Life-coaching course offers single mothers new hope

Software giant Comverse's initiative helps graduates become self-starters.

single moms 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
single moms 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A group of single mothers from North Tel Aviv's Neveh Sharett neighborhood, who until now have been reliant on state welfare and government discounts, are heading into 2008 with a new approach to life thanks to a specially designed life-coaching course initiated and subsidized by international software giant Comverse. "It's like a switch has been turned on in my head," says Mara Sheffer, a 52-year-old single mother of one, who has not worked a full time permanent job for over eight years. "It has taught me to look at the world in a totally different way. I now realize that I am worth so much more and don't want to live off of handouts or charity, I want my own income." Working together with other graduates of the 12-week course, Sheffer - who says that her advanced age has made it impossible for her to find employment in her profession as a secretary - has already set in motion a viable business plan that could help her break a desperate cycle familiar to thousands of low income families countrywide. "We've already had a mass order from [mobile telephone company] Pelephone," exclaims Sheffer proudly, describing how the women have started a cottage business making chocolate flowers that they sell for money to employees of the nearby technological park in Ramat Efal. "We've already sold 350 flowers just through word of mouth and Pelephone has invited us to set up a stall for their employees on Valentine's Day." Sheffer and the other women from the low socioeconomic neighborhood have other ideas too, including cooking take-home meals for employees of Comverse, the company that helped turn their lives around. "It is part of our social responsibility program," explains Comverse's employee care and social responsibility manager, Michal Gilboa. "Instead of being involved in philanthropy, Comverse made the decision six years ago to build a model of collaboration with a local neighborhood." Gilboa said that the idea to specifically help single mothers in Neveh Sharett came from one company employee who had been studying life coaching in her spare time. "She had to do her internship with real people," Gilboa said, adding that finding the single mothers was challenging at first but eventually 19 women committed to taking the first course last March. To teach the program, Comverse hired professional life coach Gali Hacarmeli, a former public relations executive who has been providing coaching services for social and community projects for the past three years. "The idea was to take people who believed that they could not get over certain mental blocks such as the fact that they are receiving state benefits, felt themselves to be social welfare cases or had not worked for many years and showing them that there is always the possibility to change their lives around," says the Hadera-based Hacarmeli. Labeling the course "Take Life into Your Own Hands," Hacarmeli has already completed a second course and is now working with all the women on follow-up initiatives. As well as matching them up with a volunteer life coach from the various hi-tech companies in the area, she has also been helping the women to set up community-based projects that might eventually be turned into viable businesses. "I want people to learn how to become self-starters and be able to turn their lives around on their own," she says. Sheffer's chocolate flower initiative is one of the projects encouraged by Hacarmeli. "I don't like to call it empowerment," finishes Hacarmeli, who is hoping that the course will become a model for other multinational corporations interested in contributing to their local community. "I prefer to use the term 'transformation.' These women already have the power and tools in their hands, they just don't realize it."