WORD marks 15 years of family empowerment 

When Susan (not her real name) first walked into the offices of WORD—Women’s Opportunity and Resource Development—she was a divorced mother with a young child. She had recently fallen into an abusive relationship and lost her son to the Department of Family Services because of it. Less than two years later, Susan has a job, an apartment she pays for without assistance, and is taking classes in adult education with dreams of a professional life. She also has her son back.

“A lot has happened in a year and a half for this woman,” says Julie Brown, a WORD family advocate. “Her housing and home life are stable and she’s at a place now where she has the opportunity to dream a bit…to ask herself for the first time, ‘What do I want to be?’”

Last weekend, WORD celebrated its 15th anniversary. “Though we have definitely changed and evolved over the last decade and a half, we are still committed to the same goals,” says Terry Kendrick, one of WORD’s management team coordinators. WORD is dedicated to providing women and low-income families with avenues for family literacy, affordable housing, job training, and public policies that enhance their efforts to become self-sufficient.

WORD is home to five separate projects, each homing in on a particular area of economic autonomy. For example, “Gearing Up,” helps women move into higher-wage, non-traditional occupations such as surveying, carpentry, hazardous waste removal, and information technology.

“One of the difficulties for women breaking into these traditionally male-dominated fields is the fact of having to move around,” says Kendrick. “A job might be two weeks in Missoula then three in Libby, then three somewhere else. If they are the primary or only caregiver in their family, that poses a problem.”

“Futures” is a program for pregnant and parenting teens. “The program helps these teen mothers build a better future for themselves and their children through job-readiness training, parenting, support groups, and education training,” says Kendrick.

For many girls, the program helps them realize that they are neither alone nor powerless, but their lives are theirs to mold and shape.

In conjunction with the five programs, WORD works to effect change though public policy. “We want to address the root causes of poverty, not just patch up the symptoms along the way,” says Kendrick. For years WORD had been instrumental in influencing the Legislative, such as helping to make the welfare system more humane for low-income families.

WORD’s anniversary celebration featured the work of artist Leslie Van Stavern Millar. As part of her “My Cup of Tea” series—prints honoring the accomplishments of famous and less famous women—Millar unveiled two new “teacups,” portraits of Eleanor Roosevelt, and of Judy Smith, the founder of WORD.

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