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Purpose Prize Fellow 2013
After 36 years with AT&T, O’Neal-Kyles launched a program in Atlanta to help economically disadvantaged women learn work skills and find jobs.
In her early 20s, Tillie O’Neal-Kyles began a career with AT&T in Kansas City that ended up lasting 36 years. A single mother with three children, O’Neal-Kyles knew first-hand the challenges of balancing family and work. As she neared the end of her career at AT&T, she committed herself to her encore second act: helping economically disadvantaged women prepare for employment and find jobs.
She created an organization called Every Woman Works, and within it a successful program known as BEES, for Busy Empowering and Employing Students. Women enroll for free in BEES and undergo four to eight weeks of training – not just in traditional job skills, but “mind body and spirit” issues involved in changing habits and mindset. The program also addresses personal and family needs, including childcare, substance abuse issues, and even tips on dressing for success and walking with confidence.
Thus far, more than 1,200 women, nearly half with a criminal record, have been through BEES. More than 81% completed the program, and of those 85% found secured employment.
O’Neal-Kyles is under no illusions about solving all the world’s problems, but she knows with just a little help many women can make a dramatic improvement in their prospects, and in their children’s lives.
“The poor will always be with us,” she says. “But that doesn’t excuse us from making a difference.”