For more than 40 years, the Women’s Resource Center on the Gulf Coast of Florida has had the same mission: to empower women across all generations, races, ethnicities and economic backgrounds. By doing this, the center helps women navigate life’s transitions and build truly independent lives. As the center’s physical footprint has expanded over the years, so have the needs of its attendees. “One of Sarasota’s paradoxes is that while wealth abounds here, neediness does, too,” says Ashley Brown, president and CEO of the Women’s Resource Center. “One out of every 5.4 residents of Sarasota County lives in poverty.”
Today, the Women’s Resource Center serves women across two counties and 13 separate municipalities. The vast majority are lower-income earners, and one-third are single mothers. To support them, the center offers such programs as employment coaching, mental health counseling, social and career networking, and financial education. “Our goal is for our clients to be financially self-sufficient and emotionally healthy and resilient,” Brown says.
When women visit one of the three main centers in Sarasota, Bradenton or Venice, the staff starts by identifying their specific needs, creating a unique plan for them and connecting them with local resources. Whether they are looking for career direction, struggling to meet the financial needs of their families or simply in search of clothes to wear for a work interview, the center has resources to help. “Simply stated, meaningful work can profoundly change the lives of women and their families forever,” says Brown. Many of the programs are offered bilingually to serve the region’s sizable Hispanic-Latina population. Bank of America supports the work of the Women’s Resource Center as part of its $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity.
To reach women who face challenges getting to a center — such as a lack of childcare or transportation — the Women’s Resource Center operates an outreach program called Project Uplift at four partner locations. Project Uplift targets working women of modest means, who still struggle to make ends meet or are facing obstacles to career progression at work. With support services such as career counseling, stress reduction, mentoring and financial empowerment, Project Uplift aims to unlock their potential. “The most significant impact we make is getting people on track to earning a family-supporting wage and on a healthy path emotionally,” says Brown. “Funds received through grants like Bank of America’s allows us to deliver effectively on our mission.”