Finding dignity through work

Aug 24, 2012

In 2007 Vicki Rainey was ready to turn her life around. Rainey, who in her twenties and thirties had developed a serious drug addiction, had recently been released from prison after receiving a four-year sentence. Then 45 years-old, Rainey wanted to work, and she wanted to be reunited with her children.

In prison Rainey had heard about Arizona Women’s Education and Employment (AWEE), and that’s where she turned for help. Founded in 1981, AWEE’s mission is to change lives through the dignity of work. Although AWEE initially focused exclusively on moving women from welfare to work, over the last 31 years it has since broadened its focus, working with men, youths, and targeted populations like veterans and mature workers.

AWEE starts by assessing its participants’ work histories, learning the reasons behind periods of unemployment and underemployment. Then it places participants into appropriate job training and education programs, everything from preparing a resume to learning computer skills. Finally, it works with participants to find the right job for them.

“I think and believe that work is the cornerstone of the dignity of an individual,” says Marie Sullivan, AWEE’s president and CEO. “We’re able to help people regain their pride and self-esteem and in turn to improve their status in the world through work.”

Bank of America has been a strong supporter of AWEE since 2004, when AWEE received one of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation’s first Neighborhood Builders awards. In 2011, thanks in part to the support it received from Bank of America, AWEE was able to provide assistance to 9,000 individuals throughout Maricopa and Yavapai counties. What’s more, its success rate in placing participants into jobs is over 70 percent. Then, in 2012, Bank of America provided a $200,000 Safety Net grant to AWEE.

Bank of America employees also volunteer to be mentors for AWEE participants. Susan Farmer, a senior vice president at Bank of America, serves on AWEE’s board.

“By making it possible for Susan to give her work time to supporting our organization just reinforces the fact that Bank of America is in fact standing behind their commitment to us as a nonprofit,” says Sullivan.

“For a bank or any business to be profitable, you have to live in a vibrant, robust community,” says Kellie Manthe, a member of Bank of America’s environmental, social and governance team in Phoenix who works closely with AWEE. “And so if people who live in our communities aren’t prospering, we’re not going to prosper.”

Today, Vicki Rainey has turned her own life around by helping people who are facing challenges like the ones she lived through. She is a marketing manager for a Phoenix community organization that helps people with mental illness or addiction to recover. She has also stayed connected with AWEE.

“They were where I got my start and the people there believed in me,” Rainey says of AWEE. “I hadn’t had that in a long time, so it was important.”

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