Mary Kramer described herself a year ago as “alone, isolated, no self-esteem, not working, not doing anything. I didn’t feel like I was worthy to talk to anyone.” But a flyer about the Christian Women’s Job Corp (CWJC) caught her eye. Ms. Kramer called the number on the flyer and was connected to Jane Everett, a dynamic retired schoolteacher who has a passion to see women empowered to move forward into a new future.
“Our past influences our present, but it does not define us,” Ms. Everett said. That was the case for Ms. Kramer. When she began attending the 12-week program offered by the CWJC, she felt “life had given up on me, and I had given up on life.” Ms. Everett’s contagious enthusiasm helped her commit to attend the first session last January.
At the opening of the Fall session this year, Ms. Kramer shared her story with the new group of students.
“It was a chore for me to get here the first week. But week by week, my attitude changed. I felt empowered, hopeful, and LOVED. The class gave me practical life lessons; it made me feel worthy; it helped me build a path for personal success. Through this class, you will find that you have so much more inside you than you ever thought. They will tell you that you are a queen, AND YOU ARE!”
Her words are met with applause from the excited group. She could have a career as a motivational speaker. But today, at age 62, Ms. Kramer is a student with a 4.0 average at Chattanooga State, where she is in a vocational tech program for Administrative Professionals, slated to receive her degree in a year.
A guest speaker from the college came to one of the CWJC classes on a Monday night. Ms. Kramer spoke to her after the program and called her on Wednesday. “By that afternoon, I was enrolled in college!” The last machine she typed on before this recent college experience was an IBM Selectric. Now she is fully computer literate.
As the Fall session began, 11 students, ranging in age from late teens to over 60, attended the once weekly class, choosing a mentor to be their personal cheerleader and accountability partner. For Ms. Kramer, the mentorship was the most critical part of the program. “Every week, I met with someone who lifted me up.”
Mentors and students at the opening session begin to become acquainted through self-introductions, beginning with Ms. Everett. “I want each of you to introduce yourselves using first and last names (because that’s what employers expect), and then telling us something about you that is awesome.” She leads with, “I am Jane Everett and I am awesome because I am a child of God. Oh wait! I do want each of you to tell us what is awesome about you, but it doesn’t have to be ‘holy;’ you could be awesome because you are a great parent.”
They laugh, then students and mentors begin the introductions:
“I am awesome because I’m here tonight.”
“I am awesome because I am starting a new life.”
“I am awesome because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
“I am awesome because I’m a single mom of 2 boys who has been through a lot of hardship, but I am an Overcomer!”
More “get acquainted” exercises follow, and a few students feel confident enough to go ahead and choose a mentor. Others hold back, waiting to learn more about the classes and expectations. Ms. Everett emphasizes that the primary expectation is to “show up, on time, dressed appropriately,” the major requirement that she hears from employers.
Each week’s class is carefully structured to build on the lessons of the prior week. Every lesson begins with a free dinner provided by volunteers. Children who attend are invited to eat, then are taken to child care. The meal is critical, offering nourishment and a chance for fellowship among those attending. Ms. Kramer admits, “The dinner was one of the things that kept me coming back. It was a hard time in my life, and getting a good meal was a highlight.”
Guest speakers help students craft resumes; others come from industries as diverse as high tech to nursing to restaurants to promote job possibilities. Ms. Kramer was encouraged by their presentations. “I can fit somewhere in there,” she said. Students go through skills assessments, set goals, create a vision board, and develop a “60 second speech” to tell about themselves. Volunteers conduct practice interviews. A clothes closet at the church where they meet is filled with donated clothes and shoes appropriate for interviews and the women’s future careers.
At the end of the 12 week program, Ms. Kramer said, “I have the potential to do anything.” These are words that warm Jane Everett’s heart: “The only thing we aren’t allowed to say here is, ‘I can’t.’”
The first week’s Bible study is from Luke 1:26-38, where Ms. Kramer receives the news that she is to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. The women discuss this impossible, frightening, amazing news, and how it set Ms. Kramer’s life on a whole new trajectory. The leader suggests that their presence in the class is an opportunity to “give birth” to something new in their lives, remembering that nothing is impossible with God.
As they begin this new adventure in learning, Ms. Everett tells the women that they are daughters of the King, Jesus Christ. Each student is given a crown to remind them that they are Queens.
The woman who introduced herself as the “Overcomer” leaves the evening session wearing her crown proudly, head held high, a young boy holding each hand. She is a Queen who will overcome.
CWJC is free for participants and is operated by an all-volunteer staff. To learn more about their mission, contact Jane Everett at 706-861-4584 or firstname.lastname@example.org.