When Angela Newman moved to Utah with her two small boys, she was leaving an abusive marriage and heading, she hoped, to a better life.
The trio first stayed at the YWCA. In many ways, Newman said, she was just starting out: She had to learn some basics of independence, like driving, and find a way to support her family.She got needed entry level skills through an internship with Mountain Bell (now US WEST), in a program co-sponsored by Utah Issues, an advocacy organization for low-income people.
This week, she shared her story with chief executive officers from a number of Utah corporations. The executives were invited by the Single Parent Economic Independence Demonstration project to provide similar training and education opportunities to low-income single parents who want to get off welfare and on payrolls.
The project was funded last spring by the Department of Human Services, along with five programs in other states. This year, the program will provide internships to about 120 people and ultimately will save "three-quarters of a million dollars," according to Susan Sheehan, director of the project's "public-private partnership."
Corporations do not pay interns a salary. The business' contribution to project success is providing meaningful work that develops interpersonal and practical business skills. Each corporation is also asked to match an intern with a management-level mentor for support, information and assistance.
In return, according to Mack Lawrence, CEO and Utah vice president for US WEST, which in partnership with Utah Issues offered an early version of the project, the corporation finds that the risks it takes are "far outweighed by the pay-offs."
"I believe that the training (offered by the internship program) will allow these people to become economically independent," he said. "We can see that it's worthwhile."
Mack said people do not want to be on welfare but prefer, rather, to work. This type of nuts-and-bolts training enables them to work at jobs that offer a future.
The project represents the growing awareness than many people find themselves on welfare because they are not trained to support themselves when their family structures change. Part of the change, Sheehan said, is the proven strong link between divorce and poverty rates.
A woman who does not have a high school diploma makes on average $8,000 a year. A man in the same position makes about $15,000. Only with education and training can some welfare parents get a job to support their families and break the cycle of poverty.
"`We want to reward self-initiative and empower people to make changes in their lives," Sheehan said, citing the internships as an effective way to accomplish that.
A 1980 study on integrating women (focusing on those who had never worked or had been out of the work force for a time) into the labor force showed three distinctive needs: support systems, training programs and a transition period. Staffers who worked with the interns also found other needs such as learning what is appropriate business conduct.