COLUMBIA-Tiffany Hadley moved to Columbia from St. Louis 10 years ago, when she was 17. A recent high school graduate, she lived with her mother for a year, then moved into the Columbia Square neighborhood. Since then, she has struggled to find a balance between raising her four kids, who range in age from 10 years to 3 months old, and fulfilling her dreams.
“I want to get a nice sturdy job. I want a job that reflects on my experience — not McDonald’s or Church’s or Taco Bell,” Hadley said. “I need to do something with myself so I can be financially stable and raise my kids. It’s all about my kids.”
Since last fall, Hadley, 27, has been learning clerical skills through the Columbia Housing Authority’s Opportunities for Families program, which also offers courses in retail sales and building maintenance. Participants can also become certified nursing assistants and emergency medical technicians.
Opportunities for Families is part of a larger Housing Authority strategy that aims to educate and prepare residents for life beyond public housing. Two dozen people have graduated from the program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“It’s all about allowing long-term economic self-sufficiency,” said Lolita Lucas, project coordinator for Opportunities for Families. “They need to succeed long-term once they are out of this program.”
Hadley is learning filing, basic math, working databases and Microsoft Office — skills that she hopes will give her a leg up on the competition once she completes the course and starts looking for a job. Hadley has some job experience in retail and the fast-food industry. Her goal now is to build a “legitimate resume” and obtain a job with the potential for advancement.
Nancy Whiteside instructs the clerical and retail class. She points out that the program includes a curriculum that not only aims for employment but employment in a job with the chance for promotion. Even more important than finding a job is the sense of pride that can be found in trying to change one’s circumstances.
“For a lot of these students just completing something is an achievement,” Whiteside said. “It’s great to see them proud with their self worth going up. It’s a win for everybody.”
Beverly Thompson graduated from the program in the fall and currently works part time as a network neighbor for the housing authority. The job entails maintaining and supervising the computer labs at the Blind Boone Center.
“(The class) was wonderful. I encourage people with lack of computer skills to take this class,” Thompson said. “The programs are out there — so what’s the problem?”
Hadley says the class is an opportunity too good to pass up. She can’t afford to college, and as a single parent, time is a premium. Her past work experience taught her that, while finding a job is always possible, finding a good job that pays well and offers future opportunities isn’t always possible.
Even though Hadley is starting to build a foundation for her and her children’s future, it hasn’t been easy. She has had to quit the Opportunities for Families program twice, once when she became pregnant with her youngest child, and again when she ran into trouble with child-care.
“It made me feel like every time you climb a mountain a rock falls down in your way,” she said.
Hadley is scheduled to graduate in a little more than two weeks. Among her many goals is to someday own her own home, hopefully by the time she is 40.
“I want to be able to call something home,” she said. “I know it’s hard to get there, but the value of knowing that it’s mine is enough to keep me going.”