Women of Triumph

At the heart of Women Work! are the women whose lives are transformed every day through hard work, perseverance and the support of member programs. During our 25th Anniversary Gala in 2005, we celebrated the achievements of 25 outstanding women who have participated in Women Work! member programs and successfully overcome challenges in their lives.

Women Work!

Denise Abbey
At the age of 16, Denise dropped out of school, married and then endured 19 years of emotional and mental abuse for the sake of her three sons. In 1991, she realized she needed to go.

With limited education, little work experience and being on disability, Denise was unable to work at the time. However, support from the Re-Entry Center at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, NV, helped Denise unleash her passion for education. Since then, it has continued to flow. At Truckee Meadows, she earned an associate’s degree, and was named valedictorian, Outstanding Student of the Year and Board of Regents’ Scholar. She went on to the University of Nevada and founded the Non-Traditional Student Union and Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society. She also co-founded HEROES, an organization that provides support to single parents pursuing degrees. While earning her master’s degree, she helped create Project Wings! to find sponsors for single parents and displaced homemakers pursuing higher education.

In a few short years, Denise went from victim to role model – a true success story with a rewarding career and a future for her family – while also making a difference for other women.

Denise Bidales
Denise arrived in Denver, CO, four months pregnant and with only a high school diploma. A job at a local bagel shop helped her get situated, but she knew it would not provide for herself and her new baby. At the Mi Casa Resource Center for Women, she told the case managers, “I want to be able to provide for my daughter without depending on anyone’s help. I want my daughter to have more doors open for her than were open to me.”

Since that first meeting with counselors at Mi Casa, Denise has gone on to fulfill this goal. For the past three years she has been employed at Mi Casa as an intake specialist where she helps women enroll in training classes. She is also working toward her goal of becoming a professor of Chicano Studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver. In addition, she is deeply involved in her daughter’s school, acting as president of the parent committee, chairing the school’s policy committee, and serving as head parent of the school for two years.

Claudian Bohana
From a single parent with seven children, no job skills and practically homeless to a journeyman electrician and member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Claudian has blazed her own trail.

A presentation on nontraditional jobs sparked Claudian’s interest in the Re-Entry program at the Community College of Southern Nevada. She liked what she heard about union electricians and their high paying jobs and good benefits. Soon Claudian was working nightshifts and taking classes during the day. More than that, she was overcoming every obstacle thrown in her path – riding her bicycle to campus when she didn’t have a car, proving herself and her abilities on the job, and fighting sexual harassment. Her faith in herself helped earn her the respect and friendship of her coworkers.

Claudian now helps other women succeed in the trades. She coaches math skills, helps women prepare for apprenticeship interviews, and provides real life advice about getting into and thriving in nontraditional careers. More than simply changing her life, Claudian has changed the lives of her children. One son is a plumber’s apprentice and another is a college student majoring in business. One of her daughters is majoring in criminal justice and another is pursuing a degree in respiratory therapy.

Jamie Burgess
Soon after a divorce and the tragic loss of her brother, Jamie decided to make a change. She needed to support herself and three children, but she wanted more than just a job – she wanted to do something meaningful.

Jamie enrolled in the Women’s Resource Center at Lansing Community College with the goal of becoming a nurse. Her road to success wasn’t easy. A stroke caused the loss of vision in the upper portion of Jamie’s left eye. The difficulties of caring for three young children by herself while balancing coursework and hospital rotations quickly took their toll. After only two semesters, Jamie was dropped from the program. However, Jamie’s determination outweighed the hardships and soon she was readmitted to the program. In May 2003, Jamie graduated and is now a nurse in Lansing, MI.

Jamie’s success has inspired her to give back to her community. She regularly returns to the Women’s Resource Center to motivate and help guide other women in transition.

Audrey Daigle
A homemaker with six kids, Audrey never expected to be on her own when her husband, a schoolteacher, died of cancer. It was the early 80s, and there was no way Audrey and her kids could survive on the Maine State Retirement Survivors’ benefits. Determined to make a change, she lobbied successfully to get the state benefits increased by 50 percent.

While working several part-time jobs, Audrey volunteered at the Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community. Organizing an event for participants to learn the legislative process turned into a full-time job that spanned 20 years. She represented the Maine Centers at the State House and Capitol and was a role model and mentor for many emerging leaders and policy advocates.

