By Alice Kenny
The widow of a Marine Corps veteran, Tanya Thomas knows firsthand about pain and loss. Now as the first graduate of Grace Institute’s training program for female veterans and their families — and after landing a job at Catholic Charities — she knows firsthand about success.
Tanya stands among a growing number of female veterans and military spouses who took a disproportionate hit during the Great Recession and battle homelessness and unemployment. The jobless rate for female Gulf-War era veterans has been stuck at nearly 13 percent for the past two years, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“I can’t begin to say what a gift going to Grace and getting a job like this is,” Tanya said. “It’s helping me build my future.”
When her children were ages two and four, her husband, U.S. Marine Dwight Anthony Thomas, developed a blood clot in his brain that ultimately killed him.
“I couldn’t get out of bed after he died,” she said. “It’s been a long road back to enjoying life.”
Then, when cancer claimed the life of Tanya’s aunt, Tanya took on the responsibility of caring for her aunt’s two teenage children as well.
“We were basically a house of widows and orphans,” Tanya said.
Fortunately Tanya found out about Grace Institute’s new program for female veterans and their families. The program, supported in part by the Clinton Global Initiative, is designed to hone the work skills of this underserved population and help them find work.
“Our commitment to helping veterans, never ends” says Jolene Varley Handy, a Senior Director at Catholic Charities affiliate Grace Institute, “because their commitment to our country never ends.”
Grace Institute, an affiliate of Catholic Charities, has been providing tuition-free job training skills for women in New York City for more than 100 years. Its new program builds on this success, working with military spouses and family members to assist with the transition to life off the base. The program includes intensive computer, business writing and career development classes. It prepares students for interviews and draws on its extensive lists of employer contacts to arrange meetings and help the students find work.
Tanya landed a job as soon as she graduated. She now works as a case manager with Catholic Charities. Her specialty is eviction prevention.
“It’s great to assist people with empowering themselves,” she said. “I know the feeling from both ends.”
If you are a female veteran or family member and would like to take advantage of this tuition-free program:
If you are a New York City employer seeking trained, responsible staff: