Waterloo Women's Center for Change hoping to finally open - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Waterloo Women's Center for Change hoping to finally open

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Even through the recession, Iowa's unemployment rate has stayed well below the national average.  Right now, just five percent of people in our state don't have a job.

But finding work can be difficult if you have a criminal record.  That's why the Waterloo Women's Center for change offered a job fair, for both past offenders and the public Thursday.  The center is hoping to do a lot more programs like this---if it can ever secure funding from the state.

The Waterloo Women's Center for Change opened in a brand new $6 million dollar facility two years ago, but it's barely been able to operate.  That's because the state legislature hasn't given the facility any funding.  But it looks like money could finally be coming, allowing the center to help dozens of women get their lives on track.

Ella Laura Gamblin is a mom of seven, who's looking for a job.  But she's had a hard time finding work after being put on probation for driving with a suspended license.

"A lot of people don't want to hire you if you have records for anything.  They don't try to give you a chance," Gamblin said.                     

"Right now with the job market being somewhat limited anyway, it's more of a challenge for our folks.  But it seems like most employers here, that's not a hindrance," said Cindy Studnicka, 1st District Department of Corrections, Division Manager.

The center knows it has an important job through what's called community based corrections:  serving women where they live--offering them tools to help them be successful, keeping them out of jail.

"Corrections in and of itself has institutions geared to men.  So now, with the influx of women coming into the system, it's important that we're able to provide services directly to what's going to be successful for them," said Studnicka.

But with no annual budget from the state, this center doesn't have any full time staff dedicated to helping women.

The residential part of the facility could house up to 45 ladies can't even open.  But funding finally could be coming.

"The Governor's recommended, and even the House has recommended, that we get 14.5 positions, and that would be enough for us to open," Studnicka said.

While Ella Laura Gamblin is hoping she never needs services from the Women's Center, she's hopeful other women will have the opportunity to get help here, to turn their lives around.

"Just give them a chance," said Gamblin.

Right now, parole officers are able to meet with offenders assigned to them at the new Women's Center.  Batterer's education classes and other groups have also been able to meet there.  But of course the goal is to get the needed funding in place so that all of the brand new building can be put to use.

If the legislature does approve giving money to the Women's Center, it could be up and running in July.  The center hopes to prove its value, so that the state will eventually give it full funding.

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