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27 Jan, Friday
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Montreal Families

Program helps single moms find work

Seven years ago, I moved to Montreal with optimism: I had married the man I loved and eagerly left the United States to settle in his hometown. Within a year of my arrival, I gave birth to our daughter and slowly began to fulfill my ambition to be a dance critic by writing a regular column for the magazine my husband had founded. The future seemed bright indeed.

In a few years, though, our marriage fell apart and I found myself alone, wondering what to do. Despite five months of French immersion courses, my grasp of the language was poor. My employment experience revolved around my work as a dance critic for my husband’s magazine and some publications outside of the province: I had never fully explored the job market in Montreal. Thanks to spousal and child support, I didn’t have to find a full-time job immediately but I would have to do so eventually.

So, while scanning the classifieds in an English weekly, I saw an ad for the YWCA Single Mothers Program, which seemed to address women in my situation. A couple of months later, with some embarrassment but also a great deal of hope, I walked through the doors of the YWCA to start the program. At the time, I still believed that women like myself with advanced degrees (I have a MA in English) shouldn’t need help. But I soon discovered that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The program introduced me to women from around the world (everywhere from Sri Lanka to Moldova) with diverse religious backgrounds and varying levels of education. Despite our differences, we mothers had three things in common: a desire to be self-sufficient, a need to give the best of ourselves to our children and the knowledge that we have valuable skills to contribute to the workforce.

There is Nuran, 37, a mother of two and an immigrant from Turkey who speaks five languages. When her husband of 17 years left her, she began looking for a full-time career in social work (after having spent four years as a volunteer at a Kurdish community centre).

There is Sahma, 42, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry and who came to Quebec in 2007 from Egypt to give her son better opportunities. For women like them, the burden of being single parents out of the workforce has added to the inherent difficulties of immigration. The YWCA program is helping them and myself understand better the Quebec job market while giving us the tools to best present ourselves to employers.

The 19-week program, subsidized by Emploi Quebec, includes conferences, standardized tests, workshops and individual meetings with an employment counselor to build a woman’s self-awareness (including self-esteem, time management and communication skills) as well has helping her research career choices. Participants learn job search strategies such as writing CVs and doing interviews and must complete a four-to-six week internship.

Additional services include language and computer courses. The program also brings in employment recruiters and holds conferences on topics from labour law to separation/divorce.

To qualify for the program, you must be a single mother (with shared or full custody) who receives employment assistance, insurance benefits or is without revenue (regardless of spousal or child support). Some married mothers may qualify so check with an Emploi Quebec agent.

Beyond such practicalities, all the women benefit from the friendships formed. “When I look in the mirror now,” says Nuran. “I see a stronger person,” which she attributes to the support between the mothers in our group and the openness many share about the difficulties that they face.

I hear that new spirit of optimism in the voice of Tanya, 28, who graduated from the program last January. Having spent five years on social assistance, Tanya decided that enough was enough. As a full custodial parent, she wanted to be a role model to her 7-year-old daughter.

With hard-worn pride and enthusiasm, Tanya tells me that before the program she was shy around people and negative about education but now is more outgoing and motivated. She is completing a diploma program in secretarial studies at the John F. Kennedy Business Centre, a vocational school. While Tanya hasn’t arrived fully at her employment goal, as she sees it, “I am still going, still truckin’” and there is no turning back.

Thanks to the program, I feel less alone and am able to plan for my future by practicing my interview skills with my fellow participants, making calls to potential employers, revamping my CV and researching new career and educational opportunities. Yes, some of the obstacles I had imagined about the job market here have turned out to be real, but what has changed drastically about my situation is my attitude: I have moved from “cannot” to “can-do.” There’s no turning back for me either.

For more information, see www.ydesfemmesmtl.org or call (514) 866-9941. Kena Herod did her YWCA internship at Montreal Families.

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