Utah program gives single moms path out of poverty and helps local employers fill jobs

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kevin Buckingham with Nelson Laboratories talks about FDA regulations on medical devices during a class for single mothers participating in the Invest in You Too program, a 13-week course that helps single mothers build skills in medical manufacturing and job readiness to open the doors for employment. Currently, several students in the second cohort who are experiencing intergenerational poverty are taking steps to break the cycle. Some of the students have also experienced homelessness, domestic abuse and drug addiction.

Sandy • Kaydee Rasmussen said she had an ideal childhood but a traumatic event at age 26 led to a drug addiction that took over her life for a decade and put her in poverty.

Now, Invest in You Too — a Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS) career pathway program focused on single mothers — is helping her return to happier times. Rasmussen is beginning a job this week as a project manager in the medical manufacturing field.

“This was the best opportunity I could have,” Rasmussen, the mother of a 2-year-old boy, said Monday of the program.

She is one of 13 women participating in Invest in You Too, an intensive 13-week program designed to improve economic stability for needy families. To qualify, the participants must be in poverty and have a dependent under 18.

Karla Aguirre, director of programs and training in the DWS workforce development division, said the program starts with a business with a need to fill jobs, and medical device manufacturing fit the bill.

The program is held at Salt Lake Community College’s Miller Campus in Sandy and the classroom instructor is provided by Nelson Laboratories, a Taylorsville lab that does microbiology testing. DWS job coaches also hold “empowerment days” that include mentoring, life skills and work success training and parenting classes.

The current group is the second to go through the program and the women are slated to graduate in November. (Rasmussen landed a job early). The first group had nine graduates and seven of them have jobs.

On Monday, the women gathered around a table as Kevin Buckingham, a Nelson Labs microbiologist and regulatory affairs manager, showed them various medical instruments. Invest in You Too is improving their lives by helping them enter or re-enter the workforce, they said.

Amy Evans said she had been employed for a long time in the real estate field until she was in a car accident. Diana Wilkey had been working at two smoke shops but had to leave those jobs after the premature birth of her now-18-month-old daughter.

Wilkey, who also is guardian to her 2-year-old nephew, said the program provides a lot of support in areas such as interview skills and resume writing. She hopes to get into quality control.

“I was very blessed as a child and I want to maintain that for me and my children,” she said.

Another participant, who is a mother of three, said she applied to the program because she needed to make a change for her kids, who are ages 11, 10 and 3. A “very severe domestic violence situation” was dragging her down and she ended up in the hospital when she left her now-ex, according to the woman, who asked not to be named for safety reasons.

“This program has turned my life completely around,” she said, adding that she also sees a change for the better in her children.

“There is another life out there and everyone deserves to be happy,” she said.

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who met with four of the mothers on Monday, praised how Invest in You Too has helped the participants.

“It’s incredible to see this success that’s coming, the doors of employment that are open to them in medical manufacturing,” Cox said.

The state on Monday released its sixth annual report on poverty, welfare dependency and the use of public assistance. It says childhood poverty continues to decline modestly in Utah, according to a state evaluation, but intergenerational poverty, in which two or more generations remain at low-income levels, remains stagnant.

In 2016, 39,376 adults and 59,579 children were in intergenerational poverty, according to the report.

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