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Building a future
By Paige Caulum ’11

Construction
Julie Kuklinski ’03
 
Julie Kuklinski ’03 has more than 150 women waiting for a hand from her. In that hand, she holds the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty: saws, hammers and drills.

As director of Women in Construction (WinC), Kuklinski is able to help disadvantaged women in Mississippi learn a trade and help their neighbors.

“Mississippi ranks as the worst place for women to live,” Kuklinski points out. “Our program is designed to help low-income single mothers get out of poverty and into good jobs.”

In this case, “good jobs” means jobs in construction. Along with other states in the Gulf Coast region, Mississippi is often in need of skilled workers to help rebuild after storms. As Kuklinski notes: “Volunteers from all over the country show up right after the storms. But after time, they stop coming.The area really needs a steady flow of people.”

WinC partners with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to provide free training in the hard skills of the construction trade to help end the cycle of poverty and homelessness.To date, the program has graduated almost 100 women, with a 60 percent job-placement rate after graduation.

Kuklinski doesn’t look just at those numbers when assessing the program’s success rate. “A lot of students are out of violent relationships, getting their own housing, receiving their GEDs, and getting $10-an-hour labor jobs.” These kinds of accomplishments can be attributed to the program’s supplemental training in social skills, résumé building, fitness and overall wellness.

The WinC program benefits more people than the women who participate. As part of their training, the new builders do hands-on disaster recovery work. Kuklinski says the program has helped at least 50 families reconstruct their homes.

Most of the trainees’ lives have themselves seen setbacks caused by storms. “Unfortunately, disaster is old news on the Gulf Coast,” Kuklinski says. However, the personal experience these women have with natural disaster drives their desire to work hard in the field.Their hearts went out to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and a group went down to help out.

“The students felt like they wanted to give back after receiving help after Katrina,” recalls Kuklinski.

Sometimes the unhappy stories are the ones that most change us. For Kuklinski, the positive attitude and energy she finds in those afflicted by unfortunate circumstances drive her to assist in finding the happy ending. “People here have huge hearts and they’re fighters,” she says. “Keeping with them, working with them and next to them, is inspiring.”

Expansion of the organization’s services so more women can participate will depend on funding from grants and donations. In her role as director, Kuklinski makes sure the program continues to receive support from state and national government. While both sides of the political spectrum support the goals of the program, it can still be difficult to receive help.

“Mississippi is a difficult state to live in, because there is not a lot of funding for programs or services for lower-income families and women,” she says.

In the future, Kuklinski wants to broaden the program’s mission to include advocacy of the problems facing Mississippi communities. She would like to change negative perceptions of the South and work for a better understanding of the civil rights issues with which the state is dealing.

Summer 2011

Web extraLook here for web-exclusive content that expands on topics presented in the current
St. Norbert College Magazine.

VideoThe St. Norbert College Strategic Research Institute
David Wegge (Political Science) speaks about the evolution of the former Survey Center.

GalleryCommencement 2011
A gallery of images celebrates a fine day to remember.

VideoCommencement speaker, author David Maraniss
The Pulitzer Prize-winner addresses the Class of 2011.

VideoOn friendship
Friends Paul Wadell and Howard Ebert ’74 (Religious Studies) discuss their own connection in the light of Wadell’s work on friendship in the Christian life.

Audio ExtraA question of happiness
Leanne Kent (Philosophy) speaks on classical and contemporary conceptions.

VideoWell-remembered
Jim Benton (Sociology), Jim Hodgson (Biology) and Donald Taylor (Art) say what St. Norbert College has meant to them.

Text ExtraConsolation Prize
Read a sample of poems from this new collection by Laurie MacDiarmid (English).

VideoThe art of collaboration
Brian Pirman (Art) and Leivur Djurhuus ’12 talk about their recent installation in the Godschalx Gallery.

Audio ExtraLet the music sound
The Rev. Bartholomew Agar, O.Praem., ’55 (Music, Emeritus) performs at the abbey church.


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