Mandie Strong of Richland had just two months left before state support for her two young daughters would run out.
Alexis, 12, and Elyza, 6, would feel the new enforcement of the 60-month welfare deadline.
Strong didn't have a job and wasn't getting anywhere in her search, but the clock was ticking.
That is when she came upon Move Forward, a program Goodwill Industries of the Columbia began last year to help families about to lose their state welfare.
Strong was among the first to enter the program that Goodwill funds through its retail sales. Goodwill officials plan to continue the program in 2012, and they recently opened it to job seekers with criminal histories.
Now, Strong is about six months into her job as a cashier at Richland's Goodwill thrift store.
She credits the program with helping her get a job. She said she needed the type of help that the program offered, which includes daily classes that covered everything from rsum writing to suggestions on how to dress and even style her hair.
Goodwill case manager Casey Cunningham said Strong quickly developed a more positive attitude and was open to suggestions. She continued to attend classes well after she fulfilled the two-week requirement.
Strong said her self-esteem improved. Something as simple as dressing in work clothes when she came to class brightened her mood.
Those in the program meet twice a week with a job developer and check in daily with their case manager, Cunningham said.
Move Forward isn't just job placement help, Cunningham said. It also provides support services during the first 90 days after a client starts a new job.
Goodwill officials believed there would be more cases of Tri-City area families facing dwindling welfare. That prompted Goodwill to expand the program about four months ago, opening it up to job seekers with criminal records.
Nick Argentino of Pasco was finishing up a two-year internship at Teen Challenge -- a nonprofit that helps teens and young men break substance abuse addictions -- when he heard about Move Forward.
"I need a job," he said.
Argentino's long-term goal is to find work in the restaurant industry so he can save money and attend school to become a drug and alcohol counselor. At Teen Challenge, he said he found it rewarding to help those similar to him.
"I know exactly what they are going through," he said.
Move Forward sounded like his best chance. After all, Argentino said, he wasn't sure how to approach employers and explain his felony charge of possessing stolen property from almost three years ago.
Argentino said Move Forward has helped him in areas such as preparing the night before work so that he can reduce morning stress and avoid being late.
But rather than searching for jobs on his own, he said he has a team on his side. Goodwill staff help find jobs and even make contact with employers, advocating for Argentino and others in the program.
"I couldn't do this myself," Argentino said.
Melinda Montgomery, Goodwill director of employment services, said they can advocate for those in the program because of Goodwill's relationship with businesses in the area. Employers trust that Goodwill will screen people and recommend those who will work best for them, she said.
So far, eight people have completed the program and another 17 are participating, Montgomery said. There is a waiting list with about 15 people. Those waiting must demonstrate a commitment, such as checking in with case manager, before being accepted.
If they don't follow up, Montgomery said, Goodwill assumes they found a job or no longer are interested.
The goal is to help those in the program find a job within a month from starting.
"We are about getting people jobs," Montgomery said.
The program helps address a need among ex-offenders after a contract with the state expired two years ago, she said.
Demand likely will increase if the state decides to trim the welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, from 60 months to 48 because of budget cuts.
Strong, the Richland mother, said she hopes Goodwill will continue with Move Forward.
"It really worked for me," she said.