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More than 25 years ago, Dr. Ray Fleming Dinneen saw a need in Wyoming for higher paying jobs for single mothers. She created Climb Wyoming, which has recently garnered national attention. “I witnessed single mothers who were determined to make a better life for their children, but a lack of opportunities hindered their ability to see beyond the struggles they constantly faced,” Dinneen wrote on her website.

Over the years, Dinneen and her team found the program model that worked best. A combination of job training and placement in addition to mental health services, life skills training and parenting skills training has been found to best serve the program participants.  To date, the program has helped approximately 1,300 families reach self-sufficiency.

In 2004, Climb Wyoming opened an office in Casper. Since opening, 270 women have graduated from the Casper program. Beginning in 2011, the office began running dual programs.  “We graduate five programs a year. At least 50 women and their families are being helped each year,” said program director Leah Janssen-Governanti.

Before the program, 46 percent of participants were on food stamps; 24 months after the program, 28 percent are on food stamps. Monthly average income before the program is$1,021. After the program, monthly average income is $2,489.

The programs are based on in-depth research about what jobs are in demand. “The cool thing about Climb is it’s research-driven and so intentional. We look at what the workforce needs are and create a program around that.” Previous programs have included job skills from office careers to welding, optical assistant to truck driving.

Each program has five phases. Phase one is program research and planning, the creation of the job skills training the mothers will receive. Phase two begins participant recruitment.  Each candidate is interviewed and a group of 10-12 participants are selected. “The last training we held, we had 71 moms show up for the general information meeting. From those we did 56 interviews, each interview lasting up to three hours. There were only 10 slots open,” Jannssen-Governanti said.

Phase three lasts from 12-16 weeks and consists of job skills training as well as individual and group counseling. “The training isn’t industry specific; they also receive life-skills training, parenting, communications, one-on-one counseling and group counseling.” During the last eight weeks, the participants are matched with an employer for eight weeks of on-the-job training.

This model of program has gained national attention from such organizations as the New York Times, Oprah’s O magazine, the State of Wyoming and most recently, the federal government. Climb Wyoming was recognized as one of the top 10 innovative and high performing organizations that helps to move low-income families out of poverty.

“It’s not about having the exposure, but having that exposure shows that it’s a real impact that we’re having,” Jannssen-Governanti said.

“You can see it when you watch a woman, being treated as a disposable, replaceable employee, become someone who realizes they have value and confidence. They had it all along, it was just so deep they didn’t know where to find it.”