By Ann Maniscalco
Where does a woman turn when there appears to be no place to turn? When desperate life situations have seemingly long-since snuffed out any expectation of a better life for struggling women?
Pinebelt Christian Women’s Job Corps (CWJC, a ministry project of Woman’s Missionary Union) in Hattiesburg provides answers for such situations, thanks to leaders and volunteers who provide help, hope, and heartfelt compassion. The site’s flyer declares: “Every woman deserves a chance to develop her God-given talents, to develop her skills for employment, to develop skills for successful living, to reach her goals with God’s help.”
Ten-week sessions meeting four days a week equip women with such skills, along with learning about the love of Jesus Christ. “We start every day with devotions,” explains Janice Swiggum, the Pinebelt CWJC’s Executive Director. Instruction in areas such as communications, money management, conflict resolution, family dynamics, computer, career skills, goal-setting and GED preparation combine with Bible study. These class sessions, coupled with fellowship around the lunch table, educational field trips and one-on-one relationships with “Encouragers” help CWJC clients establish relationships with godly women. They come to see themselves as persons of worth, and capable of transitioning to a meaningful life.
One avid CWJC supporter is Geraldine Jones. A 2008 CWJC graduate, this dynamic, personable, highly-efficient woman is a perfect example of the program’s life-changing capability. Beginning with marijuana use, Geraldine’s life took a downward spiral. Addicted to drugs for 25 years, she had been through 14 treatment centers, and also spent time living on the streets and in jail.
“I had reached the bottom and wanted to change desperately,” admits Geraldine.
Through Eve’s House, a drug treatment facility, she was introduced to CWJC.
“The first thing that caught my attention was the people; I fell in love with them,” the former client asserts. Tears trickle down her cheeks and her voice chokes she recalls her time in the program. Thinking of her favorite Scripture, she says, “The women threw out a lifeline with Jeremiah 29:11 on it…it became the rope I grabbed hold of.” Geraldine now has a two-bedroom apartment, her own business and “a washer and dryer for the first time in my life”.
Janice has watched Geraldine blossom into the successful woman she is today. And to the program that has given this graduate so much, this former client lends whole-hearted support.
“Geraldine is our kitchen angel,” smiles Janice, as she surveys Encouragers preparing the noon meal. “Her goal every session is to get as much help for the program as possible.”
Linda Donnell (who began CWJC work in Hattiesburg over 12 years ago, and has been Geraldine’s Encourager over the years) says they keep the groups small – about eight to ten clients. The Hattiesburg and Petal sites “impact the lives of about 50 women a year”, she relates.
Renea Fairley, Site Coordinator, says she has “fallen in love” with the work and vision of CWJC.
“I am in the field of social work, and I’ve not encountered a ministry of social service that truly seeks to meet the needs of the whole person [like CWJC does],” Renea says.
Although clients “finish” the program in 10 weeks, that is not the end. Janice explains: “[Learning the life skills is] a journey; it doesn’t happen at the end of ten weeks.” Calling this brief period a time of “building your toolbox,” she continues, “You’re enabling yourself to be accountable to walk in what you know to be the truth.” An Encourager pairs with each woman, and stays in contact with her for a year.
Across the state, there are 17 sites, including two providing Christian Men’s Job Corps (CMJC) opportunities, as well. In 2012, 838 participants encountered God’s transforming love through these various locations, and 56 spiritual decisions (including salvations) were recorded.
The various CWJC/CMJC sites are responsible for obtaining most of their own funding, says State Coordinator Sandra Nash, but the Margaret Lackey State Missions Offering provides monies for such things as training and support for Site Coordinators, some education supplies, and gifts to those completing the program. As you consider what it means to have job security, a roof over your head, and a relationship with Christ, may you be encouraged to support this special offering, that more clients could see such dreams become reality.