Job-training program includes self-esteem boost

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

Social workers are known for having skills to help people overcome challenges.

Clifford Salmond, an alumnus of Project IOWA, speaks at the program’s most recent graduation ceremony. Project IOWA has developed a unique model to help those seeking employment address their self-concept and self-worth, which adds to their personal development.

There are also social workers who specialize in connecting people with one of life’s basic needs: a living-wage job that can boost self-worth. And Project IOWA is one of the places where you can find these social workers.

Project IOWA (Iowa Opportunities for Workforce Advancement), based in Des Moines, has a staff led by three master’s level social workers, including NASW member Julie Fugenschuh, Project IOWA’s executive director.

The nonprofit helps people with a high school degree or equivalent with job training for employment, and also focuses on increasing participants’ self-awareness, self-esteem and insight into workplace culture.

Fugenschuh said she is inspired by her job because the organization seeks to restore hope for those who have continually been told that they are unworthy or unvalued.

“I think every human has the right to feel valued and contribute to their community,” she said. “We just provide a road map to get there.”

Most Project IOWA participants are in the 26-45 age group and many have encountered multiple barriers that have prevented them from finding and retaining a livable-wage career, Fugenschuh explained.

Some of the barriers are generational poverty, criminal backgrounds, family issues, becoming a teen parent, mental health issues and a lack of skills and confidence, she said.

The program staff believes everyone has worth and value to contribute to the community and some just need guidance to uncover it and/or rediscover it.

“When we have communities in which all contribute and add value, everyone benefits,” said Fugenschuh, who has been with the organization since its inception in 2012.

From the April 2016 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story here.


  1. tammy blevins-gierson

    This would be a wonderful program to implement in any large inner-city population, like that of Los Angeles. I hope this movement spreads its way across the country.

    I know what it is like to battle with self-esteem issues. Social Work is all about empowering people to overcome adversity. Low self-esteem can be a persons worse adversary.

    This program could really open a lot of indviduals’ eyes to their individual self-worth. After they discover it, the skies the limit.
    Better Self- Esteem = Better Life for the individual = Better Life for the community = Better Life for the World :)

  2. this seems like such a wonderful thing! I would love to do something like this after I graduate.

  3. I think this sounds like a wonderful program. I am now going to do some research to see if there is anything like this in my area. I currently work with the population that would most benefit from this type of program. I think with giving hope to those feeling worthless or not valued would be a huge boost to the areas/communities where there is no hope.

  4. This sounds like a great program! I appreciate this team’s work with participants on their self-awareness and helping build workplace skills. A program in my local area reported today’s employers are looking less at hard skills and more at soft skills: 1. Showing up for work on time, 2. Working the entire shift and 3. Getting along with co-workers.

    If this program accomplishes its intent, the outcomes data will be very impressive with hopes of widely replicating the program. Kudos!

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