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Native Detroiter Anetha Walker’s story is one of courage, tenacity and fortitude in the face of adversity. Several years ago she was laid off from the Lawton Career Institute. It was a devastating blow. Working for the school for nearly 23 years, Walker had climbed the corporate ladder. She started as a telemarketer and after seven promotions, she was appointed to her final position of Director of Student Services. Just as she reached the pinnacle position in her career, the school closed its doors and she found herself unemployed.
The 57-year-old Walker says that she has worked every year of her life since she was 17 years old. It had been a rewarding career, and she enjoyed the work she was doing in the educational field. While she longed to step into a similar position, most required a Master’s degree. This was a major road block in her job search, but she didn’t let it deter her. While pursuing a degree was not a viable option, charting a new career path was definitely an achievable goal.
After reviewing resource materials that she used during her previous position, Walker came across a flyer on Operation ABLE. It seemed like the ideal place to turn to for help, guidance and training. After an appointment with one of their advisors, she immediately began to find creative job search strategies, as well as receive coaching on managing her budget while living on reduced financial resources.
PARTNERSHIP EQUALS PROMISE
For some nine years, Operation ABLE has been a part of the Greater Detroit Centers for Working Families (CWF) Network, managed by Detroit LISC and United Way for Southeast Michigan (UWSEM). The Greater Detroit CWF model, known nationally as Financial Opportunity Centers, integrates employment services, financial coaching and income support services to help clients define their goals, train for living wage jobs and build financial stability. Operation ABLE implements the CWF model coupled with LISC’s Bridges to Career Opportunities (BCO) program as its umbrella programs.
The BCO program offers clients the opportunity to ramp up their foundational literacy and math skills, utilizing contextualized training to pursue industry certifications – connecting them to “middle skills” jobs and a promising career pathway.
Currently, Operation ABLE has some 350 people active in CWF and on boards approximately 100 new clients per year.
CAN DO ATTITUDE
Operation ABLE typically targets area residents who are 40 and older. Most of their clients, like Walker, are in a mid-career transition and are in need of new skills and expertise to help them rejoin the workforce.
Walker remembers arriving at Operation ABLE and feeling like a “fish out of water,” but that didn’t stop her. She immersed herself in the BCO training. She recalls, “I took advantage of everything that they had to offer.”
This included the important financial coaching component of CWF. Working with one of a CWF financial advisor, Walker was able to develop a fiscal worksheet that helped her budget and better manage her resources, save more, and even improve her credit score.
Also, she enrolled in computer classes, employability workshops and a job club. In January 2017, Walker saw a return on her investment of time and effort. Because of her positive attitude and willingness to try something new, the staff approached Walker with a bold proposition. They suggested enrollment in the Weatherization Energy Auditing job training being offered by an agency in their building.
It was a 180-degree turn from her previous job, but it was intriguing. The BCO program helped her improve her math and reading skills that were needed to enter this very technical position. Walker excelled and earned a number of certifications including: “Weatherization Installer Technician” through the US Department of Energy, an “OSHA General Industry Safety and Health” Certificate and an “Asbestos and Mold Awareness” Certificate.
It all paid off when Walker was hired as an Environmental Energy Coordinator with Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice and DTE Energy.
“She (Walker) is an example to others, illustrating that you can try something new and develop new skills at any point in your life,” says McDougall. “She was the poster child for that.”
A BRIDGE TO A BRIGHT FUTURE
Walker has never been happier. She loves her new career and the work she performs for the Energy Efficiency Assistance Program, which keeps her out in the field working directly with DTE customers.
“I’m a people person,” remarks Walker. “I enjoy educating customers on how to save energy. The rapport that I have with the customers gives me joy.”
Walker’s career is still evolving. She is also an instructor with SER Metro’s YouthBuild construction course that allows area students to learn valuable safety and construction skills. Walker provides on-the-job carpentry training to the youngsters while rehabbing homes in Detroit.
Walker feels proud that she had the courage to be open to new possibilities and step into a different, yet exciting career. She says, “A lot of people are scared, but my advice is to be open to the opportunities that are out there. Be open-minded. Take the leap.”