As NY1 continues its coverage of Women's History Month, the station takes a look at a program in Manhattan that is helping women achieve independence, a sense of purpose and a sense of self. NY1's Rebecca Spitz filed the following report.
A longtime volunteer at the Coalition for the Homeless, Ellen Bogart teaches class there every day. Her students are part of the organization's "First Step" job training program. It's designed to help women become self-sufficient and potentially secure full time employment through hands-on training, internships and mentoring.
"It’s a wonderful experience, you see how great these women are, they're so highly motivated, it's my pleasure to be here," Bogart said.
"First Step" is a 14-week program. The first month is spent in the classroom where participants work on the basics.
"That’s everything from computer training, literacy training, skills training and bringing outside consultants in to try get the women to focus on for many times the first time in their lives, what they want to do with the rest of their lives," said Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Mary Brosnahan.
Brosnahan says overwhelmingly, the women who participate come from backgrounds of domestic violence, some who were or are homeless, some who have substance abuse histories, low literacy or no GED. But the program welcomes all kinds.
"To have this prelim toward going back to work is very beneficial because it gets your mind moving, lets you hone your skills," said one participant.
Students say being with like-minded women makes the experience that much better.
"I love it here, it’s very inspiring, the women here and very encouraging they’re helping us 100 percent," said one participant.
"We are a positive group of women so it’s beneficial to all of us," said another participant.
After the classroom, the students move to internships with some of the program's corporate sponsors including Estee Lauder, HBO and NY1's parent company, Time Warner Cable.
"First Step" is currently holding their 99th class. The program's director, Diana Olaizola, graduated from its 26th.
"I walk around saying 'First Step made me the monster that I am today but in a good way' because it gave me everything that I have today, many of the tools that I use today and without that program I wouldn’t be who I am today," Olaizola said.
The Coalition for the Homeless says two-thirds of last year's class graduated. Seventy-five percent then went on to find full time jobs.
"I tell the women you can get wherever you want to be and I’m a perfect example. I’m where I want to be and they can be where they want to be if they do the right thing and use the tools that they get to get there," Olaizola said.
Olaizola says if the women find they need support in the years after the program formally ends, they can always go back to "First Step" which says it's always there to help.