Audrey retired on September 30, 2003, but her advocacy days are not over. To know this is to know one of Audrey’s favorite quotes from Women Work! founding mother Tish Sommers: “I realized early on how important strong, positive, joyous role models are. Too many women fear aging, but there’s another way to go. Bring together all you’ve learned and focus on what’s important. It’s far easier to face death if you know you’ve made a valuable contribution and not just let life pass by.”

Even in retirement, Audrey realizes how important it is for women to speak out. “I’m still very active in the political process,” says Audrey. “I’m not afraid to share what I know and my experiences. Once We find our voice, it is critical that we keep using it.”

Diana Davis
Transitioning from a “married, stay-at-home mom” to a “working, single mom of four” can be a scary and challenging time. For Diana it was a time of enormous growth. When Diana entered the Career and Life Planning Center in Flemington, NJ, in February 1998, she had already survived domestic violence, a difficult divorce that took all her possessions, and the realization that she was the sole supporter of four sons.

With the help of the Center, Diana was able to uncover the courage and self-esteem that she needed to thrive. According to Diana, “I should have despaired, but in the forefront of my thoughts were things that I had learned at the Center. ‘ILAC’ (I am Loveable and Capable) was my mantra.”

After only a few classes, Diana started working for a local nonprofit as a part-time receptionist. Five years and many promotions later, Diana still works for the same employer and is now the Database Administrator. At the same time, Diana continued to pursue her education. This past May, Diana received a scholarship for her outstanding achievements at the New Jersey Displaced Homemakers Network’s Legislative Reception. Even better, Diana’s employer matched her scholarship dollar for dollar, which is a first for the New Jersey Network.

Cynthia Doyle-Bryce
“You won’t live to see another day” was the final threat that led Cyndi to leave her marriage of 19 years. With a fourth-grade reading level and suffering from dyslexia, she was afraid for her future. Thank goodness she found the Displaced Homemaker Program at the YWCA in Everett, WA. Willing to travel the long distance from her home to the Y, and with reimbursement for transportation expenses, Cyndi found an undiscovered passion for learning, despite her disability.

Undeterred by low scores on college entrance exams, Cyndi enrolled in college. She has been on a roll ever since. She completed classes in Human Services with a 4.0 GPA; earned certificates in domestic violence, English conversation, case aide work and human services; and is a registered counselor with the State of Washington.

Cyndi still finds time to give something back, leading the “Silent Witness” program to stop domestic violence and organizing a community forum on domestic violence. Cyndi has discovered the strong woman and diligent student that she is and has found her gift in helping others through her experience and compassion.

Lucy Franz
The definition of “good stock,” Lucy is the daughter of a Midwest migrant farm worker and the oldest of nine children. She learned to drive a stick shift before she could even see over the hood, plowed fields and cut grain. And, she learned to plan and dream about a different life.

Lucy married and had four children but at 40 years old, her unhappy marriage ended. She bounced back, met a wonderful man whom she loved dearly. He was killed – suddenly and unexpectedly. She was devastated.

With her teenage daughter, Lucy moved to Minnesota and discovered the displaced homemaker program in Brainerd, MN. Her first thought was “I’m going to work here.” From that point she started rebuilding her life. Faced with many challenges as a single mother with a troubled teenage daughter, an unmarried pregnant daughter, a full-time job, college classes and an ex-husband who didn’t pay child support, Lucy charged forward.

When a job opened up at the displaced homemaker program, she new she had the life experience to qualify. She got the job – her prophecy fulfilled! Lucy earned her bachelor’s degree and, today, is a role model and mentor to other women, touching their lives in profound ways.

Darcel Harris
What Darcel really wanted was “a way off of the welfare merry-go-round,” but the way off led her to so much more.

In 1994 she entered the Renew program at Carroll Community College with dreams of getting off public assistance, getting out of debt, and owning her own home. One year later, she was off welfare and mentoring her peers. However, she didn’t stop there. She took a job with the Carroll County Family Center and enrolled in Western Maryland College.

By 1996 she had obtained her bachelor’s degree, graduated cum laude and was inducted into the International Literary Honor Society. By 1999 Darcel graduated with a master’s of science in reading and earned her teacher’s certificate from the Maryland Department of Education. Today, she runs her own tutoring/educational consulting business – We Can Help; serves on four boards; and is an active volunteer at community service and faith-based programs.

Rosemary Hernandez
Like many young mothers, Rosemary left high school to care for her child. But this young mother never quit dreaming of the future and never gave up on her education.

