Committee on Education and the Workforce

Testimony of LaShunda Hall
Former Wisconsin Works Participant

October 16, 2001

Good Morning,

My name is LaShunda Hall. I am the single parent of two children, ages 4 years & 10 months.

I come before you today representing the hundreds of women and men who have received help through the Wisconsin Works program in Milwaukee known as W2. I stand as a positive example of those who have realized success by participating in this life-changing TANF funded program. Through TANF funding, many of us have benefited from such programs as, basic skills education, High School and GED, Life-Skills training’s, Community Service Jobs, On-the Job training’s and much more. We have benefited from temporarily assistance with supportive services for: Childcare, Transportation, food shelter and clothing. With this help, we have gone on to become productive employees of America’s workforce.

Thanks to the W2 program, I can come before you this morning and honestly say that I am happy with my life. Today, I am earning an honest living, providing daily for my children and me. Unfortunately, my life was not always this way. In fact, it was not long ago that I thought about escaping life permanently.

It seems that my life has been filled with abuse. It seemed as if I had a permanent recording in my mind which repeatedly stated "you’ll never amount to anything", "you’re a mistake", "I wish you hadn’t been born". During my adolescent years, the negative recordings were permanently in my head. To escape the horrors of home, I began to drink alcohol, a deadly habit I copied from my mother and other family members. My sporadic periods of drug escapades (which I swore were under control) soon developed into an expensive daily habit. As the abuse became more intense, life became more unbearable at home. In an attempt to keep my sanity I was forced to move away from home. I was convinced that this move would help me get my high school diploma. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Like a magnet, I was drawn to the wrong crowd. Drugs and alcohol were now even more common in my life. My self-esteem was lower than ever before and I was suffering from severe depression.

I realized that I needed to start making the right choices, but what does an abused adolescent know about "the right choices", especially if they received no guidance from home? I realized that a full-time job and a good education were my only way out of this living nightmare.

I was angry at the world and unable to face myself in the mirror. Carrying a load of displaced anger and frustration, I turned to other people. Because of bad choices, I became involved in several unhealthy relationships. Pregnant and fearing for my life, my children and I fled my abusive partner’s home and took refuge in a shelter. There I was all alone, four pregnancies and two children later(two ended early--one as a miscarriage and one abortion). I kept trying to weigh the worse scenario, enduring the mental and physical abuse at home, or allowing these men to endanger my life and the lives of my children. Both were too horrible to imagine.

As life went on, I continued to search desperately for an opportunity to turn my life around. I now had 2 babies to think about. I’d heard of Opportunities Industrialization Center of Greater Milwaukee’s (OIC-GM’s) Wisconsin Works (W2) program and how they specialized in helping to successfully transition the lives of many women in my community. I’d also heard that through OIC’s W2 program, many women went from a life of sitting at home, watching TV, and getting a monthly welfare check to earning a paycheck through employment. These women started out just like me: little or no job skills, no education, low-self esteem and no hope for their future. Somehow, OIC’s W2 program was able to prepare these women to become attached and advance in Wisconsin’s workforce. OIC’s W2 program empowered them by teaching solid skills such as; high school diplomas, GEDs, job skills training and REAL jobs.

With other women’s success stories in mind, I began my experience with OIC- GM’s W2 program. I attended a four-week training and motivational program called the Keys-To-Life Academy, hoping and praying that they could help me achieve the same success.

As I attended the Keys-To-Life, I was assigned a Case manager who gave me the support and guidance I desperately needed. My Case manager and I agreed to a regular schedule of meetings. During these meetings, she helped me develop a plan for my life. As we worked on my plan it became clear to me that we were simply making a road map to meet my desired goals and if I followed it, I would be successful. My life plan included; getting a job, obtaining my high school education, and developing my career goals. My Case manager didn’t judge me but instead, accepted me for who I really was: a young, inexperienced, physically, mentally abused woman with 2 babies, no high school education, no self-esteem and a hopeless outlook on life. We immediately began to work together to turn my attitude around and despite many mistakes (and my attitude) she treated me with dignity and respect. She taught me how to make good, healthy choices which made me feel independent.

That was the first time that I truly felt a sense of control over my own life. My Case manager helped me build my own bridge of support. My success was now up to me! We set realistic goals for my education and set objectives for my career development. She held me accountable for participating in the program and directed me to OIC’s supportive services and community resources when I really needed it most. I was learning the real meaning of responsibility and accountability.

The lessons I learned in the Keys-To-Life continue to serve me well today. It was there that I realized that I was not the only one that had experienced difficulties in life. No matter how bad the stories were and how negative the attitudes, our instructor hung in there with us. To me, she was more than our instructor, she was our friend. When we graduated, we all felt that we were empowered to manage life’s biggest challenges. We now knew how to pursue employment and education opportunities, evaluate options and make the best choices for our lives. Although none of my family members attended my Keys-To-Life graduation, I was not disappointed. In fact, it turned out to be one of the most exciting days of my life. My classmates and my instructor realized my hard work and positive change in my esteem. Upon graduation, I was awarded the class title of Miss "Self-Esteem"! Apparently they’d seen something in me that I didn’t even see in myself…growth.

After my experience with The Keys-to-Life, I felt I was able to face just about anything! I’d finally gained a level of confidence. That experience taught me the value of surrounding myself with positive people. As I began to gradually loose contact with my fellow graduates, I began to realize the value of bonding with positive people. I had heard that a group of positive women called ‘The Women of Change’ assembled regularly at a community center located very close to my home. The Women of Change met regularly to receive motivation, emotional support and guidance for career development as they progressed through their W2 experience.

I was determined to find a job and achieve my high school education. I began my GED courses while aggressively seeking employment. I finally got a job, but after a short time I was terminated. Although it was a severe blow to my self-esteem, I didn’t allow it to knock me out. Thanks to the training I received through the Keys-to-life program, I was able to weather that storm.

Fortunately, the clouds in that storm had a silver lining, My Case manager and I reviewed my mistakes. She helped me regain the courage I needed to continue my GED studies and aggressively pursue my next job….My dream job as an Administrative Assistant!

Now it was all coming together. It was the combination of my office skills training, the lessons learned in the Keys-to-life and the support from my Case manager that enabled me to obtain my GED and my dream job as an Administrative Assistant with my current employer, V.E. Carter Development Center.

Today, I am proud to say that I have accomplished each of the goals I set when I started the W2 program. My job skills and education make me a solid, valuable employee of America’s workforce. I am currently employed on a full-time job, which offers my children and me health and medical benefits. I have my GED, a certificate-of-completion from OIC’s office skills training program, and a 1-year certificate of completion from a local business training institute. I am also very proud to inform you of my recent endeavor. I am currently enrolled in a 4-year accredited college degree program, pursuing my Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice.

I now stand as an example to my children of what dedication and determination can do. I am a living example for them that OIC-GM’s W2 program did exact what it was designed to do, it broke the cycle of poverty and offered temporary assistance to a needy family. For me, the program saved my life by building a bridge of support from a present failure to a bright future.

I urge you to continue TANF funding for these life-changing programs. As we meet here today, many families in Wisconsin and across the nation are participating in TANF programs, hoping and striving for a successful outcome similar to mine.