It leaves many in our community with bittersweet emotions that the year we celebrate 30 years of Pennsylvania Women Work, we also send off our friend, facilitator and mentor, Nieves Stiker. She will retire after nearly 30 years of involvement with our organization.
As we look back on our organization's three decades, Nieves is at the center of many memories, stories and milestones. Earlier this month, we met in a studio with some of the members of our community to capture the impact of our last 30 years. Nieves joined us, along with some of her past program participants.
Standing in the spotlight surrounded by a brilliant white backdrop, Nieves stood arm in arm with two of her former students. As the cameras rolled to capture their scene, one of the women, with tears in her eyes said, “Nieves, you changed my life.”
This sentiment; this connection; this transformation is just one of the thousands Nieves has created during her time with our organization.
In 1995, Nieves began her involvement with New Choices and Pennsylvania Women Work. An immigrant from Chile, Nieves brought a unique perspective and an incredible understanding to her work with our organization.
While many parts of New Choices have remained the same at its core, the needs of women in the 1990s – when Nieves began her involvement – were significantly different than those today.
“We prepared students for non-traditional careers for women – I had a construction class, and we even taught how to change a tire and faucet to help women going through a divorce fend for themselves,” Nieves said. “We had a strong focus on computers and literacy.”
New Choices continued to adapt and change over the years, and Nieves adapted and changed right with it to continue to meet the needs of local job-seeking women. Eventually, Nieves became the director of the New Choices program, where she strongly advocated for her students and built partnerships.
Though she enjoyed her role as director, Nieves missed her personal connection to the participants and ultimately decided to return to teaching the curriculum she felt so connected to.
For more than ten years now, Nieves has continued to change lives through her facilitation. In addition to New Choices, Nieves taught PA Women Work’s GROW curriculum, a trauma-informed program that supports women preparing to leave the criminal justice system as well as women navigating substance sobriety. She has also facilitated our Communicating for Success program using curriculum from DDI.
“In the GROW program, the students I have are going through a lot. There is a lot of resistance at first.” Nieves went on to explain that watching her students grow, transform and work toward personal successes as they continue through the program gives her a deep sense of gratification in her work and mission.
In every class she facilitates, Nieves brings a special way of seeing past all the distractions and barriers people put in place to shield themselves, and connects with each participant on a deeply human level to help them realize their potential.
“Failure is an opportunity to learn; you did what you did with what you had at the time,” Nieves tells her students. “The important thing is understanding what you learned about yourself, what you’re going to do about it, and then you forgive yourself.”
Over her 28 years with PA Women Work, we estimate that Nieves has reached more than 7,000 job-seekers on their path to a more meaningful career and prosperous life. During this time, Nieves has been many things to many people. She was an instructor, friend, mentor, ally, coworker, supporter, director, and volunteer. But most of all, she was an inspiration.
“I have hundreds of cards and notes from students saying ‘you changed my life’,” said Nieves humbly. “I didn’t change their life; I was simply walking with them when they changed their life.”
Thank you, Nieves, for many years of service to Pennsylvania Women Work and to the people of this region. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement!
By Ana Kay Yaghoubian, Director, Building for Success, United Way of Southwestern PA
Growing and sustaining networks of women is empowering and one of the best ways to overcome some of the disadvantages women have traditionally faced in the workplace. Building a network often depends on attending networking events or reaching out to people we’ve never met face to face. Networking in any of these situations can be intimidating, especially for more introverted folks.
Fortunately, there are many ways to build your network, including options that don’t involve having to wear a nametag! When I came to Pittsburgh from the Washington D.C. area, I met so many amazing women who made networking easy. While it didn’t happen right away, eventually I found folks I connected with and felt more settled. As I grew my network, I was impressed with the things women in Pittsburgh did to support each other, especially when it came to sustaining a network over time, which can be the most challenging part.
Being involved with the PA Women Work community has helped me find another excellent resource of women who want to support each other in Pittsburgh. Being a great ally to other women in your network is important. Whether your network is big or small, be a great ally and supporter to the women in your circle. Even a small amount of time and effort can have many benefits for you and others that can last for years to come. But what does being a great ally to one another mean?
Below are a few things you can do to grow and sustain your network of women:
While there are many social networks to choose from, if you don’t have a social media profile yet, LinkedIn is a pretty good bet for finding many of the people you see professionally. Spending a few minutes on this channel daily or weekly can keep you in the loop on opportunities to support and grow your network. I find an easy way to reach out to new people is connecting on LinkedIn shortly after an in-person or virtual meeting, showing appreciation for their participation, or just saying it was nice to see them.
Signing up is simple! (Link to sign-up page). You’ll be paired with a mentor/mentee and spend three sessions together…so PA Women Work does the work to connect you with someone in your field who is capable of helping you achieve your goals. I’ve met some fantastic women this way and learned so much in the process!
While you may have some things in common, you can always learn from someone else's experiences. This type of mentoring is excellent for sharing challenges and brainstorming solutions. Those in the same professional arena might know of resources you don’t; someone in a different industry might have a totally different perspective or an out-of-the-box solution.
All these suggestions add up to women supporting each other to reach their goals. There’s no one right way to do it, but there are steps we can all take to grow and strengthen our network while accomplishing our own career goals and advocating for others.
I’ve made some great friends that started as people I met while networking, which feels like icing on the cake! Pittsburgh has a great ecosystem of strong, talented, and accomplished women, and don’t forget, you’re one of them!