GROVER BEACH, Calif. (BP)–The women of Central Coast Baptist Church in Grover Beach, Calif., were planning a strategy to help children in poverty when they realized that the best way to help poor children is to help their mothers.
“We saw those women coming to the assistance program at the church for food and clothing,” said church member Eva De La Rosa, “but nothing was changing for them. They needed more.”
De La Rosa called Linda Clark, director of the California Southern Baptist Convention Woman’s Missionary Union/women’s ministries department, to ask about programs to help women.
Clark told her about Christian Women’s Job Corps, which had just successfully completed pilot programs in San Antonio and Chicago.
CWJC is designed to use groups of volunteers in churches to work with poor women in developing necessary skills to enter the job market, addressing far more than office skills along the way.
At the Central Coast CWJC, a group of college students, housewives and business people teach courses in health and nutrition, family relationships, money matters and computer skills (utilizing computers donated by churches in the community). Bible study and personal growth are important components, as well.
“We needed to lift their self-esteem while we teach them to function in the workplace,” said De La Rosa, now director of the program. “It’s amazing to see what happens to these women when they realize they’re beautiful in God’s eyes. They are meeting Christ through this program.”
The first class of the Central Coast program graduated in June, and five of the six graduates currently are employed and on the road to self-sufficiency. De La Rosa’s eyes twinkle when she talks about them.
“I’d love to introduce you to my friend, Irma Arismendez, but Irma can’t be here,” De La Rosa cheerfully reported to the annual meeting of the state’s Woman’s Missionary Union organization last November. “She working!”
Arismendez works for a catering company in San Luis Obispo and is preparing to move out of the hotel where she has been living. She believes she will eventually be able to buy a house, De La Rosa said.
Program participants are not easily categorized. Though all members of the current class are single, some are mothers, some are victims of domestic violence, some are welfare recipients and some have simply “fallen between the cracks.” They range in age from early 30s to early 60s.
Women attend the course from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday for 10 weeks and are paired with mentors prior to graduation. Mentors commit to one year of weekly contacts with graduates for support and accountability.
Buoyed by the success of the Central Coast program, Baptist groups in the East Bay, San Diego and Los Angeles are gearing up to implement CWJC programs. De La Rosa is quick to point out, though, that CWJC is not a “Southern Baptist thing.”
“We are participating with people from other Bible-believing churches,” she explained.
The local program is nearly ready to open satellites in Atascadero and Santa Maria, and the present Grover Beach site is considered an authorized back-to-work program for the state government’s Cal Works program.
Following the successes of pilot programs in various cities throughout the nation, Vice President Al Gore publicly acknowledged Christian Women’s Job Corps as a positive step in helping poor women.
With that acknowledgement in mind, the Central Coast CWJC invited Gore to attend its June graduation. He was unable to attend, but graduates and volunteers were encouraged to receive a fax from his office on graduation day.
“You have every reason to be proud of this outstanding accomplishment, and I am confident that the knowledge you have gained will provide you with more opportunities to succeed and contribute to the health of our country,” Gore wrote.
For more information, contact the ministry’s national coordinator, Trudy Johnson, Woman’s Missionary Union, P.O. Box 830010, Birmingham, AL 35283-0010; phone, (205) 991-4972; e-mail, [email protected].
Wright is a correspondent for the California Southern Baptist newsjournal and a staff member at California Baptist University.