Through its New Opportunity School for Women, Bluefield College is fulfilling its mission with a group of people who have never even had access to higher education…with individuals whose circumstances have left them in poverty, shame or hopelessness…with women from Appalachia whose financial or personal predicaments have not allowed them to think of a better future, much less their calling.
For the third year in a row, Bluefield College hosted its spring New Opportunity School for Women (NOSW), a nearly month-long community outreach program designed to help disadvantaged women from Appalachia confront their circumstances, overcome their conditions, and find hope and direction for a new and better life.
Founded by Jane B. Stephenson in 1987 at Berea College in Kentucky out of an urgent need to help women in Appalachia become better educated and employed, the NOSW endeavors to improve the educational, financial and personal circumstances of low-income, under-educated, middle-aged women in the Appalachian region, including Kerri Hodges, a mother of five from Montcalm, West Virginia, and one of the 11 ladies to complete the NOSW program at BC this spring.
“I have learned to embrace the glorious mess my life is,” said Hodges, who is already making plans to attend college. “I understand my worth now, and that makes me very powerful. I hope that each of the ladies here realizes their worth and goes on to do great things in life.”
Joining Hodges in the 2015 NOSW class at Bluefield College: Maliene Britton of Haysi, Virginia; Renee Brown of McDowell County, West Virginia; Sandra Coleman of Haysi, Virginia; Jennifer Graham of Mercer County, West Virginia; Debra Grindstaff of Haysi, Virginia; Tabitha Grindstaff of Haysi, Virginia; Stacy Hill of Bluefield, West Virginia; Jennifer Mullins of Richlands, Virginia; Danielle Thompson of Tazewell, Virginia; and Kristi Weeks of Salem, Virginia.
The 11 Appalachian women completed a near-month of intense professional and personal development to graduate from the NOSW program. They took part in a variety of career, educational and cultural improvement activities. With a sincere interest to learn and improve their lives, despite past failures and hardships and current difficult circumstances, the ladies spent 50 hours per week in workshops, classes, internships and study trips, all for the purpose of becoming more self-sufficient.
“Walking through these doors three weeks ago, I was terrified,” said Brown, who also earned her GED while in the NOSW. “I look up to the ladies in this program, because they are courageous. I love them all.”
For professional development, the ladies attended workshops and classes on grammar, punctuation, computer basics, personal finance, and basic math. They also took part in seminars on leadership, career assessment, and public speaking. As part of the professional development, the women also completed a series of job skills courses where they learned how to develop a resume and write a cover letter. They took part in exercises to explore their interests and gifts and to determine how best to find a job. In addition, the ladies participated in mock interviews and worked paid internships at Bluefield College and in the community.
For personal development, the ladies examined women’s health issues, legal issues for women, violence associated with women, and self-defense. They also attended seminars on fashion, beauty tips, etiquette, and self-esteem. In fact, the personal development activities included makeovers, physical exams, health screenings, and individual private counseling sessions.
“I loved the makeover,” said Britton, a mother of two. “It made me feel a whole lot better about myself. I’m here for my kids. I want to be a better person for them and to be better prepared for a job.”
The New Opportunity School, a full residential program, also featured cultural development activities for the ladies, focusing on Appalachian literature, creative writing, art for self-expression, quilting, and including trips to church, theatre, the movies, and other cultural sites around the region.
“I came to this program to improve my self-esteem and confidence and to prove to myself that I could something challenging and do a good job,” said Thompson. “My time at the New Opportunity School began three weeks ago, but my journey began a long time ago, and that journey has been a tough one.”
Following the completion of the spring 2015 program, the women were honored during a graduation ceremony on the Bluefield College campus, where they received diplomas and were asked to give a speech reflecting upon their experiences in the NOSW. During the ceremony, April Breimann, director of the BC New Opportunity School, also spoke about the importance of service above self, community outreach, and the privilege to work with Bluefield College on fulfilling its mission.
“This has been the most rewarding experience of my life,” said Breimann. “These women came to Bluefield College with little to no hope for the future, and they’ve taken on many challenges to improve themselves. Because Bluefield College decided to bring the New Opportunity School to Bluefield, lives are being changed forever.”
THE BC NEW OPPORTUNITY SCHOOL FOR WOMEN CLASS OF 2015.
|View more photos from the NOSW class of 2015.|