ROCK SPRINGS — Five Climb Wyoming graduate moms are celebrating this Mother’s Day with a new job. And not just any job, but a skilled high-paying Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) job with benefits and a stable schedule.
Climb Wyoming just graduated 10 women from its CDL program. Lewis & Lewis, an asphalt paving and road construction company who has been in Rock Springs for 30 years, has already hired half of them.
Pat Clingman, truck supervisor and dispatcher for Lewis & Lewis, was eager to partner with Climb.
When he heard they were hosting the CDL program for the first time in five years, he called them right away.
He was short-handed and he had partnered with them in the past. Clingman said it worked out, with one Climb grad still employed there.
“We still have Diane Jennings, who has worked here six years or so now. And she went through Climb. At one time, we had seven Climb drivers,” said Clingman.
He said that one Climb grad moved on to work for a welding company delivering supplies and now she’s the manager of that company.
“That’s where things can lead you. All you need is opportunity,” said Clingman.
Breaking the Cycle
Climb Wyoming is a non-profit that trains single moms for jobs that help them be self-sufficient.
The program states that 40% of Wyoming’s single mothers with children under age 18 live in poverty, according to a 2014 statistic.
The aim is to break the cycle of generational poverty by providing a skill that meets a workforce need.
“If I didn’t go through Climb and if I didn’t have this job, I’d be struggling or moving back in with my mom. I absolutely love my job and I never thought I’d be able to say that.”
— Crystal Jordan, graduate of the Climb Wyoming CDL program
In addition to the job skills, they also coach communication, conflict resolution, nutrition, self-care, parenting, budgets, and other life skills.
Climb classes around Wyoming have trained women for office careers, construction, warehouse inventory, medical careers, and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA).
It can be competitive too. The 10 women who graduated were among 40 women who applied for the CDL program.
The Difference a Job Makes
For 20-year-old Crystal Jordan, being a truck driver meant going from working three jobs at once to only needing one job where she has doubled her pay.
Jordan was making ends meet working at McDonald’s, cleaning hotel rooms, and detailing cars.
“Since I was 16, I’ve never had just one job and been able to live off of it. This is a big thing for me. When I was working all these different jobs and all these hours, like I worked overnights plus all day. I never got to see my kid,” said Jordan.
She would come home and her two-year-old son would already be asleep. Jordan would put him to bed, then the next morning she would see him just long enough to get him ready to take him to a babysitter.
“Now, I get to come home and I get to make him dinner, put him to bed, give him his bath before he goes to bed,” said Jordan. “My kid’s not old enough to understand, but I get to spend more time with him.”
The five ladies went through professional truck driving school, which included 50 hours of drive time plus endorsements for doubles, triples, and tankers.
To obtain a CDL, a student must take a series of written tests, log hours behind the wheel, then pass a driving test with challenging backing maneuvers. Then the on-the-job training begins.
Sasha Nowack has especially loved her three weeks on the job.
“I was made for this job, I guess. My calling.”
— Sasha Nowack, graduate of the Climb Wyoming CDL program
Truck driving was intimidating at first, which was a sentiment echoed by all the Climb graduates. Nowack said it was challenging learning to shift gears, learning to do the alley dock for the driving test, and learning how to drive under the silo on the job. But, she’s caught on quickly and felt proud to be able to teach other women.
Plus, the paycheck is making a big difference in her life too.
“For me, without having any other skills other than customer service, I got the highest paying job I possibly could get, which paid $12 an hour, 40 hours a week,” said Nowack.
“But even that job was not enough to cover everything. I still had to have help. Now I can afford to pay my bills. I moved my mom in so she can babysit for me so I can work these long hours. It’s done a 180 for me.”
A Sense of Accomplishment
Most of the ladies cited a strong sense of accomplishment in completing the program. There were challenging aspects all along the way, from memorizing all the elements in the CDL written tests to learning the “real truck driving” that happens on the job.
This job is “working under difficult situations with people doing difficult things. They’re handling everything pretty well. You’ve all done well,” said Clingman.
He said his proudest moments have been helping the new drivers develop their skills until they are able to confidently say “Yeah, I can do that” and then watching them go do it well.
“We’re Gonna Make it”
Erin Tucker, who said she has tripled her salary with this new job, said she felt tremendous sense of accomplishment at commencement.
“I didn’t graduate, so I’ve never gotten to go wear a cap and gown and be in front of everybody. It was a really good feeling,” said Tucker.
When asked if it’s cool being a lady truck driver, Tucker exclaimed, “Heck yes! It’s so much power that you’re controlling when you’re behind that wheel. The fact that you can control that much power is really awesome.”
Cheryl James, who the ladies described as the mom of the group, said she’s learned something from every single person in the program.
“I’m really thankful for the Climb program. I’m really thankful for the girls. I have a feeling this is going to totally change all of our lives for the better. We are not going to struggle anymore. We are not going to hurt. We’re not going to suffer. We’re gonna make it,” said James.