After relocating from Queens, NY, to Haverhill, MA, Rosemary completed her GED and enrolled at Northern Essex Community College. It took four years of balancing motherhood, studies and volunteer activities to earn an associate’s degree. and be honored on the Dean’s List and awarded a PACE scholarship. Next, she entered the psychology program at the University of Massachusetts where she became an activist for labor rights. This passion took her to Chicago where she attended the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support. In 2000 Rosemary graduated with her bachelor’s degree in psychology, and in 2001, completed a Women and Government graduate certificate program.

While many may think Rosemary has more than reached her goal, she has not stopped. She is currently enrolled in the MBA program at Southern New Hampshire University. Committed to helping others, she works full time as the Kid’s Net Program Coordinator and helps foster families throughout the state.

Signe Heyob
On her own or in foster care since the age of 16, Signe has had her share of hard-knocks. A divorce from her alcoholic, abusive husband left her and her three children homeless. Public assistance helped them make ends meet, find a home and plan a new future.

A job in a local hospital helped Signe decide she really wanted to be a nurse. In 2001 she learned about the Adult Student Connections (ASC) Program at Kishwaukee College in Malta, IL. With the program’s support she thrived in nursing school and soon graduated with a 3.8 GPA and her RN license. Her salary increased from $7,200 to $50,000 annually. For the first time in 11 years, she and her children no longer needed public assistance.

Wanting to share the feeling of stability and success with other women in transition, Signe contributes a portion of each paycheck to a nursing scholarship fund to help underprivileged individuals pursue their careers. She says this is her way of helping others create their own stories of triumph.

Carmen Hirsch
Widowed at age 35, Carmen did not expect to be living in her adopted country with four children to raise, no work experience and limited English language skills. Giving into desperation was not an option for this gutsy mother.

With the help of the Re-Entry Center at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, NV, Carmen discovered a love for teaching. Using her own experiences, she helps students in her Adult Basic Education/ESL Program and citizenship classes create their own success stories. Carmen also works with the Center’s single mothers and displaced homemakers teaching computer courses and using her bilingual skills to reach out to a larger population of women.

Today, Carmen owns her own home and is proud to say that one of her children is a college graduate, two others are working toward their degrees, and the last is completing high school with every intention of attending college.

Penny Joseph
As a child Penny seemed destined to end up in a bad place. Born to a 16-year-old mother who was an alcoholic and drug addict, Penny started using drugs by age 15. For the next 25 years, she suffered through domestic violence, divorce, numerous dead-end jobs, homelessness, drug addiction, and the loss of custody of her son.

At age 40, after her third felony conviction, Penny decided to turn her life around. She joined Alcoholics Anonymous, enrolled in a substance abuse program, and found the Women in Community Service Lifeskills program in New Orleans, LA. Penny soon secured a job as a Patient Guide at the VA Hospital. Several promotions later, she’s a Health Technician in the emergency room and is pursuing an associate’s degree in General Science. More importantly, Penny has reconnected with her son and is helping other women with their battles against drugs and alcohol. In her words, she has become “an independent and productive member of society.”

Renee Kraft
This New Jersey native left home at 17 to discover a better life in North Dakota. There she fell in love with a farmer and soon was the mother of two sons. Life on the farm was good, until drought and an economic downturn that destroyed many farming lifestyles forced Renee into a government job in Bismarck. She worked steadily for many years in a small office. However, when two departments merged, the number of office staff and clients tripled. Forced to work in a noisy, open office, Renee found it hard to concentrate. Her anxiety increased as the quality of her work slipped.

While this was happening, her second son was being tested for learning disabilities. The counselor suggested that Renee also be tested. The results showed that, like both her sons, she suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and dyslexia. These disabilities were the reason she found the open work area so distracting. Renee’s request for acoustic panels were declined by her supervisors who resisted showing “favoritism”. When she pressed the issue, she experienced a hostile work environment that she eventually had to leave. As a result, the Krafts lost their farm and, at the age of 52, Renee found herself in search of a new career.

Renee discovered the electronics field through the Phoenix Program at Bismarck State College. Unsure at first if she could master the heavy math coursework of the Electronics Program, Renee accomplished her goal and graduated, at age 54, with a degree in a male-dominated field. Renee’s success didn’t end there. She applied for her first job with Dakota Audio, Inc., and was offered the position within 24 hours of the interview.

Today, Renee and her family are building new lives and a new home in Bismarck. Renee admits that she has no regrets about the way her life has unfolded. To her, all the experiences are unforgettable.

Carolyn Kiyota
Now a lawyer practicing in Honolulu, HI, Carolyn passed the bar exam on her first try. But, before becoming a lawyer, her life took a few twists and turns.

