Pam Russell


A little more than a year ago we reported on the activities of the Women and Children's Center of the Sierra, which trains women who have fallen off the track for high school equivalency, job hunting and other skills (“For want of a nail,” RN&R, June 26, 2014). We visited with Pam Russell for an update. (Italics represent emphasis in her tone of voice.) Those needing training or wishing to contribute can get information from 3905 Neil Road, Suite 2, 825-7395,

How has the last year gone?

The year has been incredibly exciting. … We’ve expanded services. In addition to our class schedules, we’re also able to help women at other times. For example, we had one woman, she got her HiSet [general equivalency diploma], and she couldn’t come at regular class times, and so teachers will come back and meet her so she could move forward, which was awesome. We had another woman—very bright woman—and she was on welfare and she hated welfare. She wanted a job, and she was going to get a job. She was inches away from from getting her HiSet. We worked with her for two weeks solid so she could pass, and she did. … For moms who don't have child care or friends who can take care of the kids, they can bring their children to class. We have some amazing English-as-second-language classes going on. … We also had six sessions of STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] camp here for our kids this summer and that was put on by Cooperative Extension. So we're working on encouraging more children's programming to help improve their literacy and their view of the world so they're not necessarily stuck in poverty. Our Gateway to Success program is administered by Moshay Akala, who grew up in South Central L.A., so she had experienced living in poverty, and she is able to help women not only do the basic functions to get a job but to believe they can get a job. And since the program started in March of 2014, 78 women have secured employment.

What are the women’s needs?

Ever time we survey, the two biggest needs are for transportation and child care. So certainly we are looking in that direction. We’re still on the low side of that budget, which is $175,000 a year, and that is covered predominantly by individual donations and grants, and so that’s where I put my focus, is to bring the funds in. … We have grown our staff which has helped greatly delivering services. … All our teachers are still volunteers. We could use another English-as-second-language teacher or two.

Given your facilities and space and workforce, how pressed are you?

We average 300 women and children a month. We give out approximately 10,000 diapers a month. There are weeks when we go home on Fridays and just crash because we have been incredibly busy. … The issue that I worry about most is diapers. … I know it’s not particularly businesslike, but we expand to serve what’s coming to us. And we make adjustments and maybe some of that back burner stuff doesn’t get done because we had 25 new women come that week. We’re here to help and do whatever it takes. … We are very, very flexible. If a woman can’t come to class for two weeks, she can’t. She comes back and starts backup. And even if somebody’s gone for six months or a year, we welcome them back.