Warner Norcross devotes a day to helping Women's Resource Center



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

The Women’s Resource Center, which has been helping women obtain meaningful employment for over forty years, got a little bit of help itself July 21 when Warner Norcross and Judd attorneys and staff spent a day there.

April A. Goff, Senior Counsel at Warner Norcross, is also the Chair of the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) board, and arranged for the Warner Norcross employees to give back to the community by donating their time.

Back in 1973, the WRC was created as a response to the challenges women encountered in the workplace. Original discussions of the potential for such a resource center came out of a conference at Aquinas College in 1971 called “Changing Consciousness of American Women.”

Over its history, the Center has continued to innovate in its programming.  “Management Skills for Women” was developed in 1974 when career-minded women were just starting to enter the work force in much greater numbers. From an early Displaced Homemaker Program to sexual harassment prevention training for employers to a Women in Skilled Trades Pre-Apprenticeship program in the 1990s, WRC?has succeeded in staying just ahead of the curve.

This commitment to remaining ever-responsive is part of the organization’s culture. According to its website, “We’ve traveled hand-in-hand with women since 1973 as they have seen their own social situations change and the environment in the workplace evolve. Along the way our programs and services have grown to more effectively motivate and inspire our participants, while giving voice to all women who seek meaningful employment in our community.”

Corresponding to that ethic, WRC decided in the mid-2000s to focus on economically and socially disadvantaged women. Having already developed programs tailored to homeless women, female welfare recipients, and domestic violence survivors, the Center expanded its programmatic reach to low-income single mothers, female ex-offenders, and other women in poverty, though services are offered to any woman who needs them.

In order to receive WRC services, a woman must attend an orientation session (held frequently, with six still to come in August), and then participate in a one-on-one interview. Staff then directs the participant into one of several “pathways” reflecting the type of services needed.

The Self-directed Pathway offers basic services such as computer classes and resume coaching. The Women Mentoring Women Pathway is for those who just need a bit of help; the Empower Pathway offers more intensive programs separately aimed at single mothers or low income women facing a life transition. Finally, the New Beginnings Pathway is offered to incarcerated women, starting before they leave the Kent County Jail and continuing up to 18 months afterwards.

The Center moved into its offices in the lovely Riverview Center on Front Street in 2002.

Warner Norcross supplied 23 people for the work day in July, including four attorneys, to perform both site and programmatic tasks throughout the office suite, operating in two shifts.

The Warner Norcross team included a group  who sorted inventory in the Working Woman’s Clothing Closet, sizing and bagging items such as shoes.

In the morning, Julie Dawes and Delali Zormelo tidied up and untangled the room where computers are accessible to WRC participants. “We did have the wherewithal to shut the computers down first,” Dawes said wryly.

Another group worked on moving new furniture into a small space being repurposed, cleaning as they went.

Goff, whose practice specializes in advising clients on the design and implementation of employee benefits packages, with a focus on health and welfare plans, was part of that team, as well as helping staff with overall supervision.

She said she was pleased with how much Warner was able to accomplish, and noted that the following day there was a board meeting where Executive Director Sharon Caldwell-Newton mentioned the work day favorably.

“Other companies with people on the board committed to have similar days,” Goff says. “And we definitely want to do it again.”

Goff says she originally got involved through WRC’s governance committee, at the invitation of Warner Norcross attorney Sue Conway (now Of Counsel). Warner also sponsors the WRC’s Pillar Awards.

“It allowed our employees to help a lot of women in need,” Goff noted. “During lunch one of the women who works there provided us with her personal story, being on the streets, and all that the Women’s Resource Center had done for her. It was very moving, and it  really resonated with our group.”