New to New Choices
YWCA of Lower Cape Fear New Choices program supports women
The local YWCA’s New Choices program certainly isn’t “new” to the organization, but its recently appointed program coordinator brings a fresh perspective to the 15-year-old nonprofit project.
MACON FUNDERBURK began at YWCA of Lower Cape Fear as a student volunteer while studying anthropology and women’s studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. In January of this year, she joined the team as the part-time coordinator of the New Choices program, which supports women pursuing financial independence and self-sufficiency.
After graduating this past May, Funderburk joined the YWCA team full-time.
“I’m really interested in women’s health and women’s empowerment,” Funderburk says. “My interest in women’s studies is where my interest in the YWCA first came from.”
The New Choices program began in 1985 and has evolved throughout the years, but the mission remains the same: to empower women to make informed financial decisions that positively change their lives, as well as the lives of their family and community. The concept is a national YWCA offering, though the name and curriculum vary across districts.
Right now, the Lower Cape Fear program includes three core components, Funderburk explains.
Members of the program have access to monthly workshops, where they discuss topics such as financial literacy, budgeting and job opportunities.
“One of the biggest parts of New Choices is the monthly meeting,” Funderburk says. “Not only are you learning professional skills, but you’re experiencing group support.”
Participants can also schedule several one-on-one counseling sessions, to discuss budgeting, academic advising, etc., with a career advisor each month.
Finally, New Choices members are eligible for financial assistance, for example, in the form of paying for college textbooks, helping with expenses for essential needs or providing childcare vouchers.
“Right now, with COVID-19, we’re doing a lot of grocery help and toiletry help,” Funderburk says. “We’re also moving toward helping more with paying utilities.”
And, of course, the coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges to the program schedule and planning.
“We are trying to make the best of it,” Funderburk says. “We’re tele-counseling over the phone or Zoom, but it’s been a challenge not to see everyone and spend time with everyone.”
The virus outbreak has not affected its ability to take on members of the program. Applications to join New Choices are rolling, and participants can join the program at any time in the curriculum. A Zoom meeting informational session is scheduled for August 5th at 6 p.m.
Participants often include domestic violence survivors, recently divorced women and mothers and single parents re-entering the workforce, but it is not exclusive to those demographics. Any woman who is a resident of New Hanover, Pender, Columbus or Brunswick county can apply to join.
“Right now, we have about 35 active members, but there’s really no limit,” Funderburk says. “Our goal is for this time next year to have 100 members . . . We expect the need will be growing because of the coronavirus.”
“A lot of times people view outcomes in numbers,” Funderburk says. “But it’s more than that. Many women who come into the program have nothing, and it’s great to see them leave the program with one more certificate or degree or even a job paying them a living wage.”
To learn more about the program or to apply to become a member, email Funderburk at email@example.com.
To view more of photographer Michael Cline Spencer’s work, go to michaelclinephoto.com.
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