Kecha Richardson wants what any loving parent wants. She wants to provide for her children, and she wants to set an example that gives them the confidence and drive to find their own success.
That common dream can’t begin to take shape for Kecha without self-sustaining employment. Often there are barriers to entering or progressing in the workforce.
With that in mind, Heels Together, an initiative of Central Kentucky Community Foundation, was proud to award one of its first grants last year to Heels Academy, a collaborative effort to help move women, including Richardson, toward economic self-sufficiency.
“Designed to empower low income women, the program connects them with community resources and provides one-on-one coaching to address their specific needs,” said Gary Bohannon, executive director of Helping Hand of Hope, one of the community partners of Heels Academy. “This is about giving people hope and encouragement and a ladder up.”
Coaches are central to the program, which recently started its second six-month session, giving women a trusted supporter they might not otherwise have.
“Heels Academy set out not to give women a list of phone numbers, but a champion to help them develop and execute plans and to build their self-worth,” said coach Jerisia Lamons of the Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail, also a partner in the program.
Barriers such as limited education, childcare or reliable transportation can make finding employment and a path to self-sufficiency seem impossible, Lamons said.
“Further, many people in our community face barriers that can’t be overcome with a cookie-cutter approach,” she said.
Caring for two school-age children and earning minimum wage, Richardson began the Heels Academy program in March, at her GED instructor’s suggestion, she said.
Right away, financial literacy classes and resources for GED tutoring helped, she said, but as she and her coach, Lamons, worked through her list of barriers, transportation was the greatest hurdle. Non-payment of old traffic tickets are keeping Richardson from getting her driver’s license, she said.
The Heels Academy team rallied private donations to pay some of the fees and to cover the cost of driving school when Richardson is ready, Lamons said.
“They opened up doors for me that I didn’t think would open,” Richardson said, noting Heels Academy not only helped her find direction, but also confidence. “I came out of the program with my head held higher.”
Richardson said she expects to earn her driver’s license and GED in the near future, and she’s looking into nursing school.
“I want my children to see me succeed in life, so they can follow my footsteps,” she said.
“Our communities are better when our neighbors are self-sufficient,” Lamons noted. And as our region’s businesses create new career opportunities, she added, it’s important that we work to develop the skilled talent that will help those companies succeed and set the stage for continued growth.
Heels Together is about women coming together to help women and girls in our community, and Heels Academy is a wonderful example of how that looks in action. With financial investments from women throughout our community, this program is helping women move to the next level, and it is especially appealing that Heels Academy meets each woman where she is and builds a custom plan to meet her unique needs.
With partners Helping Hand of Hope, Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail, Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board, Chantia Sharber of Elizabethtown Community and Technical College’s Ready to Work program, Cris Roberts of Central Kentucky Community Action’s Kentucky Works and Adult Education, the program assembles a network of incredible expertise. That collective approach is worth recognizing. Time and again, our region has proven its ability to pool resources and collaborate – and in this case, seek out the privately funded Heels Together grant – ultimately doing the most good for the citizens of our communities.
Davette B. Swiney is president and CEO of Central Kentucky Community Foundation. She can be reached at (270) 737-8393 or email@example.com.