Local News

First Wave of Work First Participants Hit Deadline

Posted June 29, 1998 7:00 a.m. EDT

— Two years ago, thousands of people were put on the Work First plan in North Carolina. Wednesday, their time is up. They've reached the point where they have to give up welfare.

Though there are still people getting benefits, a remarkable amount are off welfare and back on their feet supporting themselves.

Wake County Human Services, like other county offices throughout the state, have the task of administering the Work First program for North Carolina. The program was implemented in order to help welfare recipients find employment and get off public funding within two years. The offices are charged with seeing that the program works.

If Kimberly Parrish is any example, it does. Before Work First, Parrish was a welfare mother after having been laid off from her job before giving birth to her premature daughter.

"The hospital where she was born initiated the welfare because of the expense," says Parrish. "She was in the intensive care unit for 12 weeks."

As an unemployed single-parent, Parrish relied on welfare to make ends meet, even though she wanted to become self-sufficient. She says Work First gave her the means to do just that.

"Work First was wonderful," says Parrish. "They pay tuition, they paid for child care."

Parrish enrolled in Wake Technical Community College to pursue a degree in nursing, with support from Work First, Wake County Human Services and her real estate agent mother.

"I didn't want her on welfare," says Joyce Melchor, Parrish's mother. "And she didn't want to be on there. She was embarrassed. And I think we both were embarrassed."

After two years of hard work, Parrish finished second in her class as Wake Tech. She now works as a registered nurse at Wake Medical Center earning more than $30,000 per year. She credits Work First for motivating her to get off welfare and pursue her American dream. She encourages others to do the same.

"Never give up hope," says Parrish. "You're always going to have days when you just don't think it's going to work, and whenever I would have bad days like that I just knew that there were good days around the corner."

Parrish also plans to return to school for further nursing study.

Of the 7,800 people who originally signed up for the Work First program, only 328 families still have no income other than welfare. Those families can file for a 6-month extension of benefits.