Stories of HopeSHALOM Denver
Heidi Pittaway—Taking Her Life Back
She’s smart, poised, and articulate. At 23 years old, Heidi Pittaway has a brilliant future. She’s currently enrolled in college and has big plans for a career in business. Her ultimate goal is to hold elected office. With her drive, there’s no doubt she’ll make it.
Heidi’s future didn’t always look so bright. Just three years ago, she was eight months pregnant with her second daughter. She was a high-school dropout living in a homeless shelter in Parker—scared and alone. Her prospects for the future were non-existent. She had no high school diploma. No work experience. No husband. No family support. No money. No job. And no plan.
What she did have was a little girl who was entirely dependent upon her and another one on the way. “It was an extreme wake-up call to say the least,” says Heidi.
Heidi is a Jewish Family Service client who recently participated in an intensive job training program at SHALOM Denver. This program has a singular goal: to move people from welfare to work. The SHALOM team has been extremely successful, placing more than 100 clients into meaningful employment in the last year alone.
For Heidi, the work program not only prepared her for her first job, but also helped her overcome some serious life challenges that threatened her ability to care for herself and her young girls. She got her life back and was given the tools she needed to change her path to become self-sufficient.
Heidi got pregnant the first time at age 17, while a junior in high school. Like other kids her age, she planned to attend college and make something out of her life. But the pregnancy changed all that. She was young and in love and had high hopes for success as a family unit. “When my daughter was born, I naively dropped out of school,” says Heidi. “My family was not happy about my choices, but I was determined.”
Less than a year later, she got pregnant again. At the end of her second pregnancy, staff at the homeless shelter where she was staying found out about her abusive relationship with the father of her children. For Heidi, that was the bottom. “My focus quickly changed from how to keep my family unit together to how am I going to survive and provide for my kids?”
At that desperate time, Heidi received critical financial aid that probably saved her life. The shelter helped her apply for welfare benefits, get food stamps and access subsidized housing. And, she was enrolled in a job training program at JFS’s SHALOM Denver facility.
SHALOM Denver clients receive high-quality, hands-on training and real-world work experience over the course of several months. The staff works one-on-one with clients to evaluate their interests and skills, and work diligently to improve those skills. They help clients understand what it means to work and change their attitudes about welfare and personal responsibility. SHALOM Denver places clients in internships to give them real-work experience and helps them find jobs.
SHALOM helped Heidi build her skills and confidence. She expressed her interest in business and her case manager was able to place her in an internship at the Denver/Boulder Better Business Bureau. She worked hard, and with the support of her supervisor, she was hired at the end of the internship.
Heidi is now the assistant to the vice president of operations, working part-time while attending college. “I love the work, the challenges I face, and the experience it’s giving me,” says Heidi. She’s also able to balance work and school and keep her focus on the big picture.
Heidi has big plans for herself—and she’s well on her way. She got her G.E.D. in November 2008 through the Emily Griffith Opportunity School and she will graduate with an associate’s degree in business management from the Community College of Denver this December. She will then go to Metro State for her bachelor’s degree in business. Finally, she plans to attend Vanderbilt in Nashville, where she grew up, for her MBA.
Heidi’s goals are big, but she’s willing to do what it takes to achieve them, even if that means some hardships along the way.
She’s forever grateful to SHALOM Denver for helping her map out a new future for herself. “They showed me what it would take to get where I want to be,” she reflects. “They helped me develop a plan and gave me the tools I needed to take my life back.”
“I can’t give all the credit to SHALOM Denver for turning my life around,” says Heidi. “I take some credit for myself. I took the initiative and I’m working hard to change my life. I’m going to make it for my girls, and that makes it all worthwhile.”
Heidi Pittaway bravely shared her personal story before a sold-out crowd of 650 people at the JFS Executive Luncheon in May. It was her first speaking engagement.
For more information about SHALOM Denver's Employment Services, please contact Meeka Houston at 303.922.2100 x5.