Women Lending a Hand

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Marcia Evans, WHW board member and event chairperson, and the Employment Leader Award recipients Kristin Byrnes, the CEO of Project Access, Trina Norman, the Anaheim Package Division Manager for UPS, and Mari Kurtz, CEO of OC Metals, and Katie Hughes, WHW Board President and event co-host. Photo by Sara Hall

A celebration was held over the weekend for three women for their efforts in promoting employment success in Orange County.

The Women Helping Women/Men2Work nonprofit organization held its Employment Leader Awards Gala Saturday at the Marriott Hotel and Spa at Fashion Island in Newport Beach.

Nearly 200 guests gathered to support the organization and recognize the three women receiving the Employment Leader Awards for 2012.

Mari Kurtz, CEO of OC Metals, Trina Norman, the Anaheim Package Division Manager for UPS and Kristin Byrnes, the CEO of Project Access, were all honored at the event.

“We are excited about having the opportunity to celebrate the employment successes that these Orange County business leaders are making possible,” said WHW Executive Director, Janie Wolicki.

The event raised almost $80,000 and added 45 “Club 259” members who pledged to support 70 clients through the Employment Success Program. The “Club 259” refers to supporters who have donated $259 at least once, an amount that will provide one low-income and disadvantaged job seeker with career assessment, job placement and resume help, and an interview outfit and accessories, and more.

All proceeds from the event will benefit WHW’s Employment Success Program, which has supported more than 25,000 low-income and disadvantaged job seekers since 1993. The Success Program includes resume and interviewing skills, workshops, computer classes, job placement, image consulting and professional clothing appropriate for interviews.

“Thank you to our honorees for all they do to improve the employment landscape of Orange County and thank you to all the WHW supporters who improve the lives of those we serve,” organization officials wrote in a statement.

The black tie optional evening included a silent auction, dinner and dancing. The auction had over 100 items up for bidding, including entertainment tickets, gift certificates, specialty packages, gift baskets, electronics, art and more.

The event also featured guest speaker Anthony B., who shared his success story and how WHW/Men2Work helped him.

Anthony started his story in Coachella, he wasn’t there for music or celebration, he said, he was in prison. He had nothing other than the prison-issued clothes on his back.

“This is the reality I had to deal with,” he said.

He was a gang member and drug addict, he said. He had made a lot of bad decisions and ended up in a place he didn’t want to be.

He’d been shot and stabbed and the drugs had taken their toll on him. He wanted to change his life.

“I was at a crossroads,” he said.

After leaving prison, his parole agent referred him to the program and helped send him in the right direction.

When he got off the bus at the Women Helping Women/Men2Work building, he didn’t know what was going to happen.

“I was thinking, ‘Maybe they’ll have a few buckets of clothes,’” Anthony recalled, who, at that point, just wanted to get out of the prison clothing.

But they much more than just a few buckets.

“I had a South Coast Plaza experience, I felt like I was walking into Nordstrom’s,” he said. “There were racks [full of clothes]… [Even] hangers for ties… This is not the place I was expecting to see.”

After getting helped with new clothes and accessories, Anthony had a brand new suit to wear to his first job interview.

“I got a boost of confidence. I needed to feel important,” Anthony said. “And that’s what a suit does for a man.”

“I come from baggy pants, big shirts, white shoes, muscle shirts. That’s what I come from,“ Anthony added. “But a suit? It really made me feel important.”

And it was the confidence that he needed, he said, and headed to his interview, he knew he looked sharp. The interview went great and he got the job.

He now works in the aerospace industry and is very happy with the direction his life is taking.

“I’ve been doing really good… I’ve been very successful,” said Anthony, who, on Saturday, was wearing that same first suit.

He added that he also just bought his own car and is now self-sufficient.

Anthony encouraged guests to support WHW/Men2Work.

“It is a great organization that really has transformed my life,” Anthony said. “Without this suit I would not be where I am today. It was literally that much of a difference in my life, that’s how much WWH/Men2Work has done for me.”

The non-profit provides comprehensive employment support services to help disadvantaged men, women and teens achieve economic self-sufficiency through employment success. Visit www.whw.org for more information.

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