YWCA of Olympia’s new learning lab gives women job skills

The YWCA of Olympia continues to break barriers for women struggling with poverty.

This week, the non-profit organization officially unveiled its new Comcast Learning Lab, a new technology center that’s part of the Women’s Economic Empowerment Program.

Known as EEP, the Economic Empowerment Program prepares low-income and unemployed women for the workforce. The program teaches a range of skills — everything from management and customer service to public speaking and technology. The goal is to create financial stability for women through training and confidence-building opportunities.

The new learning lab was made possible with a $10,000 donation from the Comcast Foundation, and helps take the EEP to the next level.

“When you empower one woman, you’re really supporting a whole network of people,” said Diem Ly, Comcast external affairs manager, during a ribbon-cutting celebration for the lab Tuesday. “One woman can be responsible for children, parents, family members, extended family members and friends.”

At the learning lab, participants receive training in common computer programs such as Microsoft Word, Outlook, QuickBooks, PowerPoint and Excel. The goal is to train 24 women in the next year, said Tanikka Watford, Women’s Economic Empowerment Director.

“These are skills that are sellable,” Watford said of the resume-building program. “Women have access to the information they need to get themselves out of poverty.”

One program participant is Tammy Daugherty, who left the workforce a few years ago to care full time for her grandson. Now that her grandson has recovered from his medical condition, Daugherty wants to go back to work, but lacks some basic experience with certain computer programs.

The learning lab and EEP are providing crucial training in software such as QuickBooks, which is commonly used in the business world. The lab also makes the training more accessible because she has no computer at home, she said, and adequate access to computer time at the public library is limited.

“It’s what I really needed,” said Daugherty, a Tumwater resident who plans to pursue work as a legal administrative assistant.

Program participants also work in the YWCA’s The Other Bank, which provides essential hygiene and cleaning items that can’t be purchased with food stamps. Women in the EEP apply their lessons to The Other Bank through hands-on tasks such as placing and tracking orders, for example.

The Other Bank serves 125 families every Wednesday, with each family eligible to access the service six times a year. The Other Bank served 19,538 total individuals in 2013, including adults and children, said Cherie Reeves Sperr, communications director for YWCA of Olympia. The learning lab will allow The Other Bank to collect more data on clients, she said.

Another program enrollee is Valerie Evans, who already volunteers at the YWCA and wants to improve her budgeting skills. She also praised the EEP for boosting her self-esteem.

“It’s something I can do to help myself. It will take me from poverty to prosperity,” she said of the program, and encouraged other women to check it out. “There is help in the community. Simple as that.”

The YWCA of Olympia reports that nearly 76 percent of its clients are unemployed, and that 24 percent of female-headed households with children live in poverty.