Members of Brookdale’s Displaced Homemaker Services (DHS) program were able to share their stories with some of the state’s top officials June 13 when New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) Commissioner Dr. Allison Blake visited the Higher Education Center in Long Branch.
Blake toured the center with Jacqueline Sanchez-Perez, assistant director of the DCF’s Division on Women, and Dianne Ciesla, administrator for all 15 of the DHS programs in the state.
Joining Brookdale’s DHS Program Administrator Laurie Salka and Program Assistant Eve Holliday, the group also sat down with five of the approximately 200 Monmouth County women currently benefitting from the program.
“These discussions really help me understand what we can do differently or where we need to recharge resources,” Blake said, addressing the women. “So I really do appreciate the time you have taken to come here today.”
While all of the women currently live in Monmouth County and are undergoing the difficult transition from homemaker to primary household earner, each came to the Brookdale DHS program through widely different circumstances.
Jane is a cancer survivor who was undergoing radiation treatment and going through a divorce when she decided to enroll in the DHS’s “Job Search Boot Camp” program. The mother of two children with disabilities, she was determined to establish a career for herself and provide for her family despite her challenges.
Using superstorm-Sandy related grant funds awarded to select DHS programs by the state last year, Jane enrolled in Brookdale’s Hemodialysis Technician Certification program. She will complete the program this summer, and is currently using the skills she learned in DHS to network with potential employers through social media.
“She has come a long way,” Salka said.
Amy, a mother of four, was going through a divorce as well when she came to DHS. Like Jane, she has a child with a disability.
While working two part-time jobs, Amy has been using the DHS’s computer training and career development resources to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a certified nurse assistant. Today she is only a few written exams away from achieving her goal.
Michelle had been married for 40 years when her husband suddenly died, leaving her shocked, scared and uncertain about the future. She took the advice of a friend and enrolled in the DHS’s peer support group, where she said she found a level a camaraderie she never dreamed possible.
“It was such a safe place to land,” Michelle said. “To be with such empathetic, caring people was so wonderful. Then they gently push you on to go out into the world. It has just been so helpful.”
Michelle joined the DHS’s Job Search Boot Camp, working with program staff to create a resume and build on her experience as a part-time artist throughout her life. Today she is an entrepreneur, and she recently accepted an offer to paint a new children’s ward at a hospital.
“I’m feeling stronger and more confident,” she said. “I owe such a tremendous gratitude for the help that I have gotten from these wonderful people.”
The DHS program’s support services were also a big help to Katherine, who was leaving an abusive marriage and trying to build a new career for herself in the medical field. While pursuing a self-sustaining career on her own, Katherine said she came to DHS seeking commonality and emotional support from women who shared similar experiences.
“When you are going through things like I went through, it’s good to have somebody just to listen to you and keep things in perspective, especially when things seem to be getting out of control,” she said. “ It’s nice to have been able to come in here and say, ‘I’m having this problem. What can we do?’ It’s helped me breathe a little easier.”
Patricia said her divorce left her emotionally distraught as well. She came DHS after working primarily as a homemaker for the previous 15 years.
“I had no idea that there was even an organization that would be able to help me,” she said. “I was a stay-at-home mom. I was like, ‘Wow. What am I going to do?’”
Working with DHS staff and partner organizations such as the Monmouth County One-Stop Career Center, Patricia now has a part-time job and is receiving tutoring in math. She is also enrolled in Brookdale’s intensive, 13-week Business Office Support Specialist (BOSS) course with the aid of the DHS’s Sandy funds.
After starting out as a participant in the DHS support groups, Patricia now also helps lead them, reaching out to women who are taking their first steps on the road to a new life.
“It’s nice to know you are not alone,” she said.
Blake also spoke with the women about potential improvements to the statewide DHS program, which helped nearly 3,700 displaced homemakers become self-sufficient in 2012 alone.
A displaced homemaker is an individual who has lost their primary source of income due to divorce, separation, death or disability of a spouse and who must now obtain or update their skills to enter the job market.
The Monmouth County DHS program, offered through Brookdale’s campuses in Long Branch, Hazlet, Lincroft and Freehold, provides a range of services including personal counseling, peer group support, career development, job search preparation, computer training, regular workshops and referrals to community resources such as legal and financial aid.
The program has helped thousands of women attain careers, continue their education and improve their skills since it was established in Long Branch in 1982.
PHOTO (left to right): Eve Holliday, Laurie Salka, Dianne Ciesla, Dr. Allison Blake and Jacqueline Sanchez-Perez.