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Christian Women’s Job Corps teaches skills, boosts confidence

Leah Kolb (left), Serena Ramirez (holding Joasias), Barbara Radle, and Laura Atkison

Christian Women’s Job Corps graduates Leah Kolb (left), Serena Ramirez (holding Joasias), Barbara Radle, and Laura Atkison (sitting) show off the quilts they made during the 12-week program. They also made reusable grocery bags for LACare food pantry in Burnet. Not pictured is Brandi Brizendine, who had to leave the interview before the photo was taken. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

After decades as a massage therapist, 69-year-old Barbara Radle was retired and living in Llano. Domestic violence pushed her out of her home and left her with little more than a Social Security check and a lost sense of stability. 

“I was looking for direction,” she said of her move to Burnet in March 2023. “I was looking for a career change. I still needed to earn money, and I wanted to do something productive.”

Radle got that chance for change with Christian Women’s Job Corps, a tuition-free program that teaches women essential job and life management skills. At the end of 12 weeks, the eight students enrolled each semester graduate with a renewed sense of purpose and self-confidence that they did not have at the beginning. 

“We all come from different backgrounds and experience different challenges,” Radle said. “I call it a tapestry of unity, caring, trust, and strength. This program is not judgmental but supportive of emotional and spiritual growth and quality of life.” 

The differences were stark among the women who recently gathered to talk to this reporter at the CWJC office at 218 E. Jackson St. in Burnet. 

Radle was a new graduate, while 22-year-old Leah Kolb of Burnet finished the program the previous fall. 

“I thought the classes were too good to be true at the beginning of this,” Kolb said. “I was suspicious. I thought there’s no way this is free. It turned out to be such a wonderful program. And there’s no trick. It’s free.”

Kolb was a newlywed and college student when the pandemic closed schools and many job opportunities in 2020. When society reopened, she needed a fresh start. She listed accounting, time management, and setting boundaries as the most valuable skills she learned from the Job Corps classes. 

“They support you after you leave, too,” Kolb added. “They are here for you.” 

After graduating, she got a job as the treasurer for her church in Buchanan Dam. She is enrolled in online accounting classes and is doing the books for her husband’s electrical business. 

Brandi Brizendine graduated in the spring of 2023. 

“I started this class on different terms than the others,” she said. “I’ve always worked. I was working and had to quit when my dad got cancer. I took care of him until he passed.” 

The mother of three teen boys and a daughter said her husband wanted her to stay home and take care of the family. 

“I didn’t know how to do that,” she said. “I got really depressed. This program showed me that staying home is a job, and it’s OK.” 

She learned time management, accounting, and boundaries, all skills that have served her well while running a large family. 

“Staying at home can make you feel invisible,” said another graduate of the program, who asked that her name not be used or her photo taken because of a domestic violence situation. Despite her need to stay in the background, she had a lot to say about the program and was the first to speak up when the interview began. 

“I think it’s an amazing program,” she said. “I came from doing more rural work but was interested in getting a more professional job. I was insecure because I didn’t have the skills I needed. Through this program, my confidence has built.”

The young lady especially took to the sewing lessons and, during the interview, was busy at a machine turning out lap quilts the group planned to donate to local charities. Giving back to the community is important to each of them, something that was reinforced through the program’s bible studies. 

Serena Ramirez, 27, of Kingsland was pregnant when she joined the spring 2023 class. She had her son a month before the end of the semester but returned in the fall to finish and graduate.

“It helped me to find my purpose,” she said. “I came in not knowing what my purpose was and how to use it in my life. I learned not to be afraid to take that leap of faith. It doesn’t matter if you’re a mom, a daughter, a mother, or a wife, you learn how to manage your life.” 

Ramirez also uses the accounting skills she acquired to help with her husband’s HVAC business. 

Laura Atkison, 53, of Burnet graduated in the spring of 2022. 

“I was married for 23 years, and my husband took care of me,” she said. “When that ended, the real world knocked on my door and I had no skills besides cleaning.” 

She got a job in what she called “a bad situation” that involved sexual harassment. She quit that job, and her next employer urged her to sign up for the Job Corps program. 

“I learned how to do a résumè, which is a big deal — that is a must,” she said. “This program really built my confidence.” 

She is now working as a caregiver and loves her job. She was quick to add that Christian Women’s Job Corps means more to her than the ability to get a good job.

“The bible study and Christian environment is more than I asked for when I came here,” she said. “Honestly, it was a big step for me. It’s been a long time since I was in school. I couldn’t remember that I could learn. Now I’m learning new things, but mostly I’m learning that I’m capable.”

Skills taught are as diverse as the students. Instructors are local women volunteering their time, including an accountant, a real estate broker, a gardener, and a seamstress. One class taught how to make cupcakes. It also included instruction on cottage industry laws that govern running a business, like selling cupcakes, out of your home. 

Class subjects can vary, although sewing is a constant because it’s a good bonding experience. Students have made blankets, potholders, aprons, and, most recently, reusable grocery bags for LACare food pantry in Burnet. Helping others is another important lesson that the program teaches. 

“I want to return to the community, be part of the community, and give back to the community,” Radle said. “I look at how these wonderful women (instructors) gave us this time and helped us. You get this overwhelming sense in this program that you want to give back and help other women.” 

The program must go on, she said. 

“This is more than a job corps,” Radle continued. “It’s a foundation for your life. I feel like I have something to offer again. I’m extremely motivated to give back, to be productive.” 

The program has no set qualifications for who is accepted.

“We’ve had women from living in Horseshoe Bay to living on the streets,” said Site Coordinator Brenda Rienstra. “It’s not just about job skills or life skills. It’s anybody who needs encouragement, anyone who needs to refocus their lives, or maybe needs to go in a different direction. It’s more about finding a purpose.”  

The women in each session bond with each other and the volunteers who bring in the free (and delicious!) lunches and teach the classes.

“I couldn’t believe the time, the dedication, the love that came from every instructor, every woman involved in the program,” said Ramirez, bouncing baby Joasias on her knee. “I was bombarded with love. My husband and I were struggling at the beginning to get things for our newborn, and they threw me a surprise baby shower. They blessed us with a car seat we needed, a bassinet, and clothes items. I was in tears.” 

“We all cried,” said several others, agreeing on how thankful they are for being a part of the program and each other’s lives.

“It has helped strengthen my stability in life, my walk with Christ, my work life,” Radle said. “I’m very thankful for every single instructor here who took time out of their lives to teach us.”