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$3.5M grant will help Moore Community House build new careers for women

BILOXI -- A grant from the U.S. Department of Labor will help a Biloxi organization further its missions to help Coast women get well-paying jobs.

The $3.5 million grant has been awarded to Moore Community House for its Women in Construction program.

"The program has been around since 2008," program director Julie Kuklinski said. "We got started to help single moms get good jobs to earn a living wage and we've graduated over 300 women and we've had a 70 percent placement rate."

Leveling the playing field

Kuklinski said Mississippi is at the bottom of the nation when it comes to wages for women as compared with men.

"Women earn, on average, 67 cents on the dollar compared to what men earn and we are trying to change that," she said. "But through the (construction) program, women are earning two to three times more than they would in traditional jobs associated with women."

Moore Community House Executive Director Carol Burnett said the grant will be used to look at systems such as early-childhood care and workforce training and how they can integrate.

Kuklinski said the grant is a "natural fit" for the organization.

"I knew we were going to get this grant, because it's perfect for us to help women get paid better wages," she said.

Construction training

Program trainer Simone Agee said classes are Monday through Thursday year-round.

She said those interested in joining the construction program must go through a few steps before classes begin.

"We have an information session and then a work day to see how they work with the tools and the people and if this is the kind of work they want to do," she said. "After that, they have to come back for a personal interview and the we do an assessment."

Agee said the classes include National Center for Construction Education and Research curricula as well as OSHA training.

"They also get hands-on training so they can begin to learn their construction skills on site," she said.

With the volume of construction on the Coast, Agee said the program is also attractive to contractors.

"We do workforce training and we always have companies calling us looking for women for construction jobs," she said. "We have a lot of our graduates that are working at Ingalls in Pascagoula and making more than $18 an hour."

Decades of service

For more than 90 years, the Moore Community House has been helping women on the Coast.

"It's a community center that's charged with helping low-income women and young children," Burnett said. "We're a United Methodist Women's mission agency and it's been in East Biloxi since the 1920s and our services have always been geared towards early childhood development."

Burnett said after almost a century in existence, the services are still needed.

"We still have women and children that need our help," she said. "Even if we hadn't gotten the grant, we would keep doing what we were doing, but the grant will help us expand our mission and services."