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Sarahlyn U. Argrow: Working with the working woman

Sarahlyn_U._Argrow1Sarahlyn U. Argrow, struggling with her own issues of divorce, low self-esteem and financial hardship, wanted to help when a friend came to her needing money. Her grandmother’s words rang fresh in her mind — while you are going through your own problems, it does not mean that you can’t help someone else.

“I didn’t have the money,” Argrow recalled in a recent interview with WABW. “But God revealed to me that I did have the resources.”  

Argrow, a single-mother of five daughters who used to sell fried chicken dinners to make ends meet, received aid for her friend from co-workers and people she had met through her courthouse job. And since 2000, she has found the resources to assist nearly 700 families in the Savannah, Ga., area through her organization, A Working Women in Need (AWWIN, Inc.).

Through her non-profit, she has assisted working women by paying utility bills, providing food vouchers and giving financial aid to help keep them in their homes. She also has acquired donated cars for women needing transportation to work.

“Pretty much everything you can think of, we have helped them with,” said Argrow. “We offer funds year-round when funds are available.”

Argrow realizes that these women are not just looking for a handout, which is why a cornerstone of AWWIN’s mission is to help working women move from jobs paying hourly wages to salaried positions. A 30-week computer and job readiness training class prepares women for their new futures. Women meet twice a week in evening classes that also stress GED tutoring, resume writing, dressing for success, math, vocabulary skills and public speaking.

After seeing Argrow on a local television program talking about the class in 2002, Henrietta Williams decided to sign-up. She had worked 14 years as a teacher’s assistant for the Chatham County Board of Education and wanted “to make it better for my family and myself.”

Williams, a struggling single-mother, said she also appreciated the babysitting services provided for women who had to hurry from their jobs to the classes.  She graduated in 2002 as class valedictorian, more confident than ever about speaking before a large audience, and is now a program assistant for Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice.

Williams, who became a first-time college student in August, credits Argrow for helping her through periods of financial difficulties and illness and for encouraging her to reach higher than her circumstances. “She was a great inspiration to me,” said the 46-year-old Savannah resident. “She taught me I can be better than I am.”

Argrow’s story of struggle resonated with her own, Williams said, and left her with the conviction, “If she can stand, I can stand.”

“To stand” for Argrow, now 51, meant surviving an abusive husband, raising five daughters alone, having utilities turned off, being nearly homeless and using her skills at cooking and cake decorating to get the money she needed. With her GED, she worked a number of low-paying jobs until landing in 1997 at Carson’s Products, a hair care products company which later became L’Oreal USA.

 While there for seven years, she moved from temporary assistant to the Electronic Data Interchange coordinator to senior system analyst, a salaried position making $60,000.  The job at L’Oreal allowed her to “reach back” and start AWWIN, Argrow said.

She had the support of a supervisor, who often would take money out of his own pocket to help AWWIN clients, and colleagues, who volunteered to teach classes and donated money, toys and clothes for AWWIN’s annual Christmas events for families.

When Argrow found out she had breast cancer in 2001, volunteers stepped in and kept AWWIN going, she said. Some of those same younger black women also  raised funds, when L’Oreal closed their EDI department in Savannah and Argrow lost her job in 2004.

Kendra Kelly, 36, met Argrow at L’Oreal and became an instructor for AWWIN’s computer classes. “When you see her passion and her desire to help women, you just can’t help but to get that passion.”

“She wants to see many women changed through this program,” said Kelly, who also served on AWWIN’s board. “She made a way to make it happen.”

For more information, contact AWWIN.

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