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Albany Water, Gas and Light helps at-risk women

Water, Gas and Light's The Endowment program mentors women from Turner Job Corps

Turner Job Corps girls recently celebrated their graduation from The Endowment, Water, Gas and Light’s women’s mentoring program, with a luncheon at Albany’s Bridge House. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

Turner Job Corps girls recently celebrated their graduation from The Endowment, Water, Gas and Light’s women’s mentoring program, with a luncheon at Albany’s Bridge House. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

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Water, Gas and Light Commission employee Takisha Jackson serves as speaker during a recent graduation ceremony for girls who went through The Endowment program. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

ALBANY — Albany’s Water, Gas and Light Commission (WG&L) recently graduated eight Turner Job Corps women from a mentoring initiative the company administers know as The Endowment.

The Endowment, whose letters mean, tenacious, helpful, excitement, education, nurture, determination, optimism, wisdom, maturity, enlightenment, networking and trust, is a program designed to mentor women from Turner Job Corps.

The Endowment puts a group of Job Corps women who have been identified as being “at risk” through an eight-week class designed to help them gain self-confidence and networking skills that will benefit them in the future.

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Lorie Farkas is the Assistant General Manager for Customer Relations and Marketing of the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission. (File photo)

The program was started in 2008 after WG&L Assistant General Manager of Customer Relations and Marketing Lori Farkas learned Turner Job Corps was going to start a men’s mentoring program.

“I read an article in The Albany Herald about a men’s mentoring program and it got my attention,” Farkas said. “Nobody ever talks about a mentoring program for women, so I called Steven Bell, who was the director [of Turner Job Corps] at the time, and told him about the idea.”

Bell was able to have the idea approved and then asked Farkas to spearhead the program. Farkas, in turn, used her many connections with prominent women in Albany and had them agree to host the group of girls for one hour each week, to tell them their stories and mentor them.

Past mentors include Wilma Griffin, who was Albany’s first African American woman police chief, Carol Slappey, Albany’s first female bank president, Albany business women Judy Randall and Collette Jenkins and Wilhelmina Hall, who worked as secretary for Martin Luther King Jr.

“It’s amazing these women and what they’ve done in their lives,” said Farkas. “They’ve all overcome hardship to get where they are and they want these girls to know that if they can overcome their circumstances and be successful, then anybody can.”

Farkas said the success of The Endowment program has prompted Turner Job Corps leaders to propose the program idea to other Job Corps units throughout the country in hopes that it will become a national program.

“It’s just a great program,” said Turner Job Corps Business and Community Liaison Calandra Jefferson. “It helps them to aspire to be things they never thought they’d be. I’m grateful for the opportunity for these young ladies to be touched by women they would never meet otherwise.”

For her part, Farkas is pleased WG&L is involved in the program, but gives all of the credit for it’s success to Turner Job Corps, which takes care of providing transportation to classes, t-shirts for the girls and the graduation luncheon among other expenses, and the professional women who volunteer their time.

The Endowment’s next class will begin in early January and will run for eight weeks. Shortly after that another group will begin. The program now puts three to four classes through the program each year and in total has graduated 520 women since it began.