From Welfare to the White House: Single Mother Lands Dream Job in Executive Office

By Bates, Bryna L. | Ebony, November 1997 | Go to article overview

From Welfare to the White House: Single Mother Lands Dream Job in Executive Office


Bates, Bryna L., Ebony


Single mother lands dream job in Executive Office

IT'S all too common. Or is it? Another single mother on welfare. Being laid off again and again. Searching for the one thing that seems forever beyond reach--employment that offers stability, growth, happiness, and a nurturing environment.

This is the story of millions of women, Black, Brown and White, who find themselves on a treadmill of layoffs and rejections that end in heartbreak or total tragedy. Laura Askew, a 29-year-old single mother who had been laid off five times in eight years, was one of these women. But her story, unlike the story of so many of her Sisters, had a happy ending, or at least a happy middle. For an improbable series of events made it possible for her to make the magic leap from the welfare rolls to the employment rolls at the White House.

The story of her transformation began with a personal commitment: She decided to take her sister's advice and leave her hometown of Windsor; N.C., to find a better life for herself and her 2-year-old son, Jarvis Lee Williams Jr. Arriving in Arlington, Va., jobless and broke, she moved in with her sister and applied for welfare until she was able to get on her feet. In order to get welfare, she had to enroll in a program called Virginia Initiative for Employment Not Welfare (VIEW), a job training program that requires clients to contact as many prospective employers as possible.

"We had to do 40 job contacts within 30 days," says Askew, who was selected by Renita Kalis, her counselor at the VIEW program, to be interviewed for the job that would change her life--mail messenger assistant at the White House.

One of the reasons for her good fortune was new federal legislation designed, as proponents said, to end welfare "as we know it." After signing the legislation, President Clinton ordered federal agencies, including the White House, to make every effort to provide jobs for people locked in the welfare cycle. Thus, on a fateful day in her life, Laura Askew found herself at the White House being interviewed for a job.

"First I interviewed with Ann Calhoun, Project Coordinator for the Welfare to Work Initiative at the White House," recalls Askew. "Then I w as interviewed by a panel of three other people who were supervisors in the White House Mail Room."

Askew went home and nothing happened. Weeks passed before she got the good news: She would be working in the White House as a mail messenger. Her eight-month stint on welfare was over.

"When my counselor told me I had the job, I couldn't believe it," says Askew, who recently celebrated her one-year anniversary working at the White House, where she is responsible for sorting and delivering mail to approximately 2,000 people within the White House complex. Her supervisor is Ada L. Posey, acting director for the Office of Administration in the Executive Office of the President.

"To my delight, not my surprise," Posey says, "Laura ran circles around the other applicants."

Posey says the White House is trying to get away from calling people "welfare hires," adding that the president has directed heads of all executive departments to hire qualified welfare recipients. …

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