"I stopped having children because I couldn't afford both child care and college at the same time." It had been more than 15 years since I made that decision, but it seemed like only yesterday as I listened to the stories of women who were awarded grants from the Women's Forum of New York's Education Fund at its annual Elly Awards luncheon last month. You see, these grants were being awarded so that other women would not have to make the same decision I had. "Unlike many other forms of funding that only provide scholarships for tuition, we provide grants so that mature women can apply these funds to a variety of needs including child care, elder care, etc.," says Beverly Beaudoin, President of the Education Fund. "We don't want them to have to sacrifice any more."
The Education Fund, an educational and charitable arm of the Women's Forum
of New York, a premier organization of women leaders, was established in 1987 to help mature women (35 years of age and older) pursue their educational goals and enhance their capacities to provide productive and supportive service to their communities. And the urgent need to provide financial support to offset these responsibilities is becoming increasingly clear. In the U.S., almost three-fourths of the estimated seven million Americans who are informal caregivers are women, and many of them are "sandwiched" between raising children and caring for a parent or older relative. Further, not only are all of the adults in most U.S. families working today, but women comprise 60 percent of the lower-paying workforce. Therefore, as both primary caregiver and lower-wage worker, mature women face greater obstacles to earning a college degree, and thereby miss out on opportunities to increase their income. "We know that jobs which require higher levels of education pay higher wages than those that don't," Beaudoin says. "So we're here to help these women."
And so it has. Thus far, the Fund has enabled 141 women to not only return to college, but to graduate. One of those women is Deborah Baez, an awardee who had to drop out of college to care for her mentally-ill mother when her father passed away 14 years ago. Now married and a mother of four children herself, Deborah can also add a college degree to her list of accomplishments. "I was ultimately able to return to John Jay College and earn my Bachelors Degree in Social Work, thanks to The Education Fund," Deborah says. "Just by knowing that this amazing group of women supported me and my goals gave me the confidence I needed. Even though this last semester was the most difficult, having to bring my aging mother here from Puerto Rico, as her legal guardian," she adds, "I made sure to complete my degree. I now want to give back and help others as a Social Worker, just as the Fund has helped me."
"Deborah's experience is a shining example of the extraordinary effort we want to see in our awardees...that of overcoming the most daunting of odds in restructuring their lives for success," Beaudoin says. Just the day preceding the Awards Gala, in fact, Beaudoin received an email from another honoree who, after having survived having a gun put to her head by her husband, while threatening to take her child away, went back to college and graduated with a degree in Nursing. She couldn't wait to tell Beaudoin that she just received her first a full time nursing position.
"It's all about providing awards to high potential women whose careers have been derailed by adversity," Beaudoin says, "We understand the many obstacles they face, and we provide them the options they need and deserve." "And, let's not forget," Deborah adds, "Education is the one thing you can give yourself that no one can ever take away."
Lori Sokol, Ph.D., is an Educational Psychologist and founder/publisher of Work Life Matters magazine.