By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Thanks to Workshops Empowerment Inc. (WE Inc.), Corenza Smith, who had an on-again-off-again work history for several years, has secured steady employment and even won awards for her work.
“In 2015, I left WE Inc. and got a steady job with [Birmingham-based] Community Cleaning and Maintenance. In 2016, my job named me employee of the year,” she said. “[That same year, Alabama] Gov. Kay Ivey gave me an award for the district of Birmingham as employee of the year. … That was very special to me.”
WE Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Birmingham’s Avondale community, offers a broad range of vocational rehabilitation services geared toward helping people with disabilities become employed. It also offers programs to serve those reentering society from prison or rehabilitation facilities and those who have been out of work over a long period of time.
“If you have a disability or anything like that, it’s a good place to go to meet and [interact with] people,” Smith said. “People are there who really want to help you, and they are easy to get along with. There are counselors who will listen if you’re having a problem at home or work. … It really helped me. It’s not about what they pay you, but it’s about getting along with other people who have disabilities.”
Smith, 52, who is from Birmingham’s Titusville neighborhood, came to WE Inc. for the first time in 2010, when she was dealing with homelessness and drug addiction. While in the program, she stuffed envelopes and attended job-training classes.
“I would always get a good job and lose the place where I was staying because of my addiction,” said Smith, who finally got clean on July 6, 2012—overcoming 30 years of drug addiction.
She eventually returned to WE Inc. to go through its job and career readiness program. That’s where she met WE Inc. Director of Programs Nathalie Brasher.
“[Brasher] worked with me and helped me get this job where I’m at now,” Smith said. “She kept working with me until she got me in with [Community Cleaning and Maintenance]. I didn’t know too much about computers, but she helped me out a lot with job searching and submitting applications. … She will bend over backward for you. … She will help you as much as she can.”
WE Inc. has also helped Beth Mitchell, a 53-year-old from LaGrange, Georgia, who moved to Birmingham in 2015.
“I was having a lot of struggles in my personal life and my work life,” she said. “I became disabled and had to leave work, and my father passed away, [too]. I just needed to get out of Georgia, so I moved to [Birmingham] to stay with my best friend of 36 years. She was living by herself and I was living by myself, so it just worked out well for us to live together.”
Mitchell had worked as a mental health counselor in Georgia before retiring due to being diagnosed with several disabilities. She struggles with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); she also has a mild form of ulcerative colitis. After being out of work for five years, she connected with WE Inc.
“[WE Inc.] is the best [resource] for anyone with any type of barrier to employment, whether it is a physical or mental disability,” Mitchell said. “The best thing I gained is that they want to see everyone be as successful as possible. … They are there for you.”
When Mitchell connected with WE Inc. last year, she initially went through a two-week assessment.
“[The staff] let me tour [the facilities] and decide what type of job setting I would like to start working in,” she said. “They taught me basic work skills because I had been out of the workforce for [so long]. … I learned how to get to work on time, take breaks on time, return from my breaks on time.”
Following her two-week assessment, Mitchell attended classes on goal setting and resume building to help her find steady employment—and in September 2020 she got a position at Lowe’s, a home-improvement retailer, in Trussville, Alabama.
“I love the people there, and the best thing [the job] has done for me is it has built my self-esteem and self-confidence. It also gets me out of the house, since we’re still in the [COVID-19] pandemic,” she said. “I enjoy greeting people at the door and sanitizing the shopping baskets. … I fit perfectly.”
Workshops Empowerment Inc. is located at 4244 3rd Ave. S., Birmingham, AL 35222. To learn more, visit www.weincal.org or call 205-592-9683.