Manchester woman is honored for working her way off welfare CARROLL COUNTY FARM/BUSINESS

January 14, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Wendy Miller's first concern was that, if publicized, her success in the state's welfare-to-work program might come across as a sob story splashed all over the newspaper.

But the Manchester resident, one of seven people recognized at last week's Governor's Workforce Investment Board annual awards luncheon for her performance in Maryland's Project Independence program, also wanted to tell others that they can succeed.

Project Independence is a job training and placement program coordinated with Social Services for people who receive federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

"You can be anything you want to be as long as you try hard enough," said Ms. Miller. "I always thought that was just a saying."

The 23-year-old Carroll Community College student is pursuing a degree in business and a career at the county Department of Economic and Employment Development office after working for a year with the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) programs.

"There is a horrible stigma against people in situations where they can't work, don't have anyone to take care of them and have to do it on their own," Ms. Miller said.

"People are not there because they want to be, they are there because they have to be."

In Ms. Miller's case, she had intended to start school at Carroll Community College and enter the work force after graduating from North Carroll High School in 1987. But when her newborn son, Travis, had his first asthma attack, she had to put aside her plans and care for him.

"He was in the hospital several times during his first three years," she said of her now 5-year-old son. "That's why I couldn't work."

Another single mother in a similar situation recommended that Ms. Miller look into the JTPA and Project Independence programs.

So, in November 1991, Ms. Miller took two JTPA workshops -- a general one and another on career planning. She resumed classes at Carroll Community College the following February.

She also worked at the county DEED office and in the Carroll County tax department before returning to a job taking claims and working with clients in the unemployment office part-time in September. Ms. Miller said she became a full-time employee in December.

"It was all so extremely hard, and I wouldn't want to go through it again," she said.

"But JTPA made me realize that I could do it all by myself. The JTPA program gave me the confidence to succeed."

Ms. Miller also said she is grateful for her family's support during this difficult period. Her parents, Patricia and Melvin Miller, have watched Travis while she took night classes. Even her sister, Fawn, and brother, Jay, have taken turns caring for their nephew.

"My parents have helped incredibly through everything," Ms. Miller said. "Every time I'm in a jam, I just call, 'Mom!' "

Diane Massey, Carroll County's administrator for job training, said Ms. Miller was chosen as the Project Independence participant to represent the Mid-Maryland Private Industry Council (PIC) because of her enthusiasm.

The Mid-Maryland PIC consists of Carroll and Howard counties.

"She has been tremendously motivated and she has shown a real commitment to making the type of life choices that will be important for the rest of her life," Ms. Massey said.

One of those choices has been deciding that she wants to pursue a career in human resources and work with people who need job training and placement, Ms. Miller said.

"Sensitivity to their situation is important, and some people don't have that," she said.

Some people who receive support from Social Services do abuse the programs, Ms. Miller said. But the social workers should give applicants the benefit of the doubt that they will work with the system, she said.

"I know going through this that you meet some people who make you feel like dirt, like you are going to take advantage of what you can," Ms. Miller said. "Those people shouldn't be as cold as they are."

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