmons said.

Through PHP, approximately 75 women a year who participate in the workshops will begin one-on-one work with mentors and coaches.

Mentor volunteers must be women who have been successful in employment, Simmons said.

"You don't have to be a single mom, even a mom or a married person to be a mentor," Simmons pointed out.

Mentor Nicky Sharp, 59, a mother of three, grandmother of seven and an accounting associate at Simpson and Co., an accounting firm, has served as a mentor since August. Before Sharp's husband died three years ago, she was very active in the community, but she was unable to continue that community work after his death, Sharp said.

Later, she began to get involved in several women's business groups where she began observing PHP at community action groups. Soon Simmons asked Sharp to attend one of PHP's volunteer orientation meetings.

"It was entirely different than what I thought it was going to be. I don't know exactly what I thought it was going to be, but it has been very rewarding," Sharp explained. "I am very glad that I (decided to volunteer) because it has given me back something that I was really missing."

Currently, Sharp works with two women for a couple of hours every week and participates in the Saturday workshops every other week.

"Their confidence level has just grown leaps and bounds. It is a great reward for me to see them succeed," Sharp said, adding one of her clients recently got a new job working as a recruiter for an employment agency that provides her with a livable income.

Like the mentors, coaches also work one-on-one with clients, but with 10 to 15 different clients over a four-month period. Coaches are both businesswomen and men; many who work in human resources at their jobs.

For information, contact Simmons at 583-4175 or visit www.mentors4women.org.