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Economy & Business

Nonprofit ‘Rung For Women’ Is Launching A Program To Boost St. Louis’ Middle Class

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Rung for Women
Sarah Weitzel (right), talks with a Rung for Women staff member during a welcome event on March 12. Weitzel is one of nearly 120 women participating in a new program with the nonprofit.

Before the pandemic hit, Sarah Weitzel felt like her family was on the edge of financial prosperity.

But then the 31-year-old Tower Grove South resident lost her retail job, her house and her health when her whole family, including her two young daughters, contracted COVID-19.

Weitzel said it would have been more expensive to find child care and work than stay home, but that’s added more financial strain on the family.

“We were kind of teetering on this edge that maybe we wouldn't have ever seen how close we were had the pandemic not ripped back the face of how precarious everything was,” she said.

But now she feels more hopeful about getting back into the workforce. This month, Weitzel and more than 100 other women are starting a free program with the nonprofit Rung for Women.

The organization, located in the Fox Park neighborhood, aims to help 300 women a year secure higher-paying jobs and achieve personal goals.

Its overarching goal is to rebuild St. Louis’ middle class by helping women on the cusp of stability improve their lives. In order to be eligible for the program, women must be at least 21 years old and make less than $50,000 a year.

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Elizabeth Wiseman
Leslie Gill is president of the newly launched nonprofit Rung for Women.

President Leslie Gill said that there are already many programs for women in crisis, but that Rung offers something different — an opportunity for women with ambition who feel stuck.

“We are looking for women who are really looking to elevate their lives,” she said.

Over the next six months, women will work with career coaches to reassess whether they want to pivot to a new industry or learn new skills on their current path.

“I like to say, what is it they want to be when they grow up?” Gill said. “So often, we just don't have the time to pause and think about, ‘What has happened in the past that has brought me to today? And what do I want my life to look like in the future?’ And so this is a space where women can do that.”

Gill said she fielded nearly 1,000 applications from women hoping to join the program. She said that’s partly because women have suffered more job loss and child care pressures than men over the past year.

“And just the emotional toll that the pandemic has taken on families — and women bear the brunt of that,” she said. “The pandemic has made our work even more necessary.”

Gill said women will also work on personal and wellness goals. The nonprofit will offer free child care and meals, as well as access to a gym and licensed therapists.

Weitzel said being accepted into the program has already helped her stop blaming herself for everything that went wrong in her life last year.

“And I'm moving out of that into a really bigger mindset of just being like, ‘Oh my gosh, it was like half the country and mostly women who all faced, at varying levels, the exact same experience,’” she said.

Weitzel is looking forward to having access to a therapist, financial counseling and career coaching. She wants to figure out how to transfer her skills to another industry with more flexibility and career opportunities.

Rung is also partnering with Maryville University on a credential program tailored to help the women prepare for in-demand jobs in customer service, technology and health care.

Gill said every woman will go through a 10-week customer service course to practice soft skills.

Pamela Bryan Williams, director of learning design and development at Maryville, helped write the curriculum by thinking through where people struggle most when entering a new job. The course will be a combination of self-paced online work and in-person scenario practice.

“We're kind of scaffolding the learning all the way through, doing it in a safe environment, so that by the time they get to that place where they're simulating the true employee experience, they're ready for it,” she said, “which really makes them job target ready for the positions.”

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

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