Woman realizes dream to be nurse through Project Independence

February 08, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

Her husband had left her, she had two kids and no income and she dreaded the thought of welfare.

But with no job skills and nowhere else to turn, Janet Brill stood in line at the Howard County Department of Social Services in Ellicott City, promising herself that welfare would not become a way of life for her family.

"I felt like a nobody, like a reject from society," Ms. Brill said. "I didn't have anything but a bunch of bills."

That was in April, nearly four years ago. Now Ms. Brill, 35, of Columbia, is a registered nurse, working at Bon Secours Extended Care Facility in Marriottsville.

Ms. Brill used the 3 1/2 years she spent on public assistance to earn her degree from Howard Community College through the state's Project Independence program, which is designed to promote self-sufficiency through employment for those who receive public assistance.

Because of her success, she was recently given an award by the Governor's Workforce Investment Board, which advises the governor about human resource issues. The board selected 14 out of 45 people nominated for awards.

"In Janet's case, she was highly motivated . . . She took advantage of the opportunities available to her," said Bruce Wahlgren, administrator for Howard County Employment and Training Center in Columbia, which, along with the Department of Social Services, administers the program.

Howard County has about 100 people each year enrolled in the Project Independence, Mr. Wahlgren said. Any parent receiving assistance through the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program is eligible to participate in Project Independence.

Ms. Brill was one of nearly 30 Howard County residents who found jobs during the past year. Some others are completing requirements for the program.

While she said she hates to even speak of her need for welfare, Ms. Brill praised the Project Independence program.

"It's Project Independence that got me off social services," she said.

In 1988, Ms. Brill moved to Columbia with her husband and two children -- now 8 and 11 years old -- from Queens, N.Y., when the manufacturing company her husband was working for relocated him to a job in Baltimore.

When problems arose between Ms. Brill and her husband, he left her alone to raise their two children, she said. She had a high school diploma and hadn't held a job outside the home during her nine-year marriage.

"I had no skills," she said.

Ms. Brill turned to social services for help and sought job training through the Howard County Office of Employment & Training in Columbia, which, along with the Mid-Maryland Private Industry Council, administers Project Independence.

She had dreamed of becoming a registered nurse since high school and in September 1990, Ms. Brill enrolled at Howard Community College. She graduated last spring and in October landed the job at Bon Secours.

Although she has been called a role model by county social service staff members, Ms. Brill said it was a 3 1/2 -year struggle for her and her children.

"I couldn't spend a lot of time with my children," Ms. Brill said. "My daughter kept asking me, 'Mommy, when are you going to be a nurse?' I just kept telling them, 'Soon, Soon.'

"The system worked for me," she said. "All I really needed was that chance."

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