Life in the unemployment line: One woman's battle back to work

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - After five years of life-crushing blows and the help of a local program, one woman who didn't give up has become an example of how to get back to work.

As Keisha Terrell moves about the wings of Research Medical Center, she takes it all in gratefully. She has always wanted to work here and just having a job is a dream come true.

"I meet a lot of people every day," she laughed. "I know everybody's business!"

People seem to flock to her, and maybe it is because she has seen so much herself.

"No matter your color, no matter your age, trust me," she said. "I can understand anything you tell me!"

Terrell's trying times began six years ago. While raising two young kids, she was forced to take a later shift at her job at a grocery store. She was arrested because her kids were home alone.

"I was devastated just being handcuffed in front of my kids," she said.

She was let go after that, and despite all her efforts -- including trying to go back to school -- she remained unemployed for five years. Even entry-level jobs at fast food restaurants and other grocery stores weren't hiring. This was, after all, in 2008 -- the beginning of a national plummet in the economy.

"You can't make someone hire you," Terrell said, shaking her head.

The blows kept coming. It wasn't long before someone totalled her car. Then on Easter 2010, the love of her life and father of her children was murdered. Later that year, she suffered a stroke.

"I would just sit on my bed and cry," she said.

But through it all, Terrell stayed involved with her kids. They kept her going.

"They were stronger than me through this situation," she said. "If I didn't have them, I don't think I would have made it."

Going to a PTA meeting for her daughter changed her life when a representative from the Women's Employment Network came. Terrell signed up. 

"I was counting down the days to classes," she said.

During the five weeks of the WEN program, it wasn't Terrell's resume that needed changing.

"They could tell I was employable. That wasn't it. It was my emotional state," she said.

Shedding emotional baggage and learning financial skills are among the things that helped Terrell get ready for job interviews again as a new woman.

Two weeks after finishing the program, she was at WEN offices when she got a call.

"Girl, I got a job!" she said to a friend that day, running down the halls. 

"That was the happiest day of my life," Terrell whispered, tears welling in her eyes.

That was almost a year ago.

So a year later, Terrell's son stood in front of hundreds of people -- as a Kauffman Scholar -- and introduced his mother to the entire Women's Employment Network. Terrell was chosen as the keynote speaker for their annual luncheon, as an example of how not to give up when life seems impossible.

She will never forget the day she went back to work.

"Coming home and telling my kids I got a job? That is priceless," Terrell cried. 

Services from WEN are free. For more information, check out their website at www.kcwen.org

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