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Navajo-Hopi Observer | Flagstaff, Arizona

home : latest news : regional November 24, 2015

5/6/2014 10:20:00 AM
Program helps local Native Americans find work and financial independence
Native Americans for Community Action nominates Hester Sekayumptewa for Outstanding participant award
Hester Sekayumptewa and Director of the Workforce Investment Act program Rose Toehe stand in front of Native American for Community Actionís office. Sekayumptewa recently was awarded the Outstanding Participant award from the WIA program. Katherine Locke/NHO
Hester Sekayumptewa and Director of the Workforce Investment Act program Rose Toehe stand in front of Native American for Community Actionís office. Sekayumptewa recently was awarded the Outstanding Participant award from the WIA program. Katherine Locke/NHO

Katherine Locke

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - After turning her life around and gaining work skills in the face of adversity, Native Americans for Community Action (NACA) nominated a local Hopi woman for the Workforce Investment Act Program's Outstanding Participant award.

The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) program receives money from a grant through the Division of Indian and Native American Programs from the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training. The program seeks to give eligible Native Americans who are economically disadvantaged, unemployed or underemployed access to work experience through job counseling, referrals and placement, classroom training, career and academic counseling, financial aid and educational assistance.

Rose Toehe, WIA program director, said the program works like a career center with a Native American focus.

"Our service area is Coconino County off reservation," Toehe said. "The Navajo Nation and the Hopi Nation all get their own grants separately from the same program."

To be eligible, each participant must have a high school diploma or a general education development (GED) diploma and be from a federally recognized tribe.

Toehe said the help the program offers does not always have to be internships or classroom training.

"It can be anything from maybe just building a resume or taking interviews or taking classes," Toehe said.

The WIA program has "one-stop" partners that participants in the program have access to, like Goodwill, the Department of Economic Services, resource centers and veterans' programs. The partners may have classes on self-skills or be a place where participants can brush up on their computer skills.

At any one time the program spends money on 30 to 50 people who all have different needs and require different help. But the program also works with people who don't need financial help. When those people are added in, Toehe said the program helps anywhere between 50 to 200 people at any time.

"It just varies depending on the need of the individual," Toehe said.

Hester Sekayumptewa, from Flagstaff, won the Outstanding Participant award this year at the national conference. The National Indian and Native American Employment Training Conference is made up of different organizations that form a committee to plan the national conference. They sponsor the awards. Each program is given one nomination for each award.

The award is given to someone who has benefitted from the WIA program and takes into account how the person began in the program, what challenges or obstacles they needed to overcome and where they are now.

Sekayumptewa said a high school counselor referred her to the program in 2011 for a part-time job as a receptionist through NACA's WIA program. She was working parttime in the National Guard. She had two boys who were three years old and almost one years old. The boys' father served 19 years in the military, and while he had a job, he was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"At that point it was a decision to either try to help him in any way I could and the only way I could think of was providing for our family in case he loses his job or if, for some reason, he really gets hurt because of the drinking that he was doing," Sekayumptewa said.

Toehe said that when Sekayumptewa came to the program she had minimal work experience.

"When we advertised for that position as a training position, she was able to get that position," Toehe said. "Just being here helped her. She had the foot in the door to apply for other things that came through. And just the way she learned so quickly, she was able to rise to where she is now. She doesn't have to depend on anyone else. She can pretty much stand on her own."

Throughout her time in the program, Sekayumptewa received raises and promotions. She received training and improved her skills and in April 2013 was hired as a data specialist health promotion assistant and the Wellness Center. She has been certified as a clinical applications coordinator (CAC) assistant.

"She has skills that she can carry anywhere now," Toehe said. "She would be a great commodity in the Indian Health Service (IHS) world where she can move to any IHS facility and pretty much write her own ticket."

Toehe said it's a partnership between the participant and the program. For Sekayumptewa, there were things that she knew she could not afford and that she still made sacrifices to do.

"That helped us to see what kind of commitment she had into making things better for herself but also for her boys," Toehe said. "And I think because of that her relationship with her other half became stronger."

Toehe said that when she said that Sekayumptewa can stand on her own now she meant that in an inclusive way that includes the boys' father. She stressed that in Native American families, they want the family together. They want the family to be stronger.

"It was a commitment from everybody, from Hester, from us as well as the people who are in our programs who helped her. Not to mention, her relationship at home, there had to be a commitment there, as well. All sides came together and it was a perfect kind of storm, I guess you could say," Toehe said.

Sekayumptewa agreed. The boys' father is in rehab now.

"He knows now that I am willing to support our family," Sekayumptewa said. "We're just waiting for him to come home."

Sekayumptewa said that while she feels comfortable, meaning she no longer worries about paying her bills from her paycheck, confidence is still a ways away. She credits the program's staff for her comfort level.

"The whole thing with it being a perfect storm is the staff here," Sekayumptewa said. "I always had the family support from mom and dad but I wasn't in touch with my cultural side. I think all I really missed was the elderly feel. It is the way that they took me in, everybody who works here, they treated me like their daughter or granddaughter. They encouraged me. They would say, 'you can reach for the stars but you'll go past them.'"

Sekayumptewa gets emotional when she thinks about receiving her award and all the people who have helped her get where she is today.

"I never had a big family growing up," Sekayumptewa said. "Just the way they brought me in and comforted me and taught me so much. It was NACA and how loving they were and how willing they were to teach me. It's all their hard work. At the time it felt like I was alone. It's the old saying, 'it takes a tribe to raise a child.' Right now I feel comfortable."

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