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April 29, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
In June 2008 — four months before the global economy crashed and took the job market with it — Terrie Foltz, stuck in a job with no room for advancement for the past 14 years, handed in her resignation.
Foltz’s employer at the time, Project Construct (an organization that trains teachers), had begun to feel the strain of the looming recession and was starting to consider layoffs. Foltz decided to leave on her own terms. “We no longer were taking on new projects,” Foltz says. “And I’m happiest when I’m learning something new.”
With Project Construct lacking money to allow her to work one-on-one with teachers, Foltz was certainly not learning anything new. She chose to spare someone else’s job and quit to start on a new path.
The plan was to take some time off and live off her savings as she expanded her expertise in child advocacy and child welfare through hands-on experience. Then, she would return to the workforce for a more satisfying job.
But the economic earthquake of 2008 shook America’s fiscal foundation, and the aftershocks crumbled the job market. Project Construct could not withstand the recession and closed its doors in December 2009.
The last time Foltz was unemployed was not much different than the present. It was 1988, when Gordon Gecko ruled Wall Street and the Dow Jones fell 6.85 percent, a mini-crash similar to the current recession. At 29 years old, with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master’s in childhood development, Foltz found a job after seven months. But, even with 22 more years of experience in childhood advocacy and development, she has been unemployed for almost two years.
Foltz admits she could be looking harder for a job and that she didn’t start actively looking until last fall. Her faith contributes to her easiness. “God’s going to put me in the right place at the right time,” she says. Her women’s prayer group that meets at the St. Thomas More Newman Center, supports her in her faith and her search for employment.
Foltz also finds support from other sources. She has an intense love for animals; her three cats, two hamsters, two guinea pigs, a mouse and a rabbit keep her company at home. “They are a great stress relief,” she says fondly as she strokes her oldest cat, Agnes.
Foltz’s optimism might be helped in part by her financial situation. “I was lucky enough to inherit money in addition to my savings,” she says. “Basically, I’m living off my dad’s retirement.”
Even though the savings are depleting and Foltz is delving into her own early retirement fund, she’s still willing to take the time to find a position she will enjoy. “Every month I use my retirement fund, I know that I will have to work that much harder to put the money back in,” she says.
Foltz’s newfound Internet fluency also sets her apart from other job hunters, especially those her age. In the 20 years since Foltz was last unemployed, the process of and technology involved in looking for a job have drastically changed. “Everything was on paper,” she says. “You didn’t look on computers. You looked in chronicles of higher education, or you looked in newspapers.”
The adjustment was disconcerting. In the past, things were more formal: Résumés were printed on heavy paper, and job applicants spent days — sometimes weeks — biting their nails before hearing back from potential employers.
After a few weeks, Foltz started to find her way through the mass of job-related information online. She subscribed to several job search sites such as Indeed.com and CareerBuilder.com and gets daily e-mails about job openings in her areas of specialty: child development, advocacy and welfare, early childhood education and children’s services.
Even though technology aids the search for employment, Foltz has only applied for one job so far, a teaching position in Freemont, Ohio, which she heard about on a Web site. But she continues to keep her options open.
In the meantime Foltz spends most of her days volunteering, which has led to at least one employment possibility. She dedicates much of her time to being a Heart of Missouri Court Appointed Special Advocate. The group is composed mostly of volunteers who work on complicated court cases involving children. It works with guardian ad litems, who are lawyers and members of the Missouri bar who enforce the law on behalf of the children.
“Terrie is absolutely wonderful to work with,” Steve Skolnick, director of Heart of Missouri CASA, says. “She has an incredible passion for children, and what CASA’s about is being the voice of the children in court.”
Foltz’s passion started in eighth grade. Her teacher, Mrs. Lucas, recognized Foltz’s potential and sought to bring the young girl out of her shell. “I remember, to this day, when I got my braces off, that (Mrs. Lucas) said, ‘It’s nice to finally see you smile,’” Foltz says. Fond memories of Mrs. Lucas inspire Foltz to give voice to those who have none. “It was her love for teaching and her belief in me,” Foltz says. “I want to give that gift back to the children I work with.”
And she has given back. Recently, Foltz volunteered to help interview and train new CASA volunteers when she heard there was no money to hire a volunteer coordinator. “She realized how important the position was,” Skolnick says. “Besides the eight to 10 hours she puts in as a CASA, that’s a significant additional obligation on her part.”
In addition to training these volunteers, she acts as a mentor for the new advocates. If they’re new to the court process or have no experience in childhood development, they can talk to Foltz about it, which gives Skolnick time to raise funds and awareness of the organization’s existence.
Foltz’s volunteer work reinforced the need for a permanent staff position in the organization to oversee and train the advocates, which has helped Skolnick have time to submit a federal grant that would fund the position for a volunteer coordinator. If the grant is approved, Foltz would like to be hired for the volunteer coordinator position. The group will hear whether the grant passes on June 1.
If so, she’d go through the formal hiring, application and interview process, with no guarantee that she would receive the job. But she’d be ready to step in if the organization decided to hire her. “I really enjoy it,” she says. “I mean there’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new, and I was not getting that at my previous position.”
Foltz has found a new, exciting life after employment. And that, perhaps, is what sets her apart the most. “These past two years have been a complete blessing because I am able to have this adventure, I call it, where I am constantly learning and meeting new people,” she says as she smiles softly. “I’m a different person now than I was two years ago, and I really like the person I’ve become.”