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Empowering women for 20 years
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Dee Lauzon talks about Transitions to Success

Sharon’s husband went to work one morning and never returned, leaving her with two children under the age of 6 to raise alone. Marcia was injured at her retail job when a glass display case fell on her and is unable to return to her duties. Rose’s husband passed away after an excruciating battle with cancer, leaving her lost in unbearable grief. Nikki filed for a restraining order against her estranged domestic partner. These situations are just a few examples of the stories the dedicated workers of the Women’s Program hear every day.

Whether it is divorce, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or any other life-changing transition, help coping and emerging out the other side is available to women in Lane County. For 20 years and counting, Lane Community College’s Transitions to Success has been empowering women to change their lives.

According to Women’s Program Director Kate Barry, the program has helped about 4,000 women work through pain and fear and develop a plan for the new direction their lives will take. She says a woman only needs to identify herself as experiencing a life transition to qualify for the program.

What started out as a single class of 20 students made up of widows, displaced homemakers and single moms eventually developed into 65 to 90 students every term. Each fall, winter and spring terms, TTS offer three sections of the core classes–a Monday/Wednesday morning class, a Tuesday/Thursday afternoon class or an evening class. Each set has a corresponding discussion group. Summer yields no evening section. Women of different backgrounds and circumstances come together to learn the skills that will propel them in new and constructive directions.

Women's Program Director Kate Barry

Dee, now a graduate of the program, was coming off a second divorce when she started and says her self-esteem was very low. She credits the program with helping her build her confidence. “As I was successful, I was able to keep my self-esteem going up and up and up. Now I am going to be the President of Thi Pheta Kappa next year,” she said referring to the academic honor society.

Transitions to Success consists of two core classes, Life Transitions and Career and Life Planning, and a discussion group. How it works: in a Monday/Wednesday class block, 30 women meet on Mondays for three hours to examine the stages of life transitions, such as loss of a relationship or a job, grieving the ending of that loss, then communication skills to start over. The class also explores healthy relationships and patterns, and emphasizes personal growth through self-esteem, assertiveness and empowerment.

On Wednesdays, the same group attends the three-hour Career and Life Planning course. It differs from other courses of the same name offered elsewhere on campus in that it is geared specifically for women and the way they think. The idea is to design individual career and life plans based on self-awareness, career exploration and decision-making skills.

The third component is a discussion group. Groups of about 10 students from the same class section meet once a week for an hour and a half with a facilitator to explore material from the week’s lessons. The smaller group size allows for everyone to speak and be heard, which is something that class time doesn’t always allow for.

“You can develop individual plans, but you also build community and relationships with other women,” Barry says. The 30 women in the morning classes or the afternoon classes or the evening classes go through the core courses together to help build that support system, she says. Often the women coming into the program feel isolated, and the classes are an opportunity to build friendships and a support system.

Linda Gonzalves, the morning section instructor, says that the majority of women who come to the program have been disenfranchised. “They have been removed from their support base... through various economic circumstances in their lives, various emotional and interpersonal circumstances that happened to them before they were able to be agents in their own lives.”

The Transitions Program also offers skill-building courses in math, writing, computers and study skills. These courses are only available to women in the program as an opportunity to to continue the learning community with their classmates.

LaRosa Rose advises students about non-traditional careers

Women interested in exploring traditionally male-dominated professions such as construction, backhoe driving, truck driving, engineering and technical careers to name a few, can tap Outside of the Box (formerly ACCESS) advisor LaRosa Rose’s expertise. Each term she brings in a panel of women with non-traditional jobs to speak to the classes. Students have an opportunity to ask questions and explore job options they might have not considered before.

Rose advises interested students about apprenticeships and has created a mentorship program in which she pairs students with women in fields they are interested in. She says it gives the students a chance to find out what it’s like out in the real world. When it comes to apprenticeships, Rose says, she “tries to facilitate that process so that they don’t have to run into a lot of closed doors along the way.”

Transiciones is the newest addition to the program. It is “the bridge for Spanish speaking women,” Barry says. Currently offered as a non-credit class, it takes a looks at transitions for women both bilingually and bi-culturally.

Claudia Riumallo teaches Transiciones

Claudia Riumallo, who advises and teaches Transiciones, immigrated to the United States from Chile four years ago and understands the difficulties Latino women face in the community. She worked in various nonprofit agencies and recognized a need for a program to empower these women. She sees this course as an opportunity.

Riumallo says she has traveled enough to know that every country has its good and bad sides. “The idea,” she says, “is to make your immigration to this country a better place–that betterment that people come for.”

In Transiciones, students learn assertiveness skills, discuss Latino values versus North American values and learn how to negotiate with the dominant culture. Riumallo says that sometimes immigrants are shy and fearful of making a mistake, and that sometimes this leads to a false idea about Latino women in particular. Her goal is to break those stereotypes by getting her students involved in the community.

For a program that began as a weeklong class with 20 displaced homemakers to help them plan their next move in a supportive atmosphere, Transitions to Success continues to grow and change with the needs of the women in the community.

“I think the special thing about Transitions is the way women can be together in a learning, planning, living community and decide both individually, but with each other, what the next step should be,” says Barry. She enjoys seeing the transformation of the students. At the beginning of each term she visits the classes and meets the students. She says she is amazed at how much these same timid and scared women have grown and flourished by the end of the term.

“It’s a step to make plans and make changes that in many ways students see as transformative for themselves,” Barry says. “Students love Transitions. They just love it! The majority of our referral is by word of mouth.”