DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Potter's Wheel helps women shape their lives

Tilly is from the Dominican Republic. She has long, straight hair and dark eyes. She spent 10 years in an abusive marriage, she said, nervously requesting that I not use her real name. "I didn't want to be homeless with two kids. I wanted the marriage to work," she said.
But, finally, Tilly called a shelter for battered women, escaped her relationship, and fell into six months of bed-bound depression. After that, she said, "Anything would be easy." Even reinventing herself.
Now Tilly is in midsemester at Youngstown State University. She will become a high school teacher, then a bilingual professor. "That's my goal. I have lived through a lot of things. This is nothing now. My life is getting easier," she said.
Tilly got many lifelines, the latest of which was a boost from the Ursuline Sisters program, the Potter's Wheel, probably so named because it allows participants to shape their own lives.
Many are exiting abusive relationships, are single mothers or homeless. They are referred by Sojourner House (like Tilly), the Rescue Mission or the Sisters' Beatitude House, or via other avenues.
About the program
Potter's Wheel, a job preparation program, provides counseling, case management, life skills, computer literacy, support groups, high school equivalency test (GED) training, parenting and communication skills. Women are encouraged to take the whole package. Right now, 20 to 25 women are enrolled.
One is Jameka Miles of Youngstown. She went to Sojourner House with her 5-, 4-, and 3-year-old children, with no plan greater than simply getting away. Since August, she's participated in Potter's Wheel counseling and educational programs and got her GED. Now she has a plan -- to be a legal secretary.
"Never give up," she advised. "I thought it was over."
A family member of Christine McCalpin, a single mom, urged her to "do something more." McCalpin said, "I was stuck in minimum wage jobs, had dropped out of high school in my senior year in 1995. I worked at one fast food place, then another. I had to do more than be depressed, but I didn't know where to start."
McCalpin started at Potter's Wheel in December and is awaiting the results of her GED test. "I'm talking to the career counselor here about training to be an X-ray or surgical technician," she said. According to the director of Potter's Wheel, Mary Cohan, the program tries to assist with setting up job shadowing, networking, r & eacute;sum & eacute; writing and interviewing.
Comparing her life from a year ago to today, McCalpin said, "I am a lot stronger."
Worst time
Years ago, Carla Edmonds was in an abusive relationship at the same time she saw her mother die of renal failure. "She was my net," she said. The tragedy was enough to spur her to move out and on. Inspired by her sister, an RN, Edmonds planned a medical career.
By 1999, she was state tested as a nurse's aide, graduated from Choffin Career Center as an LPN, and had a new relationship with a baby on the way. But when her relationship went bad and her sister died, she fell into depression.
"It pushed me into a pit," Edmonds said. "I had never really healed from the abusive relationship and my mom's death. I just sat in that pit. I had four kids and no one to throw me a rope. I was receiving assistance, and they would say, 'What can we do with you? You're already educated.'"
Her rope came from Potter's Wheel, as it has for so many others. "They started to "pull the covers off me," Edmonds said. "I started to climb out of the pit."
Like the others who reshape their lives with the Potter's Wheel, Edmonds has bigger plans for the future. "I'm going to go for RN, and I won't limit myself there."

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