The statistics are compelling. Approximately 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. The average displaced homemaker is a mother with 2.5 children. Six out of ten of these women live in poverty, yet while they were married, most were middle class. Many are women who have escaped abusive or violent marriages.
Who can these displaced homemakers turn to for help?
Meet Cathi Rendfrey, Director of the Women’s Opportunity Center (WOC) at the YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties. The WOC is a grant funded program made possible by the New Jersey Division on Women, Department of Children and Families. The program is dedicated to helping displaced homemakers—women who have lost their primary source of income due to divorce, separation, death, or disability of a spouse—obtain or upgrade their skills for transition into the workforce.
The Center offers educational and vocational counseling, interest and aptitude testing, information on financial aid for education, job readiness training, and computer training. “We help with resume writing, interviewing skills, referrals, and job search assistance. We also offer life skills workshops in self confidence and self esteem, assertiveness, goal setting, career development, financial planning, and the legal implications of separation and divorce. Our host agency is the YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties but YMCA Membership is not required to attend our program or workshops,” says Cathi.
A married mother of two daughters and four grandchildren, Cathi has served as Director of the WOC for 22 years, managing the overall operation of the Center and supervising its dedicated staff and volunteers. The Center serves more than 200 women a year. During her tenure, Cathi has assisted more than 3,000 displaced homemakers. More than 50 percent of these women were in domestic violence (verbal or physical) situations. “Our center has seen a greater number of women dealing with domestic violence, due to the stress of the economy,” says Cathi.
In addition to her role as Director of the WOC, Cathi also serves as the Legislative Liaison for the Displaced Homemakers Network of New Jersey, Inc. The Network advocates for 15 centers statewide. She meets with legislators on an ongoing basis to inform them about displaced homemakers and their families. She testifies each year before the Assembly and Senate to keep the WOC’s funding included in the Governor’s state budget. She is a tireless advocate for women’s rights. She organizes letter writing campaigns and visits the state Capitol to meet with government leaders. Cathi was instrumental in the passage of Bill SJR39, proclaiming the month of May as “Displaced Homemakers Awareness Month.”
Displaced homemakers come from a wide range of age, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds. “It [loss of financial support] can happen to anyone,” says Cathi. The women who benefit from the Center’s services know their options, choices, and opportunities. Most importantly, they learn they have the emotional support to succeed.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are over 750,000 displaced homemakers in New Jersey, ranking the state 8th in the United States in numbers of displaced homemakers. Over 60% of New Jersey’s displaced homemakers live at or below poverty level.“The WOC is often a refuge and haven for women who are not eligible for any other types of services. They are often ineligible for other programs because their names appear on a mortgage for homes they cannot afford or they own vehicles they cannot afford to drive,” says Cathi. “Sixty-six out of every 100 women remain without child support for their children,” she adds.
With supportive counseling and training, a displaced homemaker is assisted in reaching her full potential. She gains a heightened awareness of her untapped talents, greater confidence in her own abilities, and new skills to meet the challenges of the labor market. With these newly acquired skills, she gains economic self-sufficiency for herself and her children. “Our services are designed to enhance the employability and earnings of displaced homemakers and impact positively on the quality of life for the entire family,” says Cathi. “Employed women become contributors to the economy of the State instead of requiring public assistance.”
“The WOC provides women with the tools they need to deal with the disruptions that their families face. Women from all walks of life come through our door to rebuild their lives. They know they are not alone here—they bond and help each other. There is no time limit, and every new step they take is a success,” says Cathi.
Cathi believes in the importance of “paying it forward.” “Many of our women act as resources to other women in the program, sharing their hard-earned information. Many give back to our program once they are secure themselves. Women move through the WOC’s program at their own pace. Some stay with WOC only for the length of their divorce, some only for a few weeks, many for a few years—accessing the services they need at the time. Clients who have secured employment can still stop by for emergency food or emotional support and referrals during trying times. We are proud of our ability to mold our services to the needs of our clients and their current situation.”
According to Cathi, “Everyone has a calling – you just need to honor it. This is my calling. I am honored to be a part of these women’s lives. They give me the energy and passion every day to keep advocating for women’s issues and the Center’s funding,” says Cathi. “When you help yourself, or when you reach out to help another woman, you help everyone. You help your mother, your sister, your child, your friend. We are all connected.”Women’s Opportunity Center (WOC) Success Story
Ann approached the WOC at the recommendation of a therapist. She was in a dysfunctional marriage, with two small children, a part-time job, and what felt like the weight of the world on her shoulders. She was looking for support. She needed legal assistance, self esteem workshops, computer training, and career guidance.
With guidance from the WOC, Ann attended financial workshops that helped her understand what she needed to do to build credit and run her household, and legal workshops which helped her to get the divorce process started.
She worked extensively with the career coach on her resume. Ann took several computer classes to ensure her computer skills were up to date, and away she went to pursue a full-time job with benefits, which was a major concern post-divorce.
Ann didn’t get the first job she applied for, but she was diligent and determined — and it wasn’t long before she obtained a position with a great company. She always gives some credit to the great suit she was wearing which she got from the career closet at the WOC!
There have been some bumps and turns in the road, but through it all, Ann has turned to the WOC for support and guidance. She continued to attend workshops and worked with the career coach when needed. Ann sees the WOC as a safe and reassuring place where she can turn for honest, necessary advice and resources that all working women who are raising children need.
Ann has been an ambassador for the WOC. When she obtained a good income, she was quick to give back. She made arrangements for food donations from a church and also contributed to a company matching donation fund. A great deal of Ann’s success today can be attributed to the programs offered at the WOC and the WOC is proud to have been a part of her triumphs.
If you are interested in making a donation, contact Cathi Rendfrey, Director, Women’s Opportunity Center, YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties, 302 Commerce Square Blvd., Burlington, NJ 08016. Cathi can be reached by phone at (609) 543-6200 x 224 or by email at email@example.com. website: www.womensopportunitycenter.orgAs seen in Burlington County Woman