APPLETON, Wis. — The class is called “Starting Point,” but it’s more complicated than it sounds.

“This is for women 18 and older, who are just kind of lost, needing some direction in their life,” said Kara Nowak, a student counselor at Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) and teacher of the class.

“The best way I can describe it to you is it’s a holistic approach to life. You know, we don’t want to just help people with employment and education. We want to get them well.”

That’s a lot of components. Many were easily identifiable, others were not.

“I really kind of pay attention to what are the barriers that the women are facing,” Nowak said. “And a lot of women didn’t have a driver’s license.”

Empowerment, opportunity, autonomy and independence are just some things a driver’s license provides. Without one, life often becomes that much harder.

“I just started to ask the question, ‘Why don’t you have a driver’s license?’” Nowak said. “What stopped you from hitting that milestone in your life? They had a lot of different answers. But the end result really was, ‘I didn’t have anybody there to teach me. I didn’t have a support system that was supportive enough to take the time to teach me that skill, or the money to pay for it maybe even at this stage in my life.’”

Nowak was determined to find a solution. And that’s when the “Success in Motion” program was formed.

First she called “Make the Ride Happen,” a Lutheran Social Services program that assists people with transportation needs. She asked if some of their volunteer drivers — many who were retired driver’s ed teachers — could help at FVTC. Then she went to FVTC security and asked if they could set up a driving course in the parking lot.

They were able to work out liability and insurance hurdles and the students, after earning their temps, then spent five hours with the MRH volunteers.

“They could get five to six hours of basic foundation,” Nowak said. “How do you operate a vehicle? How do you park? How do you adjust your mirrors?”

Nowak then contacted driving schools in New London and Appleton, who agreed to come to the Tech and give lessons.

They also wrote a grant and received $4,000 from the Women’s Fund for the Fox Valley Region to pay for lessons, the temporary license fees and driver’s ed tests.

Denise Jones was 46 when she finally attained her driver’s license. She had given birth at 14, dropped out of school and never went back.

“I was afraid of driving because my mother never drove,” Jones told Fox Valley Tech, “and my father was not around to teach me.”

Jones is one of five women who has attained their license through FVTC. Three more have their temps and are working toward getting a license.

Nowak is now seeking additional funding to include an important last piece.

“We would like to let students know ahead of time before they even begin,” Nowak said. “‘OK, let’s have you sit down and make a budget and let’s start putting a little bit of money away to save for a beginning car. And then we have two programs in our community that help with car purchase. They have purchase programs where you can take a loan out for very low interest. It’s reputable and you’ve got somebody kind of helping you.

“Because what has happened now is they have their license but not all of them have a vehicle. And so here you sit with your license and you don’t have anything to drive. So we’d like to expand on our grant application to say could we give $1,000 of seed money to a young woman who gets her license to be able to get a vehicle.”

A license and vehicle are a powerful, life-changing combination.

“I have seen some phenomenal things happen in my life,” Jones told FVTC. “My faith has taught me to see every journey through to the end. I have my high school diploma. And now I am a holder of a legitimate license to drive.”

It parallels the name of the class, a starting point.

“What makes me most proud of this is that it’s not just us,” Nowak said. “It’s three or four other organizations — public, private, volunteer, nonprofit organizations coming together to solve a problem that is really doable."

“I hope it doesn’t sound brash or boastful, but it’s not rocket science. We’re just working together. We’re using resources that are already in our community to just put the puzzle pieces together to help people.”

You can learn more about Starting Point, here


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