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United Way Women's History Month Spotlight


"In celebration of Women’s History Month, United Way of Salt Lake is proud to showcase the work of People Helping People (PHP), one of our partner organizations dedicated to empowering women by helping them find successful employment. 


Founded in 1993, PHP is dedicated to reducing the number of children living in poverty by helping low-income women, primarily single moms, learn how to earn an adequate income through successful employment. The organization now provides services for over 1,000 Utah women each year.  


Clients who seek support from PHP come from many different circumstances. Some women are immigrants who recently came to the United States and need help navigating workplace culture in a new country, some simply want to improve their employment situation, while others are re-entering the workforce after being away to raise their children.


“That’s pretty common in Utah—a lot of the women have taken on the role of primary caretaker and then for whatever reason, they need to return to the workforce,” said Kristen Carr, Community Outreach Coordinator at PHP. According to Carr, these women are often “lacking confidence or employment know-how. Maybe things have changed in the time that they’ve been away and so they’re looking for support, tools, and resources for being successful in their job search.” 


Ambi Whitaker, one of PHP’s client success stories, was first referred to the organization in 2021 by two childhood friends who had also gone through the program. For Whitaker, connecting with PHP was the catalyst that helped her attain her current job at the Internal Revenue Service during a difficult time in her life. “I was in a position where I was getting a divorce from a 26-year marriage,” she said. “That was pretty much half of my life—I was devoted to being a wife and a mom, and now my goal had to switch to being a provider. I knew I needed something more to be able to sustain me and my children for the future.”  


Pathways to Success 

Once they are referred to the organization (either as a self-referral or by someone else), clients move through a four-phase program that supports women in various stages of their employment journey. 


Izabel Neeley, Program Manager at PHP, oversees workshops and events hosted by the organization as part of the four-phase program. Events can range from job fairs and networking meet–and–greets to celebrations for clients achieving career milestones. Workshops cover topics such as how to use LinkedIn or other online tools, resume tips and tricks, and interview skills. According to Neeley, clients can also learn “how to have difficult conversations in the workplace, how to advocate for themselves and ask for raises and promotions, [and] how to prepare for performance evaluations.” 


In addition to those opportunities, Carr believes the primary service that makes PHP unique is the opportunity to receive one-on-one mentoring with volunteer professionals. Volunteer mentors may provide individual support by reviewing clients’ resumés, practicing mock interviews, providing skills assessments, and more. “Our volunteers really are like the backbone of this program because they are the ones that are working one-on-one, coaching and mentoring with our clients and drawing from their own expertise,” Carr said.  


For Whitaker, one of the most valuable takeaways from her experience in the program was learning how to identify the transferable skills she already possessed. “You don’t realize when you’re a stay-at-home mom, you really can transfer those skills you use on a daily basis to the workforce,” she said. “I mean, you’re scheduling, you’re coordinating, you’re being a creative chaos manager [of] schools, lunches, homework, sports events, and appointments. You’re pretty much a CEO of your household.” 


 While helping women find a job is an important part of the organization’s mission, support doesn’t stop after the client is hired. Neeley describes a shift in focus for women in later phases of the program in which they are encouraged to ask themselves, “Now that we have the job, how can we focus on getting that raise, getting that promotion, or looking for a better opportunity?” 


No matter which phase of the program clients are in, the organization provides support by connecting women with resources to help them overcome personal and professional barriers to success. 


Impacting Women and Beyond 

The impact of PHP’s services has a ripple effect felt well beyond the program participants. “We often say that when women do better, kids do better, and our communities do better,” Carr said.  


Having both been raised by single mothers, Neeley and Carr share a personal understanding of the positive change these programs can bring about. “I was raised by a single mom,” Neeley said. “I watched her struggle to make ends meet—on several different types of church assistance and housing assistance. I know that this program would have been life-changing for her.” 


Whitaker believes the work PHP is doing will create more opportunities for future generations, including her own children. “This program creates a mind shift that is capable of generational change,” she said. “I know that even with my daughter—she has seen growth in me and empowerment in me that will, I hope, help direct her for her future roles in life.” 


In addition to changing the lives of individual women, Carr hopes the organization can help shape workplace culture more broadly. “Some employers are providing opportunities for women to have different benefits at work like child care,” Carr said. “We need employers to shift their perspective to help support working women—especially working moms—and just overall increasing upward mobility for women to be in positions of leadership.” 


One thing Neeley wishes more people knew is that “employers value women in the workplace. I know that the workforce, especially in Utah, is very male dominated, but it is such an asset [to have] women bring a unique perspective to the workplace and companies want that perspective.” 


Furthermore, women who become economically self-sufficient will no longer need to receive government assistance. According to PHP, every woman their programs help transition from welfare to employment can save communities between $5,000 – $20,000 annually. They demonstrate how adding more women to the workforce adds significant value to Utah’s economy.  


Reflecting on the Past, Shaping the Future 

Celebrating Women’s History Month provides an opportunity to reflect on the contributions and achievements made by women before us and consider how we can continue to shape that story. For PHP, that means building better economic opportunities for future generations of women. “Women have come a long way and it’s through the efforts of women that have led us to where we are now,” Carr said. “Even if it seems small—I’m sure the women 100 years ago felt the same way. But their impact is felt today, and I think that will continue to grow if we do our part.” 


Whitaker is committed to remaining involved with the organization even after completing the program. “I volunteer with them every chance I get,” she said. “For me, it will be a lifelong journey with People Helping People. I will pay it forward because they have brought so much into my life. They helped find someone that was inside me that I didn’t know I had and brought her forward to create a better me. So I want to give that back to them and help someone else in return.” 


United Way of Salt Lake has maintained a longstanding partnership with People Helping People during nearly 30 years of empowering Utah women. Most recently, Women United, a United Way of Salt Lake donor network, hosted a fundraiser last fall to collect personal care items for PHP clients. Additionally, 211 Utah refers callers seeking employment resources to PHP as one of the thousands of service providers in their database. 


For more information about People Helping People or to learn how you can get involved as a client or volunteer, visit www.phputah.org."


Written by Jenna Fischer, Content Strategist

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