Senior Director of Workforce Development at New Moms
Gabrielle Caverl-McNeal, Senior Director of Workforce Development at New Moms, is supporting young mothers as they strive toward their goals. Continue reading to learn more about how investing in young people as an employer can lead to organizational growth and expansion.
Tell me about the mission of New Moms.
We partner with young moms to move them towards economic success. At New Moms, we believe in the strength, ability, and potential of all families to pursue and achieve their goals. Our programming is centered around strong executive skills development because we have seen that it can unleash the potential of young kids, parents, and communities.
So while we have certainly seen that the system is rebounding, we are still working with some of our participants as they continue to stabilize and rebuild.
The moms we support are looking to build strong families, have stable housing, access living wages and more. We are committed to creating spaces where their goals can be brought into fruition.
What is your role at New Moms?
I am the Senior Director of Workforce Development. I oversee the 16-week paid transitional jobs training program and a college success coaching program that supports moms with a $500 monthly stipend, as they persist towards associate degrees and/or long-term certification programs.
Why is this work important to you personally?
The mission at New Moms really spoke to me. I was in a position when I was young and parenting to have a network of women and individual actors that really stepped in and supported me along my journey. There was one person in particular who played an integral role in my success and interestingly enough, I do not remember her name, but I have never forgotten what she did for me.
One day I was at the park with my kids. I decided to put my worries aside and truly enjoy the day. To my surprise, a woman waved at me from across the way and entered my life in a major way. She took me under her wing and began pouring into me; helping me with foundational tasks like creating a vision board, opening a bank account, and buying professional clothes for work. She had a tremendous impact on my life.
It feels amazing to be in my position now at New Moms where I am able to share with others in a similar way, providing support with visioning, financial literacy and work readiness.
What is the company hoping to achieve in the next few years?
We are excited to be in an expansion period. We are in the exploratory phase now, but will be adding advocacy and policy work to our wheelhouse. As an organization, we challenge the systemic barriers and racism that inhibit economic mobility and family well-being among communities of color.
Frequently, moms are faced with a dilemma on their path to earn a living wage: accepting a slight raise in pay could result in becoming ineligible for the childcare benefits that they are currently receiving.
We will also be offering additional educational and certification options for participants, as well as clinical and counseling services for families.
What impact has the pandemic had on New Moms?
The pandemic impacted our moms in many ways and we are still experiencing some of its cascading effects today. During its height, many child care centers were closed or operating at 50% capacity. This brought many strains on the child care system and as a result many centers stopped accepting childcare vouchers from low-income families. With the foundation of the child care system crumbling, many mothers were forced out of work in a traumatizing way. During this same time, we saw a rise in domestic violence and conflict in the home. So while we have certainly seen that the system is rebounding, we are still working with some of our participants as they continue to stabilize and rebuild.
What are some challenges that participants are facing right now?
Securing permanent housing, managing rising childcare costs and maintaining benefits eligibility are three challenges that our participants are faced with. Each challenge comes with a set of systemic barriers that are in place that impact the ability of our participants to meet their goals.
We offer a personal connection to employers and pair them with a team member on our staff who is dedicated to nurturing relationships with employer partners.
Maintaining benefits eligibility is a major concern that often goes unseen by many. Frequently, moms are faced with a dilemma on their path to earn a living wage: accepting a slight raise in pay could result in becoming ineligible for the childcare benefits that they are currently receiving. While we are supporting our participants as they navigate these struggles, we acknowledge the need for policy decisions to be made that can address these issues and provide support to young families.
As an organization, how do you measure your success?
Each program that we offer is anchored around the goals that moms are setting for themselves. Goals are created in many areas such as personal health, education, employment, spirituality, personal development and more. Our organizational success is contingent on whether we are able to support our participants as they hit their targets. When a goal is set and met, that is success for us. If someone is struggling to meet that goal, we employ resources and support until they do.
We also follow up with moms for up to two years after they have exited our program to measure their continued growth.
What types of employers do you have partnerships with?
We have nearly 30 employer partners in the manufacturing, customer service, healthcare and food service handling industries. We are also connected to several larger Chicagoland employers through our funding partners.
What is the most common challenge that employers come to you with?
Employers come to us most often when looking to fill a new role or when they have had trouble finding candidates for a particular position. We act as an extension of our partner’s Human Resources departments, which can be particularly helpful for smaller businesses. We can help employers overcome onboarding challenges with a new hire and at the same time support our participants as they adapt to a new job.
Employers are often drawn to our Executive Skills Coaching model. Our coaches support moms with tools and practice as they navigate parenthood, adolescence, and progress toward their goals. And, because we are working with moms to identify their strengths and areas of improvements, we are able to make informed employment matches.
What does the process look like when you start a new relationship with an employer?
Building a partnership can take time and for many smaller businesses that is simply not a luxury that they have. We offer a personal connection to employers and pair them with a team member on our staff who is dedicated to nurturing relationships with employer partners. She will work with the employer to ensure that each employment match is working out according to plan. We recognize that turnover is expensive for the business and can be costly for the employee as well, so we spend time ensuring that each placement meets the needs of the employers and the young mom.
What's a common misconception that employers have when they're starting this partnership?
The biggest misconception that we encounter is that because our participants are young moms that they lack skills and the motivation needed to be a good employee. This is not unique to our program. In the Chicago area and beyond, I’ve observed a stigma on young people that leads many to believe that our participants may not be a good match for their organization.
When working with a new employer we work to dispel those myths immediately. Our participants are highly motivated and we support them as they work to accomplish their goals. Many have prior experience and all participants have demonstrated their commitment through participation in our programs.
What types of employer partners would you'd like to connect with in the future?
We are looking to connect with employer partners that have a diversity of employment options available for our participants. An example of an ideal partner is the Illinois Tollway. They are a large agency that has multiple employment locations statewide, providing an array of options for our participants. Additionally, this partner would also be able to offer living wage career opportunities in a variety of areas, including customer service, finance and more.
What are some common traits that you see with your most successful partners?
Our most successful partnerships are maintained with strong communication and trust. We had a situation where an employer partner called us because one of our participants did not show up for work and they were unable to get in contact with her. This was very unusual and the employer wanted to know if we knew what had occurred.
I hope that all employers learn that it is worth their while to invest in today’s youth.
Moments later, the participant walked through our doors with news of the fire and a request to use the telephone. This turned out to be a great opportunity for us to step in and support her not only with rebuilding, but also with maintaining the relationship with her employer. Because trust had been established and communication channels were already in place, when tragedy struck, the participant, employer and our organization were able to find a resolution together.
If an employer reading this walks away with one thing, what do you hope it will be?
I hope that all employers learn that it is worth their while to invest in today’s youth. I often think of the woman who invested in me when I was younger. She didn’t have to pour into me but her investment has paid dividends in my life.
And, it doesn't take much investment for that to come back full throttle. We see it all the time at our social enterprise, Bright Endeavors. At Bright Endeavors, young moms participate in a comprehensive, paid job training program while learning what is required to power the manufacturing and distribution operation for our growing home fragrance brand.
Because of the work that our youth have done to grow the business and grow themselves personally and professionally, we were able to expand and move into a new location. We did not accomplish that on our own. Investing in young moms has allowed us to grow as an organization, while the youth are also experiencing successful outcomes.