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Single working mothers find hope at job seminar

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 5 2015 1:30 a.m. MDT

Upon picking her children up from daycare, Melissa Bartzen looks at a book (made by her son Adam) with her sons 3 year-old David, 5 year-old Adam, and her daughter 6 year-old Rachel.  Plain City resident Melissa Bartzen is a single mother who is currently attending college to get her Bachelor's  Degree in accounting.  (Mark DiOrio, dnews) Upon picking her children up from daycare, Melissa Bartzen looks at a book (made by her son Adam) with her sons 3 year-old David, 5 year-old Adam, and her daughter 6 year-old Rachel. Plain City resident Melissa Bartzen is a single mother who is currently attending college to get her Bachelor's Degree in accounting. (Mark DiOrio, dnews)

MURRAY — Tammy Stewart, donning heels and a handbag bulging with bright-colored Legos, weaves through a crowded room, shaking the hands of prospective employers at the Single Mothers Seminar on Thursday.

"I'm looking for a full-time job with benefits so I can take care of my son," said Stewart, who has been a single mom for 12 years.

For Stewart, taking time away more time from her boy will be difficult, but she says it's a matter of prioritizing. 

"It's being able to juggle everything from work and kids, to errands and house cleaning and grocery shopping and activities," she said. "You have to have a job to support your family, and you need your family to get through a day job."

The recruitment fair and seminar was hosted by People Helping People, a local nonprofit organization partnering with Intermountain Healthcare career services to provide support to single working mothers.

"Most of the women we work with don't expect that they will have to work," said Susan Richards, of People Helping People.

Richards said after she became a widow and single mother at 27, she saw many women struggle in the workplace, sparking her involvement with People Helping People.

"Many women don't naturally know how to negotiate themselves into the workplace and get ahead in the workplace," she said. "But they're smart and merely need to be updated on how it works nowadays."

Richards said the demand is high: "We had 600 attendees last year. Just by sheer number of people who showed up, we know there's a need."

Heather Wolsey, a single working mother of six, attended the event in hopes that she gains as many connections as she did last time.

"Last year, the Daily Herald came in, and I applied for a job with them and I got it," she said. "I have health insurance now, and I can take care of myself and my six kids. I am quite proud of myself."

For Wolsey, having a stable job eases many stresses.

"When it became clear that my marriage wasn't going to work, I realized I needed to learn to sustain myself and my children," she said. "It was one of the hardest things I ever did."

Wolsey credits her success to community support.

"My community knows not just the value of women, but of families," she said. "When tragedy strikes, they help women and their children move out of poverty. It gives people hope, and that's what it's all about — hope."

Michelle Rasmussen, a single working mother of two and People Helping People volunteer, agrees.

"I simply can't do it all," Rasmussen said. "As a single mother, you are expected to do both the ‘man's job' of bringing in the pay and the ‘woman's job' of maintaining the household, but in order to both, I have to continually prioritize."

Rasmussen said she started out at the low end of the totem pole at her work, and within a couple of years, she moved up to training manager. But she had to since let go of that training position to make time for her kids.

"I'm not there to make them snacks or tend to their every whim because I can't do it all," Rasmussen said. "But I make it a point, no matter how busy life is, to make time right before bed to have one-on-one time with them. They need to know that they're special enough to deserve my time."

Kandra Higginson, an American Fork mother of four, also attended the seminar. Higginson said she was looking for a full-time job, which she is confident she'll be able to handle.

"I have two older kids, 12 and 9, who help out a lot," she said. "I take it one day at a time. I tell myself, 'One step at a time, honey. You may not be able to do it all, but if you go in stressed, nothing will get done.'"

 "I don't know how I'm still smiling today," said Jessica Golding, mother of one young boy in Provo. "Last night, when he flooded my bathroom, I was not."

For Golding, community services like the seminar are very helpful.

"Anytime I get on the computer when I need help, things pop up, like this event," she said. "What a wonderful resource this is."

Golding said the appeal of a professional career is difficult for her to grapple with, but she is taking it one step at a time.

"It's hard because for my own gratification, I want to climb that professional ladder," she said, "but at the same time, I want my son to come with me, and you can't do that. At the same time, I want to get a college education to properly raise him as he gets older."

Carine Clark, the new CEO of software company Allegiance, was a keynote speaker at the seminar. Clark reminded her audience of single working mothers that nothing is impossible.

"It's tough, especially in Utah, to be a single mom," she said. "It's easy to feel that you aren't doing enough, that you aren't doing it right, that you aren't smart enough or thin enough or capable. But you're wrong."

Clark advised women to focus on each domain: "When I am home, I am going to be a superior mother, and when I'm at work, I will be a superior executive."

She said her success has stemmed from her confidence.

"It has never occurred to me that I couldn't do something," Clark said. "As we all lift each other as we rise in our careers, our personal lives, the fabric of our community is better."

E-mail: rlowry@deseretnews.com

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