Not long after life had taken some hard turns on her, Susan Beach seized control and began making some major alterations of her own.
She was in her mid-40s when her mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and told her daughter all she wanted was to die in her South Carolina home.
“I moved in with her to help make that happen,” Beach said. “My husband felt like I’d put him on the back burner and told me to make a choice — him or my mother. I thought I owed it to my mother to be with her.”
So Beach stayed, and her mother died at home. Her husband filed for divorce. And in 2013, a friend across the country in Tacoma told her she could stay with her as long as she needed.
Never miss a local story.
After working in the medical field, often delivering equipment to the home of dying patients, Beach wanted a change.
“My son has moved out and is working on an oil rig in Louisiana and I had a clean slate after the divorce,” Beach said. “I took a job out here and then the company downsized …”
Nothing seemed to be going her way. So at age 51, she has changed direction.
KeyBank and Goodwill are partners in a program — Key to Change — that offers free financial training. Beach enrolled.
“The focus is on the basic skills to lead students to financial self-sufficiency,” said KeyBank South Sound market President Brian Marlow. “Goodwill has a great track record of finding ways to reach those who can use the training, and 564 people took part in the program last year.”
That included students from the Olympics and Rainier region, though most were students who were taught in Tacoma. One of those was Beach.
“I had $47 in a checking account and $12 in a savings account,” she said. “I pulled my boots on and started learning the ins and outs of finance.”
Deena Giesen is the financial program director for Goodwill in Tacoma.
“The course is a 12-hour curriculum, two days a week for three weeks,” Giesen said. “We cover banking basics, how to get and read a free credit report. We talk about how daily habits can put a dent in your pocketbook — the ‘latte factor.’
“If you spend $3.30 a day on coffee, that’s $1,108 a year.”
Once Beach completed that course, someone suggested she enroll in the Goodwill culinary class.
“It’s a 12-week program and 32 hours a week, so it’s a full-time commitment,” said chef and instructor Jeff Pratt. “It’s adult job training, and when you graduate, you’re ready for entry-level jobs in the food service industry.”
Some start and then drop out once they find out how difficult the work can be, Pratt said. Beach’s class, for instance, began with eight students.
“The others dropped out, and then I was the only one in class,” Beach said. “I got a lot of one-on-one training, out front and in the back end of restaurants. I learned how to buy food wholesale, how to prepare ahead in the kitchen.
“By the time I graduated last week, I could take an order, cook it, and ring it up when you’re done.”
What she didn’t have was a job.
“I’m feverishly doing online applications, getting ready for interviews,” Beach said. “Then I got a call from Goodwill, and they hired me, part time, to work on in-house stuff in their kitchen. It’s enough to tide me over until I can find something full time.”
She said the courses she took at Goodwill helped her find herself again.
“The people there took time with me, built my confidence. They were so positive,” Beach said. “What I got from the whole thing was ‘I’m worth it.’ I’d lost everything I had; I was down and out. There were times I thought ‘I’m too old for this.’
“It was the people at Goodwill who kept me coming back. They’re not in it for the paycheck, and you can see that.”
Pratt, the chef who spent most of a 12-week class working only with Beach, came away impressed with her attitude.
“Susan can do anything; she’s going to be a star,” Pratt said. “She has aptitude and skills, and she knows she can succeed. Whatever she has to do, she’ll do it.”