At United Way of Greater Los Angeles, we love sharing stories of Angelenos working hard to make a difference for themselves and their families. Sometimes those stories take a few unexpected turns. Katherine’s story is the perfect example. We recently spoke to Kat about how the task of rebuilding a life for herself and her four kids was made possible through “building” of a different sort altogether.

How does your story begin?

It was back in 2012. I’d been married for 15 years, but my ex-husband was really verbally abusive so I just had to get myself together and go. I used to be an executive assistant in a PR firm but I knew about Unions though my ex-husband, so I reached out to Operators Engineering Local 12 because I wanted to be an Inspector. Things just went in a different direction.

That’s where you heard about WINTER, a program supported by United Way?
Yeah, they introduced me to WINTER (Women In Non Traditional Employment Roles). I took their program, which is pre-apprenticeship, so it helps you prepare for a lot of things you might not expect, like waking up early in the morning. We're here and working at 6:00. So we're up by 4:00 am. They teach you a lot of those tools s you don't just come in here blank, like, oh, how do I read a measuring tape? And then you get certified on forklift training, OSHA, HAZMAT, and all of the other things we need here at work.

From there I ended up going to Laborers’ Local 300, which has been an amazing journey for me. It’s been the best move I have ever made. It all kind of fell in line. It's weird the way it goes, you know?

I’m now a journeyman, which means you're a classified, skilled worker. It means you've taken all the classes and the finished apprenticeship that qualifies you to work at your craft. It took me almost 18 months to “journey out,” because I went to school every single day when I wasn't working. And on the weekends I was in training school. But I really, really wanted it. I wanted it bad, you know? I needed to get on my feet. I needed something stable for my kids.

What advice could you give to others in L.A. County who are trying to find their footing?

I've been able to give my family a better living -- all on my own. I'm able to provide for them and make them very happy. We live comfortably, and I'm able to drive a nice a car, and take the kids to Disneyland. That’s why you can't give up.

I had a plan and I wasn't going to quit. That was the thing. I remember waking up every day and thinking that I had to do something every single day. A lot of women ask me, how did you do this? How do you get there? How are you doing it? I'm very willing and happy to share my story but if you don't do the legwork, if you don't have that oomph, then it's just not going to work. You really have to have that, 'I'm gonna go. I'm gonna go. I'm gonna go.' You know?