Married at 19 to an emotionally and physically abusive husband, Carolyn left with her young daughter after only a few years. After the divorce, she struggled to support herself and her daughter. She had been out of school for 10 years when she decided to return. “I was very scared; I felt so much older.” Through the single parent and displaced homemaker program at Kapiolani Community College, Carolyn took classes and turned her life around. She finished her college degree and went on to excel in law school.

Carolyn has not forgotten her early struggles. She regularly returns to the displaced homemaker program to speak at classes and workshops to encourage other women in transition. Today, Carolyn knows exactly where she wants to be — practicing law and making the law work for her.

Mary Robertshaw-McStravog
The image of a professional woman, Mary has come a long way from the divorced mother of seven who only five years ago was working to get off of welfare. Now on the verge of obtaining her master’s degree, Mary dedicates her life to her children ranging in age from eight to 19, and advocating for children with developmental disabilities.

In her spare time, Mary works to help other women break out of past patterns and problems. As a spokeswoman for Work Your Image!, a joint project of Women Work! and the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association, Mary has brought national recognition to the program through speaking at conferences and appearing in national magazines. “It was through this program that I realized I was good enough and regained the self-confidence I once had.”

Carol McTear
After a serious head injury in a car accident left Carol unable to speak, her relationship with education took a different path. Before the accident, she worked as a school secretary. After the accident, she did the unexpected – she returned to Lake Michigan College and enrolled in the Special Populations program to complete her associate’s degree in Business Administration.

Although she was in and out of the hospital and able to communicate solely through sign language and writing, Carol knew that education was the key to providing for her twin sons. Caring for her family and completing her degree were difficult, but Carol wouldn’t quit. In May 2000, she graduated with honors and a 4.0 GPA. Currently, Carol is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Deafness Rehabilitation Counseling and already has two job offers lined up after graduation in August 2004. If those plans aren’t big enough, she also intends to go for her master’s degree in the next few years.

Tammy Morris-Traylor
Abandoned by her first husband soon after the birth of their second child and injured in a life-threatening car accident, Tammy knew she needed to make a fresh start. She enrolled at Kiamichi Vo-Tech (now Kiamichi Technology Center) in Poteau, OK, and with the help of the Center for New Directions, completed the appliance and heating, ventilating and air-conditioning repair program. While in school she competed in, and won, several vocational education competitions and a scholarship to Oklahoma State University Technical College in Okmulgee.

Today, Tammy owns her own home appliance and air-conditioner repair business and also works for Maytag Factory Services as a repair specialist. Tammy recently shared her success by purchasing a new pick-up truck for her husband and taking her children on their very first vacation to Disneyland. “Before I got involved with school and Women Work!, I had nothing but debt and sorrow. Now, I have all I’ve ever dreamed of.”

Laurie Palmer
Today, Laurie is a loving wife, mother and grandmother who counsels victims of drug and alcohol abuse, and volunteers her time to mentor women in transition. However, Laurie’s road to success was not an easy path.

Her childhood was traumatic, and she repeatedly ran away from home to escape her abusive mother. As a teenager, Laurie became involved in crime and abused drugs and alcohol. In 1991 an incarceration forced Laurie’s children into foster care and gave her a badly needed wake-up call. At the Columbia River Correctional Facility in Portland, OR, Laurie enrolled in the Women in Community Service program, Lifeskills, which helped her gain new skills and plan for the future.

Shortly after her release from prison, Laurie regained custody of her children and founded God’s Clothing Closet where she gives clothes to the homeless. She now works as an Alcohol and Drug Intervention Specialist with Central City Concern. On a new path, Laurie is happy to help others and happy to be triumphant in her own life.

Aida Reyes
After ending a 22-year marriage, Aida started a new life as a 41-year-old community college freshman. If being a first-time student wasn’t challenging enough, Aida was also undergoing chemotherapy and was left homeless with two children. But, Aida never gave up.

Nine years later Aida is battling cancer for the third time, working on her master’s degree in Organizational and Management Leadership and planning for her doctorate degree in Education. Still, she devotes time to her community by speaking out on many political and social concerns. She also mentors low-income women in San Diego and encourages them not to give up. Aida is a one-woman support system as she distributes her positive energy and determination with her soft but empowering voice.

Rose Rosales
While toiling as a migrant worker in the hot fields of Southern Texas for 11 years, Rose dreamed of a life outside of the “family business.” In 1976, then only 19 years old, she had been out of school and working for more than half her life. Full of youthful confidence and determined to succeed, she completed a clerical training program, earned her GED and started work as a secretary. Then in 1987, at the age of 32, she was ready for another change. She enrolled in San Antonio College and began her educational journey.

