A Woman’s Story of Self Sufficiency
By Ann Utterback | September 19, 2012
The impact of WESST’s programs on the lives of female clients who successfully achieve self sufficiency can best be shown through the stories from the women themselves. This summer, many in Albuquerque got to hear from one amazing WESST client who shared her story and achievements at a United Way of Central New Mexico’s Women in Philanthropy ceremony. The annual event recognizes grantees for its Women’s Self Sufficiency program, of which WESST has been a part for several years. This year, the United Way committee behind the event, chose WESST client Gail Jenkins of Handigirl Landscaping to speak to the hundreds of attendees as an example on how lives are transformed by self sufficiency initiatives.
Gail’s story is unique but is also similar to many of our clients, especially those in WESST’s financial literacy program, who have hit hard and oftentimes extremely painful times, and possibly even hit the rock bottom point in their lives. Many of them have suffered abuse, emotional distress and are financially ruined. Drugs often play into the situation as well. Then, something inside them is sparked and an interest in life and the promise of a new future makes them want to do more. In Gail’s case, the turning point came from her doing hands-on work with planting and working with the soil, making something beautiful from something that had been nothing but dirt before. It became both therapeutic and transformative for her.
Gail showed up at WESST one day not knowing exactly what WESST could do for her, but when she read in a brochure about an IDA program, she felt that might be the next step. Several years ago, WESST, which notably stands for Women’s Economic Self Sufficiency Team, started an Individual Development Account (IDA) program to help women learn financial literacy. The IDA portion of the program contained a practical savings account (an IDA) component a part of the learning process to be used for higher education, a down payment on a house or starting a business.
When Gail first applied to be a part of the IDA program at WESST she was actually put on a waiting list and, in her words, it was a blessing because she wouldn’t have been quite ready for the IDA experience when she first applied. When she was finally accepted, she was ready to take her experience with plants to the next level by starting Handigirl Landscaping. She talks about her time in the IDA program as informational but more supportive than anything else. The group was close and had gone through similar situations. At the end of the program, her savings made it possible for her to purchase a trailer for her business.
Several of the graduates from the IDA program wanted something a little more in terms of continuing their financial literacy training. WESST’s Beyond IDA program was launched to take the training (and support) to the next level. Some of the training perhaps could have been done on Gail’s own; however, the hand holding and encouragement she received in the environment of these small multi-month classes helped her gain confidence while gaining knowledge.
Fast forward to the present and Gail’s business has grown by over 60%. She now has 3 employees. Notably, Gail wants to employ others who have been down on their luck and allow them a chance to get their lives back together with the help of working with the land, like she did. Recently, Gail was talking to an owner of a construction business for whom she has great respect. During the conversation, he referred to Gail and himself as being similar as they were both business owners and discussed the responsibility that role brings. Gail was shocked to be thought of in the same category as this person. A few years ago, that wasn’t something that was even conceivable for her.
WESST would not be able to do programs like the IDA and Beyond IDA programs mentioned without the support of amazing people and organizations, like United Way of Central New Mexico’s Women in Philanthropy group. We hope to express the full extent of our gratitude on behalf of WESST and WESST’s clients.
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About the Author
Ann’s involvement with nonprofits began more than 16 years ago and includes extensive experience on the funding side with the J. F Maddox Foundation for the past 13 years. A former litigation attorney, Ann received her J.D. from Wake Forest University School of Law in 1993 after obtaining her B.A. in French from Hollins College in 1990. She joined WESST as Vice President of Development in September of 2011.