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Success at the Grace Institute: Empowering Women to Achieve in the Workforce

Lourdes Hernandez-DeRenzi Grace Institute
Lourdes Hernandez-DeRenzi, Grace Institute Photo: CCNY & Grace Institue

By Jim Sliney Jr

According to 2020 New York City census data, women in NYC are more likely to face unemployment due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Young workers, workers with lower education levels, or workers who are Black and/or Hispanic, along with women, are more likely to become unemployed nationwide. Thankfully, the women of New York have a powerful ally in the Grace Institute.

A Success Story

Lourdes Hernandez-DeRenzi is a 2019 graduate of the Grace Institute. At the age of 56, Lourdes lost her husband, then the company she’d been with for 30 years closed permanently. She went looking for work but found her skills to be out of date. She also felt disadvantaged compared to younger applicants. She sought out new training opportunities but found most geared towards younger people. Then she found Grace Institute and enrolled.

Grace Institute is one of very few workforce-development programs that keeps its focus on women in need in New York City. Apart from mere skills training, Grace has workshops that give students a chance to interact with corporations and executives. Their entire culture has grown around building confidence. Grace also offers graduates job placement, a year of job retention help if needed, and a lifetime of workshops and alumnae activities.

Lourdes signed up for a 10-week Administrative Professionals program. In March 2021, she told the New York City Housing Authority Journal, “It was an eye-opening experience and one I wouldn’t trade for a minute. Professionally, they brought me up to date, so it looks like a resume from the 2000s and not the 1900s.”

Not surprisingly, there have been extra challenges since the Covid-19 pandemic. Women who were once in the workplace may have been laid off or furloughed. In a June 2020 article, the Economic Policy Institute said that 10.7% of the workforce that experienced unemployment from the pandemic had no reasonable chance of being called back to those jobs. Furthermore, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that New York’s unemployment rate is 5% higher than it was in January of 2020, and all signs point to most of those people being less-educated Black and Brown women. The City needs workforce development programs like Grace Institute to get women like Lourdes back into the workforce.

So far this year, Grace Institute just completed its first Patient Service Representative class of 2021, and is about to complete its 2021 Administrative Professionals program. When they do, they’ll have graduated over 40 women. They’ve already placed 43 other women into jobs that make a living wage. While that has all occurred remotely, Grace Institute has a plan, assuming it can be done safely, to resume in-person classes in September 2021. By the end of this year, they’ll have graduated 200 women.

Ms. Hernandez-DeRenzi recommends this program for all women, but especially women 50 and older: “You don’t find programs like this geared to all women from 18 to 64. The only other place you can possibly get some kind of training at the age of 50 is going back to college. It’s a really well-rounded program, not just the technical part, but also on a personal level. I walked in there too shy to speak. I didn’t know how to pat myself on the back and say, ‘Good job.’ In three months, you won’t recognize the person you walk out as.”

After graduating from Grace Institute, Lourdes got a job at Goldman Sachs. She’s still there and planning for advancement. Grace Institute is right there with her.


Founded in 1897, the Grace Institute carries its original mission into the present day – to provide tuition-free education and support to women in need. By providing training in office technology, patient services, and administrative professions, they give women the tools they need to succeed, whether they have experienced recent job loss or are seeking employment for the first time, or are returning after a long time out of the work force. Grace Institute is also one of the agencies of Catholic Charities of New York.

 

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