Today, Rose holds a master’s degree in Organizational Development and has returned to the San Antonio College (SAC) Women’s Center, the program that helped her succeed. Rose works as a case manager in the Connections program and teaches life skills classes at the center. She knows first-hand how challenging the academic world can be for individuals with little or no education. She credits the encouragement and relationships she found at SAC with giving her the tools to succeed. “It is through sharing my history of struggles, poverty and academic challenges that participants understand they can beat the odds too.”

Kaitlyn Sandberg
From a distance Kaitlyn’s life looked perfect – a stay-at-home mother to five boys, a husband with a good job, and a nice suburban home. In truth, she lived a nightmare. Her husband was abusive “in every imaginable way.”

After years of abuse she filed for divorce, but holding the family together proved difficult. Kaitlyn slipped into the darkest period of her life. After she attempted suicide, her children were placed in foster care. With personal therapy and family counseling, she worked through her problems. And, in 1993, she connected with the Women’s Resource Center of Schoolcraft College in MI, to help regain her life and custody of her children. Within three years her family was together, and she had an associate’s degree in Computer Information Systems.

Since graduating, Kaitlyn has created a new picture perfect life. She has excelled as a Senior Collections Specialist, raised five successful sons, published a poem, and, through speaking engagements, helped other women recover. And, she continues to find success. Most recently, she accepted a position as Chief Financial Officer for a Costa Rican company and will be relocating in the coming year.

Following a dream isn’t always easy. Yet, even when faced with many challenges and obstacles, Kea never let go of her dream to be a horse trainer and breeder.

A difficult divorce left Kea as a single parent of two young girls and with a heap of financial troubles. However, this young mother was determined. Through education and training, she learned how to make her dream a reality. After a few years and lots of hard work, Kea has built a horse training and breeding business that is nationally recognized.

While Kea has faced struggles, including losing a horse to the West Nile Virus, she never despaired. Instead, she created an opportunity to do what she loves and support her family while doing it.

Lana Zigan
From the love of gardening, Lana has turned a passion into a very successful career. As a child, Lana was always outdoors helping her mother in the family garden or working in her neighbors’ yards. Later in life, she found jobs in local lawn and garden centers. However, her dreams were of her own greenhouse and gardening business.

Through the Career Training Institute in Helena, MT, she learned how to run a small business. In a short time, this Native American woman and mother of four opened her own business, Spokane Nursery.

Since launching the nursery, Lana has transformed into a savvy businesswoman. Not only does she sell her plants locally at stores and farmers markets, but she also provides outdoor displays for local businesses. Her success has come while supporting the launch of her husband’s business and home schooling her children. Lana’s strong work ethic, family support and skills have made her dreams grow.

Stephanie Beavers Davis
Once a high school dropout who went on to become a successful business owner, Stephanie was a model of triumph. In 1997, Stephanie was single, pregnant, unemployed and studying for her GED when she was introduced to New Choices/New Options in Pittsburgh, PA. The program helped Stephanie identify a career that complemented her strengths and offered growth opportunities. After completing many difficult classes, Stephanie became a Certified Novell Engineer. She started her first real job in April 1999, and grew from there.

In 2000 Stephanie moved to Tampa, FL, where she opened her own business. As president and owner of .Test Corp, she traveled across the country providing training and testing systems for health care facilities. Not forgetting her past, Stephanie continued to support the program that helped her. Last April, she created a scholarship fund for women at her former program and presented three $2,000 awards. She planned to make it an annual scholarship.

In Memorium – April 2004
Women Work! is deeply saddened by the tragic and unexpected loss of one of its friends and supporters, Stephanie Beavers-Davis. Stephanie died at her home in Florida on April 19, 2004. Only two months earlier at the 25th Anniversary Gala, Women Work! had honored her with a Woman of Triumph award for overcoming personal barriers and achieving success as an entrepreneur.

Stephanie is survived by her beloved six-year-old son, her mother and stepfather, her father and two brothers. Wishing to continue the tradition she started of helping others, Stephanie’s family, co-workers and friends have established a memorial scholarship fund in her name. Contributions to the Stephanie Beavers-Davis Memorial Scholarship Fund can be sent to Pennsylvania Women Work! at 411 7th Avenue, Ste. 925, Pittsburgh, PA 15219. For more information, call 412-281-9240.