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Women Helping Women Assists the Unemployed in Job Searches

A WHW participant who got a job at Pacific Life company.


Although the nonprofit faced sustainability issues for themselves and their clients, they recently placed 50 tenacious job seekers despite the pandemic. Both male and female clients went to remote online webinar trainings, acquiring skills and new network connections that led to good opportunities, according to WHW Chief Development Officer Yumiko Whitaker.

“They stood out as qualified, prepared and ready to solve problems in their new workplaces,” added Whitaker. “They owned their employment journey by developing new skills and confidence for success. Their ‘can do’ attitude replaced feelings of self-pity which helped place them in such fields as sales and marketing, healthcare, information technology, cyber security, operations, logistics, and more.”

WHW is a workforce development nonprofit who prepares women, men, and youth to be qualified candidates for a successful job search. They were founded by two domestic violence survivors in 1993 who knew the importance of having financial self-sufficiency and who believed that people who want to work are elevated by it, according to Whitaker.

“It is a priceless honor to have the opportunity to build bright futures,” she said. “It is a privilege to give generous people a pathway to make the world a better place.”

“We are all knitted together and benefit by having someone believe in us and the power of our dreams,” said Whitaker who has been a volunteer for seven years and a member of the staff for one year at WHW.

Individuals ready to lead independent lives are directed to WHW for them to further develop their job search efforts. WHW acts as a ‘nucleus’ contributing to the community’s overall success by stabilizing lives one job at a time. They work collaboratively with other nonprofits and community partners to provide a ‘wraparound rehabilitative safety net’ that helps people not fall through the cracks, according to Whitaker.

“We do what we do because every person matters to us,” she said. “Our aim is to ensure no worker is left behind regardless of their life start or circumstances. We love taking people from ‘I don’t I know if can’ to ‘I know I can!’ Our great reward is learning when someone secures a job [through their] applied grit and hard work.”

Historically, WHW has taken high need individuals facing multiple barriers such as domestic abuse survivors, human trafficking victims, foster youth and the formally incarcerated or transitionally housed to give them a built-in support system. However, they simply do not turn anyone away from seeking their services.

Many of their clients were in the middle of their job search or just beginning when the pandemic hit. Most did not know if they should continue their efforts or wait until things improved. Some who received unemployment or were concerned about exposure to the virus paused their search efforts, said Whitaker. Others continued.

“Those from the general population who lost once secure jobs may need help polishing their acumen especially if they’ve been at a job for decades,” she explained. “The marketplace has been upended and the way of work is changing rapidly. Those who are well- qualified and prepared are indeed securing positions.”

“Within a highly competitive job market we are making sure candidates are not just marketable, but honestly prepared for what’s out there,” added Whitaker. “Former program participants who are employed have returned to polish their skills as they aim to retain coveted positions.”

Back on March 13th, near the beginning of the pandemic, WHW swiftly vacated their offices to deliver an entirely virtual format four days later. Whitaker said it was motivated by their early recognition and need for stability for their current 786 job seekers.

“It was important (and still is) to make sure people did not lose hope or become invisible as they navigated their resilience,” she said. “We upskilled our small yet agile team transitioning each person from a specialist to a generalist to meet service needs. We also curated a daily Job Seeker E-newsletter filled with useful articles, tips, vetted job leads and community-wide resources to support their navigation of a continually evolving landscape. Our in-person employment readiness workshops and trainings were adapted to a webinar format as our uninterrupted assistance and a vital lifeline.”

To sustain themselves WHW tightly controlled their expenses and made some tough decisions for their organization during the pandemic. They loss two of their largest sources of annual income with the closure of their social enterprise retail boutique and had to cancel their spring luncheon fundraiser. During the pandemic, they suffered another blow when several of their funders and individual donors shifted their giving priorities to essentials like food, housing, healthcare, and racial equality movements. But somehow WHW came through with a financial turnaround in eight months’ time following two years of consecutive decline, according to Whitaker.

“Our professional September audit reports a positive year-end performance for which we are grateful,” she said. “Still, we continue to navigate our continuity as all programs and services are at no cost to individuals or for the 60-plus nonprofits who refer their service population to us.”

Despite their challenges during the pandemic, Whitaker said that WHW has emerged as a much better organization. She explained they had to “walk our talk” by upskilling themselves and taking a hard look in the mirror about what they offer, assessing their true value and performance outcomes.

“With an online delivery format, we are able to reach and serve more people who no longer come to our offices,” she said. “We are lightly providing professional apparel through referral partners by appointment-only.” Providing gently used professional clothing is apart of WHW’s services.

She said come December 1, supporter Orange County Business Journal Editor-in-Chief Peter Brennan will join WHW for a virtual business writing workshop. WHW is also developing specialized trainings with Bank of America, a customer service training with Union Bank, and a mentor program with Edwards Life Sciences.

“All of these efforts require a lot of behind-the-scenes coordination from our staff of five, yet they are priceless investments that are moving lives forward,” Whitaker said.

WHW also helps job seekers to develop their tool belts through curated resume writing, LinkedIn profiles, helping also with job interview skills and networking know-how.

“These basics are enhanced with deep dive instruction in business writing [and] communication skills [for the fields of] project management, information technology, web design, social media, cyber security, healthcare management and other in-demand employer requisites,” she explained.

Participants also receive one-on-one job search navigation assistance, resource sharing, job retention tools, transportation aid and professional attire. Coming soon, a corporate partner-led job coaching program will further propel those in need of added support forward, she said.

WHW accomplishes much through their professional partners who serve as virtual volunteers which transfer employer-in-demand hard and soft skills to their clients. Some of their professional partners include PIMCO, Southern California Edison, Citizens Business Bank, Salesforce, JP Morgan Chase, Capital Group, and CISOSHARE.

Many of their supporters have remained faithful during the pandemic with several offering additional support. Among them are Capital Group, Citizens Business Bank, Edwards Lifesciences, Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Capital One, Orange County Community Foundation (M Foundation), Margaret E. Oser Fund for Women and Girls, Sun Family Foundation, Southern California Edison, PIMCO, Union Bank. Many are individuals who continue to honor monthly giving commitments or are those who made direct gifts to WHW, according to Whitaker.

Going forward, besides keeping a continuity of services, WHW is hoping to recoup funding shortfalls by reopening their social enterprise resale boutique with limited capacity and stringent safety protocols in place.

Whitaker said the overwhelming community-wide support of clothing and accessory donations received on Fridays only has WHW bursting at the seams.

“We are happy to ensure that cared for wares enjoy a new life adventure in the possession of others,” said Whitaker. “This is an important part of our sustainability values as [it is] retail with a purpose executed.”

For more information on Women Helping Women, please visit online at www.whw.org. or call 949-631-2333.