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CAO’s Life Works support program offers the potential for success

Community Action Opportunities (CAO), serving clients in Buncombe, Madison, McDowell, Polk, Henderson, and Transylvania counties, has successfully launched Life Works, a unique support system service designed to help residents obtain full-time, living-wage employment.

Life Works career coaches provide one-on-one training to arm participants with the tools to better manage their financial responsibilities. Participants can take up to three years to complete the training that includes mock interviews, problem-solving techniques, budgeting, parental support, and study tips, among other activities.

Ashanti Ternoir, a Life Works program coach, shares more about the program.

What are some of the barriers faced by participants in the Life Works program?

Ashanti Ternoir: Undoubtedly, the common barriers our program participants face are lack of and access to reliable transportation, affordable childcare, and stable and affordable housing options. These things often get in the way of their journey to self-sufficiency. Not having what they need to take care of their household can be discouraging. Additionally, they face stagnant wages that aren’t comparable to rising costs of living, unmet and ongoing health needs, substance abuse and dependency, collateral consequences of justice involvement, lack of community and reliable parental support, and a lack of life and soft skills.

What strategies does Life Works incorporate to motivate participants?

Ashanti Ternoir: The program is individualistic. Each coach’s approach and style vary depending on the relationship between that customer and coach. The common thread, I believe, that runs through the intentions and hearts of each coach is the desire to remind our customers that they are not alone. We take an interest in their lives and encourage accomplishing activity steps in their action plan. We celebrate the small victories. It’s in asking open-ended questions and inviting them into a conversation. Highlighting their progress, no matter how incremental, is key and can be motivating for them. Our customers set their own goals and we keep those goals as our focus. It matters to us that we consistently acknowledge the steps they take.

What makes the Life Works Program unique?

Ashanti Ternoir: Our customers do the work. That sounds funny, I know. The program is voluntary, and people come to us because there is something they feel we’re able to provide. Once they get to us, they soon come to know that their ability to be successful in our program, and in life, largely depends on them. It begins and ends with their motivation, communication, goal-setting and follow-through. I see the Life Works team like a supporting cast. We have the access, resources, wisdom, tools, finances, connections, know-how, compassion and lived experiences to support individuals who are ready to help themselves.

What advice would you offer to individuals uncertain about applying to the program?

Ashanti Ternoir: My advice would be to arm themselves with knowledge about the program. Understand the role it can play for them and their household. To weigh their uncertainty against the facts about what we do and how we might be of service to them. Our information sessions and intake processes are two-way, helping us determine if an individual is a good fit for Life Works and providing them an opportunity to determine if Life Works is a good fit for their family. We don’t promise outcomes, but we’re committed to doing what is within our power and ability to support an individual’s efforts to improve their lives.

Can you share a participant’s successful journey through the program?

Ashanti Ternior: Absolutely! Ms. S came to the program as an employed, justice-involved individual with a history of substance abuse, living in transitional housing. Initially, she did not seem sold on the merits of the program. I think it was hard for her to imagine a life beyond where she was in that moment- a low-wage earner with debt, on probation, and living in such a communal space. However, she’s a go-getter and was determined to change her situation. I honestly believe that as her trust grew with me and she leaned into other resources and the community around her, things began to shift. Now, she is an assistant manager at her job and lives in her own apartment. She’s completed her probation, recently celebrated three years of sobriety, and has obtained her North Carolina driver’s license. She is doing well with maintaining her expenses and her work continues as she is building her credit. It’s not always been rainbows and roses for her, but she’s come so far. To say that I am proud of her would be an understatement.

Currently, 127 individuals are enrolled in CAO’s Life Works program. Click here for more information about CAO’s Life Works program.

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