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Friday, March 01, 2024

Shaida Ehlert didn’t think she had any useful skills.

She stayed at home and had dinner on the table every night for her husband while he made a good living as a vendor for a local company.

That was before he developed a disease called ulcerative colitis, rendering him unable to work steadily.

They could no longer rely on his income and would have to rely on hers.

In March, the day after her 37th birthday, Ehlert applied to the Displaced Homemaker: Focus on the Future program at Santa Fe College. The program, which celebrated its 30th anniversary Wednesday evening, focuses on educating and employing women who have had a life event, such as a divorce or death, that changes their financial situation, said JoAnn Wilkes, the program coordinator.

"I know exactly how these women feel," said Wilkes, who joined the program after her husband died. "I took the class, and it helped me get at least grounded so I was focused on what I needed to do."

Two years later, she came back as an instructor. Every member of the staff is a program graduate, she said.

Classes, held once a month except during March and December, teach life management skills, such as empowerment, confidence and communication skills.

Participants also learn computer and employability skills because the technology gap is one of the biggest challenges, she said. Since job applications are mostly online, many women struggle with typing up a resume and cover letter to email or upload to a website.

Since joining the program, Ehlert has become certified in medical coding, which identifies the abbreviations used by doctors, and is looking for employment.

She was one of 50 women who danced, ate and honored guests during Wednesday’s event.

Seven staff members, including Wilkes, dressed up as Rosie the Riveter and danced to "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge.

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Ehlret attended the event in part because she volunteers at the program now.

She said Focus on the Future made all the difference for her, even though it was overwhelming at first. It was a challenge to self-reflect and face the issues during the life management section of the program, she said.

Ehlert had resolved not to come back after the third day. But then she learned her friend in the program had to board a bus on Archer Road at 5 a.m. just to arrive at 8:30 a.m.

Instead of dropping out, she began driving her friend to the program with her.

"Before the program, I felt like I had nothing to offer," she said. "But they helped me fill my resume with skills I didn’t realize I had."

Contact Brooke Baitinger at and follow her on Twitter @baitingerbrooke

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