UK's Relaunch workshops redirect women seeking employment

Analisa Wagoner found her new career, running the Lexington affiliate of Dress for Success, through Career Relaunch, a UK workshop for women.
Analisa Wagoner found her new career, running the Lexington affiliate of Dress for Success, through Career Relaunch, a UK workshop for women. Lexington Herald-Leader

A year ago, Analisa Wagoner, director of Gallery B, learned the building on West Main Street that housed the art gallery had been sold to the 21C Museum Hotel. The gallery would be closing.

Wagoner had not an inkling what her next job might be.

"I just knew I had to transition into doing something else," she said.

Wagoner heard about Career Relaunch, a five-week workshop for women who are at a crossroads in their careers, sponsored by the University of Kentucky Alumni Association. She enrolled.

"The program is geared toward helping women tap into what it is they really want to do," said Caroline Francis, an alumni career counselor and Relaunch instructor, adding that the group usually includes women of different ages and life situations.

"Women who have stepped out of their careers to raise children and are ready to go back; women who are under-employed and need a better job," Francis said. "We have women going through mid-life divorces who need to go back to work to support themselves."

A large number are, "late career women, tired of doing what they always have done, but they don't want to retire," she said.

Paula Johnson, a Relaunch graduate, worked for a global communications company for 13 years when she was laid off.

"Relaunch helps you focus on what you are good at, where it is you want to go and how to get there," she said. It is, also, an opportunity to connect with other women in a similar situation.

Johnson called it "a real morale booster."

After Relaunch, Johnson learned of a job opening in a different division of her former company. She applied and got the job.

"I wouldn't have thought I could go back, but it feels like the best thing that could have happened," she said.

Wagoner participated in Relaunch in 2013. A career path opened for her after the program which, she says, she could not possibly have anticipated, but is "so exciting."

Familiar with Dress for Success when she lived in Atlanta, Wagoner went on its national website to find the Lexington affiliate where she could donate clothes she wore while working in the art gallery.

She noticed that the organization was actively looking to open a branch in Lexington.

In October, Wagoner and business partner Jennifer Monarch opened the Lexington affiliate of Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization that provides professional attire for economically disadvantaged women, as well as teaching career development tools like writing a résumé and computer skills to help them become self-sufficient. It is in the Eastland Shopping Center.

"It taps into my entrepreneurial spirit, my ability to engage with people, my passion for helping empower women and make a difference in their lives," Wagoner said. She is executive director; Monarch, chairwoman of the board.

"Taking Relaunch, I was able to see that it's OK to step out of your comfort zone and do something different," she said.

Tracy King, 45, enrolled in Relaunch after being a stay-at-home mom and doing direct sales for Pampered Chef for 16 years. With two children approaching college age, she needed a better paying job.

"In Relaunch, we did job testing, and personality and career-type testing that shows your strengths and weaknesses," said King, whose work life began as a certified public accountant.

"One thing you find out is what you don't want to do," she said. Job satisfaction is "not about how much money you make, but doing what makes you happy."

With a background in accounting, sales and an interest in health and wellness, King went to work for New York Life Insurance where all of these skills are used.

Relaunch has not done a formal follow-up survey of graduates, but many stay in touch, Francis said. "We've had lots of women who relaunched themselves, gone on to get new jobs, different jobs, better jobs. I'm really proud of them."