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A Hand Up
In the New England Business Association’s (NEBA) office in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts, there is a large poster-sized paper pinned on the wall. Written in a multitude of colored markers, it lists the names of 17 women followed by a job title and an employer for each name. The title at the top simply says “Working.”
Flashing a prideful smile, Erica Walch ’98 beams, “And this is just since September.”
Since 2011, Erica has been working at NEBA on a Welfare to Work program that helps women with barriers find jobs. Those barriers could be disabilities, low education levels, low work experience, or raising children on their own.
“We teach them financial literacy, goal setting, and help with job searching. We have tremendous success in helping them become independent and getting off welfare,” Erica said
A Winding Path
Erica’s path to NEBA has meandered quite a bit. As an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she spent a year in Italy studying Italian as a Second Language.
"The professors were all great and I decided that I wanted to do that sort of work here by teaching English as a Second Language,” she said.
So Erica enrolled at Elms College in the Master of Arts in Teaching program and received her licensure in ESL. She taught ESL courses at Western New England University, American International College, Springfield Technical Community College, and Holyoke Community College as well as community-based classes.
Looking for a new challenge, Erica began working at the UMass Translation Center, translating Italian documents that covered everything from specifications for a submarine to ad copy for liposuction. She liked it so much that she decided to pursue a master’s degree in translation studies at UMass. For her thesis, she transcribed a collection of short stories by Italian author Ada Negri.
After graduation, Erica opened her own business doing accent modification training for non-native English speakers called Speak Easy Accent Modification. Accent modification reduces foreign accents to improve communication skills.
Her True Passion
Erica still teaches some ESL courses and does private tutoring on the side, but her passion lies in working with her clients at NEBA. She says her biggest challenge is finding employers that will let her clients job shadow.
“Working at Subway is fine but these women might realize that they’re true passion is working in administration,” Erica said. Job shadowing allows them to discover if a potential career is right for them.
From an instructor to a small business owner to a program coordinator at NEBA, Erica has always worked to improve the lives of others. Only now when she walks into work she sees a poster with 17 reasons to remind her why she does what she does.