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‘Turning Point’ lives up to name

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OREM — When Jennifer Wood found her husband sexually abusing their 8-year old daughter, she didn't wait for New Year's Eve to make her resolutions.

She called police, he was taken to jail, and at 35 she found herself alone with three children, a mortgage, a car payment and not one dime to her name. That was Nov. 15, 2000. Within a month, she landed in the office of Turning Point at Utah Valley State College, and found it lived up to its name.

Aimed at serving the needs of women who are struggling to get on their feet, the program has survived the budget ax that killed its counterparts at the state's other colleges and universities and serves more than 1,000 clients every year.

Someone at the Department of Workforce Services referred Wood to Turning Point when she picked up her food stamps. "I was on my own, my family lives on the East Coast and I had three kids. There was no time to waste, or say 'I'm going to be depressed for a week.' I had to make the mortgage payment, put food on the table and hire an attorney, so I got busy."

Life has never been the same since.

She knows it never will be.

A year later, she is working toward a degree in English and participating in a work-study program at the school. She wants to be a writer, and she's determined nothing will stand in her way. Dixie Sevison, the program's assistant director, found herself married with three small children including a baby and a husband who was so angry he had destroyed her sense of self through emotional abuse. Though she had a bachelor's degree and had done graduate work, she had no job experience. She was convinced no one would ever hire her.

After her divorce and completing the eight-week course, "I was getting back to the person I was" before marriage. She got a job at UVSC, and was amazed when the interviewer hired her on the spot. She says she is one of the lucky few, who had an education and large-enough child support payments to make the transition without wondering whether she would end up on the street.

Her children are now "very happy and doing better than they ever could have" had she not decided she had to take care of herself. "For me the key was understanding that if I'm taking care of myself, that's when I can be a really good mother."

The same realization dawned for Lujean Anderson when she attended the life management class with a friend 10 years ago. "I came because I thought she needed it," she said. Anderson's husband was providing well for her and her children and she didn't think she needed the class, even though she was clinically depressed.

The presentations began to hit home. "When people say you should lose yourself in the service of others, I just cringe. That literally happened to me. I was so concerned about my kids and my husband and everything they needed, I didn't even know who I was anymore. You could ask me what I liked to do, what my hobbies were and I couldn't even tell you," Anderson said.

"I wasn't looking to leave my marriage. I just decided I wanted to be a better person and be happier with myself."

After finishing the class, she went back to school and got a degree in social work. Now she's an intake consultant for Turning Point, and teaches the Anger Management course offered as part of the program.

Each story has its own set of dramatic moments, according to Turning Point director Carol Verbecky. Of the 1,500 people who walk through the agency's door each year, about 1,000 of them end up taking at least one of the classes offered there. Topics focus on life management, preparing for marriage, enhancing marriage, anger management and parenting — issues that aren't necessarily job-related but are vital, Verbecky said.

"We find that unless you take care of the emotional issues first, you can't progress" with schooling or life-changing decisions that affect not only individuals but entire families, she said. Clients come in to "find out who they are and what they want" from life, and most do it by taking the initial life management course.

Staffers then provide mentoring, psychologists help with counseling and clients are referred to other agencies that can help them make the life transitions they've chosen. Services are provided without regard for income or education, though clients who are able are asked to pay on a sliding fee scale. Anger management clients referred by a judge are required to pay as part of taking responsibility for their past choices, Verbecky said.

The program not only offers scholarships, it works through the UVSC's Women's Resource Center to help low-income students secure day care and even business clothing if they're unable to buy the wardrobe required for an interview or a job.

The 23-year-old program began through the efforts of three women at UVSC, Verbecky said. They saw an increasing number of students who were trying to deal with divorce, abuse, single motherhood and a lack of job skills. Demand for services has never declined in the program's history.

Though the Turning Point program was at one time available at most colleges around the state, UVSC has the sole surviving program, Verbecky said. "We're very lucky. We've been able to get grant money, and President (Kerry) Romesburg has been supportive" after hearing the kind of success stories the program has to tell.

Even the community has pitched in, with some donors providing major funding that helps the program not only survive but thrive. This month will see the realization of a 10-year goal program administrators have had to provide child care on site for qualifying UVSC students and employees, Verbecky said.

A recent letter from a male client sums things up. "He told me we were underpromising and overdelivering" on our classes. "Lots of people write and tell us 'this is where I am and your program changed my life.' I can't imagine a better job than the one I have."

For more information about Turning Point, call 801-863-7509, or see the Web site at www.uvsc.edu, click on the Community tab, then click on School of Continuing Education.

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com