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'We all have it in us to succeed'

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From the get-go, Susan believed that OfficeWorks provided a perfect solution to her job hunting challenges, explaining that the she believed the program would help her "build my skills back up and return to the work force with updated knowledge and confidence."

Debbie
Rambo

Recent reports have confirmed what we know at Catholic Charities through our work -- the economic outlook remains challenging for poor, working poor and middle class families in our communities.

Just last week, the Boston Globe reported on the Drexel University analysis of Labor Department and Census Bureau data, that pay levels in 17 of the 22 occupations tracked by the Labor Department lagged pre-recession pay levels when adjusted for inflation. In addition, the Drexel report explained that unemployment rates for most occupations in our region remain above pre-recession levels.

Additionally, a report released in May 2015 by the National Low Income Housing Coalition points to additional challenges facing low income workers. The report explains that a minimum wage earner in Massachusetts making $9 an hour would have to work 110 hours a week to reasonably afford an average two-bedroom apartment in Massachusetts. The coalition's report also identifies a so-called housing wage -- that is, the hourly wage needed to reasonably afford a rental apartment working 40 hours a week. In Massachusetts, the two-bedroom housing wage is $24.64 -- sixth-highest in the country. The same housing wage for Boston-Cambridge-Quincy is $28.73.

When you combine diminished buying power with the high cost of housing across our region, it is not surprising that so many families are struggling to make ends meet. It also focuses our attention on the need for high quality job training programs like Catholic Charities' OfficeWorks. Begun in 1997 in cooperation with the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), the program serves both very young DTA customers and those with many barriers to employment living on the North Shore and works to prepare students for sustainable employment.

The program is a 12 to 26 week computer-skills focused employment training program designed to prepare program participants for business office and customer service positions. Individualized instruction and "hands-on" skill building is offered in computer technology, with an emphasis on Microsoft Word, Excel, and Power Point. The core curriculum includes instruction in word processing, computer applications, office procedures, business communication, customer service, medical terminology and career development. Other components of the program include job shadowing and individually designed internships. A professional job developer trains participants in life skills, financial literacy, communication skills, job interview techniques, resume writing, and job search skills. Strong case management, counseling support, and job placement services are available during training and follow-up.

A woman we'll call Susan, aged 42, is a recent graduate of the OfficeWorks Program. The mother of four young children, Susan had recently separated from her husband of nearly 20 years when she was referred by DTA to the OfficeWorks program. Prior to the separation Susan had been a stay-at-home mom, working part-time in her husband's business. Though she had worked in Boston as an executive administrative assistant prior to starting her family, Susan now found herself unable to secure employment due to child care barriers and lapsed skills.

From the get-go, Susan believed that OfficeWorks provided a perfect solution to her job hunting challenges, explaining that she believed the program would help her "build my skills back up and return to the work force with updated knowledge and confidence." In describing her experience, Susan shared, "Little did I know that it would end up being much more. Through my time at Catholic Charities, I not only updated my skills, but I found the support and strength of these women (classmates) from different backgrounds to build my broken self-confidence. I realized that I was not alone and that we all have it in us to succeed."

At the OfficeWorks graduation this spring, Susan thanked her talented, dedicated teachers for "challenging me to be better and to not settle for less."

Today, as do more that 90 percent of OfficeWorks program participants, Susan has a job that meets her family's needs, and is earning above minimum wage. Thanks to her own incredible determination and our OfficeWorks program, Susan's future and that of her family is significantly brighter.

To learn more about Catholic Charities education and job training programs go to www.ccab.org.

DEBORAH KINCADE RAMBO IS PRESIDENT OF CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON. TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE WORK OF CATHOLIC CHARITIES, GO TO WWW.CCAB.ORG.

Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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