ANNAPOLIS – Sylvia Dobson and her daughter moved to Glen Burnie to make a new start. With a home on the water and a new environment, she sat down to take inventory of her life.
She was a 37-year-old, divorced mother of one. She had no college degree. She needed direction in her life.
That’s when she discovered the Displaced Homemaker Program, which helps women over age 30 who have been primarily homemakers recover their emotional and economic independence.
The YWCA program is federally and state funded and has existed since 1978. The Maryland Department of Human Resources runs the program through various ommunity colleges and non-profit organizations serving families. More than 4,500 people have gone through the program in Maryland.
Dobson is just one of more than 113,000 displaced homemakers in Maryland and 7.3 million, nationwide. The numbers increase every year, along with divorce rates, said Sandy Kelley, the director of Career Services for the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.
According to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the number of divorces nationally has risen by nearly 7 million for men and more than 8 million for women between 1970 and 1998. In Maryland last year, 169,554 women were divorced, versus 116,750 men.
The statistics also show these displaced women are truly a group in need. In Maryland, 42,386 have children under 18; more than 23,000 do not have high school diplomas; nearly 47,000 have only a high school diploma; 51.4 percent live below the poverty line.
Displaced homemakers live the poorest in the South and in states with large cities, said Rubie Coles, a spokeswoman for Women Work! The National Network for Women’s Employment.
“They are one of the most vulnerable population groups. They feel rather singular — a bit desperate not knowing the resources available to them. They have lost their picture of the white picket fence,” Kelley said.
The YWCA program builds on strengths women have developed as homemakers and tries to prepare them for a job. Some women, like Dobson, have jobs but need better ones to move them out of poverty.
Women in the program are taught practical skills like basic computer programs and balancing their checkbooks.
“There is usually a lack of self-worth in the early participants,” Kelley said. “We work on the language they use on themselves, dropping the woulda, coulda, shoulda. For some the journey takes six months, for some a year or more, but as long as they move forward, that’s what’s important.”
Dobson’s goal is to start her own magazine in the human services field to help people learn about the people around them.
More immediately, however, she wants to finish school by 2000 with a degree in human services with an emphasis in computer graphics. She has already begun interviewing for jobs in the human services publishing field, to gain experience. Only when she’s ready, Dobson said, will she attempt to start her own publication.
“Primarily because of living in the world and in different states and being in different countries, I realized we don’t really know a lot about each other,” Dobson said.
“I was forced into single parenting and I would like to help mothers who are like me, trying to raise their children and get an education and hold down a full time job.” What she wants to produce, she said, is “a magazine about a community and people surviving every day.”