By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
BALTIMORE—Even though it wasn’t a typical classroom, there was a lot of learning taking place.
Several women, who gathered for their weekly dose of encouragement and job skills training, met in a community room at the Sharp Leadenhall housing development in Baltimore’s Federal Hill.
Through the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, the Woman’s Missionary Union, and a partnership between The Church at Warren Avenue and Kingdom Sanctuary Ministries, Gayla Parker and Melody Knox have introduced the Christian Women’s Job Corp (CWJC), offering women hope and direction for their futures.
CWJC and its male version, Christian Men’s Job Corps (CMJC), seek to empower and equip women and men in need in their quest for economic self-sufficiency and in developing a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Supported through BCM/D’s annual State Missions Offering, the CWJC offers classes on everything from computer skills to money management to resume writing and job searching as well as weekly Bible study to learn Christ-like behavior.
It’s what Sandra Miller, a faithful attendee in the Baltimore effort, describes as “a hand up, not a hand out.”
Already, the women have taken assessments to see which career best matches their personalities and have identified the roadblocks in their lives that kept them from achieving success. They are learning how to build their self-esteem and how to present themselves in the job market, she said.
In addition, nurses have come in to discuss health issues ranging from sexually transmitted diseases to healthy eating, smoking cessation and diabetes and high blood pressure management. The women have “shopped” through donated clothing and are working through educational issues, such as tutoring and/or GED preparation.
But most important is the shared camaraderie, shared Miller, who says she is thankful for the presence in the government-subsidized community.
Most of the CWJC sites are held at churches, but this particular site is held right in the community where people live.
Jekia Gardner shared the reason she comes is that she hopes to achieve what she calls “a better me.”
Her favorite part? “To know that I’m not the only one, and to know that others have gone through what I’ve gone through and have been in my shoes,” she said.
A key component of the CWJC is its mentorship program, where participants are paired with a mentor for encouragement and accountability, shared Parker, BCM/D’s WMU executive director.
The mentoring relationship is based on mutual respect, encouragement and heartfelt prayer and helps the women in their efforts toward behavioral change and spiritual growth, a process that has proven successful throughout the nation.
In Dec. 2009, Sandra Nash, a certified national trainer who had one of the first CWJC sites in Mississippi, and Parker led a training event with Pastors Lyn O’Berry and Michael Gamon from The Church at Warren Avenue, along with four people connected with the Sharp Leadenhall community. In October 2010, a group formally began.
Using a “Jobs for Life” curriculum for the lesson on Mar. 3, Parker asked the women to identify one positive character trait for which they were most proud.
“Everybody has something good because God made you. And God makes everything good,” she insisted, even as the group seemingly struggled for answers.
Parker prompted, “Stubbornness is good. That’s called tenacity. Maybe it’s how you bounce back quickly from something.”
Still quiet, finally one participant shared that she liked to cook.
“Do you share what you cook with others? That’s called generosity,” Parker explained, before asking the next question, this time a bit gingerly.
“Name one negative character trait and what impact that has on your life,” she said.
“Oh, that’s easy,” quickly responded Gardner, whose sentiments were quickly echoed throughout the room. Immediately she knew it was her “fight or flee” response to conflict.
Parker took the opportunity to relate her own childhood experience related to fighting or fleeing, and Gardner suddenly had an “Aha!” moment.
“I didn’t know that came from my childhood,” she said. “Wow!”
In her new awareness, Gardner attentively listened to the rest of the day’s lessons, focused on effective goal setting, follow-up and lasting change.
“Ultimately, the key to success is building a relationship and foundation with Jesus Christ,” Parker noted. “That way, the women will be able to stick to it when it is hard.”
“We’re learning how to deal with things through Christ,” agreed Miller. “It’s only through Him that we can do these things.”
The women attending this training ultimately want to model to the younger women in the community that life can be different, Parker explained.
“It is awesome to be meeting a life need and a spiritual need together. That’s what makes CWJC so successful. We help the women live better.”
To learn more, contact Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org or (443) 285-1451.