Since Asia began her career at CWEE three years ago, she has checked off an impressive number of goals from her list.
In addition to earning computer certifications and completing her high school equivalency, Asia has used her new credentials — and the job prep support and connections from CWEE — to launch her career with Denver Human Services.
Working in human services has been a lifelong goal for Asia. “It comes from being in the system my whole life. When I came to CWEE I knew I wanted to give back and work in human services — I just had no idea how to get there.”
“I grew up in foster care and group homes and got pregnant at 16. I always wanted to go back and graduate from high school but I never had a babysitter or any support to do it.”
A couple of years before Asia came to CWEE, she left a violent relationship and endured a messy divorce. “I was trying to pick up the pieces of my life and be a role model for my boys.”
A Home Base to Focus on the Future
At CWEE, Asia found much more than just a GED-training program — for the first time in her life she found a supportive community.
“The teachers are so positive and understanding; there’s no judgment,” Asia said. “When you hear their stories, some of the teachers were CWEE participants as well. It’s nice to be somewhere where the teachers understand where you come from.”
Asia excelled at CWEE: she completed her GED; she earned several computer certifications; she worked with a therapist; she put together a strong resume; and she practiced her interviewing skills. (In fact, the supervisor that hired Asia reported that she gave one of the best interviews they’d ever seen.)
Asia was soon hired at Denver Human Services, and after two promotions, she currently works as an Eligibility Technician, helping people sort out their cash and medical benefits.
“I love being able to help someone that really needs it. If a client has been waiting for a couple of months, to be able to tell them that they got the benefits and even backpay — hearing their appreciation is the best feeling ever.”
Falling off a Financial Cliff
Yet Asia quickly realized that our system is not kind to people who are working but still struggling to make ends meet.
As soon as her income went up, Asia was dropped from the benefits program she depended on: The food stamps she relied on to feed her hungry household of three growing boys vanished. Her eligibility for Medicaid ended. The subsidized rent payment she budgeted for shot up from $50 a month to $1,000 overnight.
“I didn’t qualify for anything anymore. I was used to having support from these programs and then the very next month they were cut off. It was super stressful, and I looked to CWEE for help.”
Asia’s experience is a perfect example of the “cliff effect”, which impacts tens of thousands of working-poor Colorado families each year. There is no gradual tapering of benefits to allow a newly employed person to prepare; there is simply a cliff off which all the benefits one was previously eligible for fall.
To address the substantial hurdle to self-sufficiency that the cliff effect represents, CWEE created the Steps to Success program that provides cash benefits to help workers manage the transition into employment.
“The few hundred dollars I got from CWEE each month went straight to food,” Asia said. “But even that was enough to help me make the jump.”
Undaunted in the Face of New Challenges
Challenges persist for Asia: a custody battle with her boys’ father and primary caretaking responsibilities for an elderly relative, among others. Yet Asia is thriving at work and she has found happiness with her girlfriend, who serve
s as Asia’s biggest supporter and cheerleader through all the ups and downs.
Asia remains undaunted and focused in the face of these obstacles, continually working toward her education and career goals. She wants to go back to school, potentially the police academy or postsecondary education focused on human services or communications. She also loves doing makeup and hopes to earn her esthetician’s license so she can do makeup and eyelash extensions on the side.
“I have never asked for help in my life, and I am not close to my family — I would just deal with whatever it was. But it feels good to have support. CWEE always tells you we’re here for you, and they truly are, at every step.”