It wasn't easy for anyone to find a job in Wisconsin during 2009. The economic downturn was affecting both large and small businesses, and the state-wide unemployment rate was above nine percent.
Faced with a difficult job market, many individuals in Western Wisconsin decided to improve their marketability by heading back to school. In 2009, Western Dairyland's RENEW (Re-Employment Now for Exceptional Workers) and Skills Enhancement programs saw a 30 percent increase in applicants and helped more than 140 people enroll in post-secondary schools.
The RENEW and Skills Enhancement programs assist low-wage earners and under-employed individuals by providing employment and training opportunities as well as financial assistance. Funding for RENEW comes from the Wisconsin Technical College System.
Mai Yia Vang participated in both RENEW and Skills Enhancement and is currently attending Chippewa Valley Technical College. She plans to graduate in May of 2011 with an Associate Degree in Radiography. Besides being a full-time student, she's a single mom with two young children and she works 24 hours per week caring for a population of developmentally disabled clients.
"She's a wonderful young mother who has so much potential," Program Manager Jeanne Semb said. "In the short time we've worked with her, she's proved that she can do whatever she sets her mind to. She is an inspiration."
Vang is one of approximately 40 RENEW clients who are receiving $1,000 scholarship through a grant to Western Dairyland from the Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation. A majority of Vang's scholarship was used to offset day care expenses.
Vang also received $141 through Western Dairyland's Skills Enhancement Program to purchase nursing scrubs and shoes, $450 for additional scrubs, a stethoscope and nursing supplies, $50 to cover a CPR training course required for school, and $675 to file an application for naturalization.
"Western Dairyland just gave me that little bit extra, but it makes a big difference," she said. "This wouldn't be possible without your help; I wouldn't be attending school if I didn't have this."
Other Western Dairyland clients have pursued degrees in nursing and health-related careers, social work, business management, AODA counseling, early childhood education, cosmetology, and accounting.
"We have a wide variety of people in these programs who need our support and encouragement," Semb said. "We help them make decisions about their future and we provide them with a little funding along the way, but they succeed due to their own hard work."