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CLIMB founder featured as Women in Wyoming profile

(The following story is reposted with permission from WyoFile.  Photograph provided by Lindsay Linton.)

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Ray Fleming Dinneen with her mentor, her mother Pat Fleming. Now 84 and living with dementia, Pat influenced Ray to see the potential in those who struggle. (This photograph is copyrighted by Lindsay Linton, and used by permission.)

In honor of Mother’s Day, WyoFile focuses this month’s profile on a woman who has offered an incredible service to help Wyoming women, specifically moms. Turns out, her mother is her mentor, and it’s their philosophy to help those who struggle by seeing their potential and providing them opportunity.

Many people in Wyoming are familiar with Dr. Ray Fleming Dinneen, founder of the non-profit, CLIMB Wyoming, which is dedicated to training and placing low-income single mothers in careers that successfully support their families. Ray started the program with her mother Pat 26 years ago and expanded the operation after its success in the Cheyenne area to serve five additional communities: Casper, Teton County, Gillette, Sweetwater County and the Laramie area.

CLIMB’s model is much more developed than being simply an employment organization. CLIMB’s single mothers also enter extensive counseling and learn life skills in a supportive, group environment to address the underlying issues behind poverty. The power of this dynamic experience has resulted in more than 1,600 mothers served and nearly 2,600 children’s lives changed immeasurably for the better.

CLIMB tackles complex issues by staying true to an unwavering commitment — to create a therapeutic environment for the women. It’s within this safe, non-judgmental space that mothers truly transform their approach to life, how they support their families and how they participate in this world.

Ray is the talent and driving force behind this vision. A humble leader, she credits her devoted staff and skilled contributors for expanding and executing CLIMB’s mission, yet it’s her belief in this system which inspires others to invest in the program and further the cause. In many ways, the story of CLIMB began with a strong relationship between a mother and her child. Ray said of her mother, “She taught me the power of really listening, really hearing.”

Growing up, Ray was most inspired by her mother’s ability to see potential in those who struggled; Pat worked with people whom society dismissed as being invaluable. These women include the inmates of the Wyoming Women’s Center — a correctional facility about 300 miles round trip from Pat’s home in Cheyenne. She made weekly visits to the prison to counsel the women — often accompanied by Ray — and developed a pre/post evaluation that is still used at CLIMB today. Pat also worked with death row inmates and took on the rather daunting task of evaluating all aspects of their lives to fully grasp what led them to their current situation.

To Ray, her mother “was modeling a philosophy about life. I always saw her so courageously working with those who were having the hardest time in life.” Their mother-daughter bond remains fiercely intact despite Pat’s battle with dementia. When taking this portrait, moments of confusion would almost immediately dissipate in the familiar, trusting embrace of Pat’s beloved daughter.

This same unquestioning trust is critical to CLIMB’s success, and it’s Ray’s passion to orchestrate this experience. Professionally, Ray and Pat developed the very first model of CLIMB in conjunction with the Department of Employment and targeted single moms between the ages of 16-21 who they believed were most at risk to remain in poverty. It’s the incredible motivation of this demographic which Ray loves most about working with single mothers and why she’s devoted herself to helping them.

“They care so much about improving their lives for their children, but often feel trapped and don’t know how to change their situation” said Ray.

For Ray it’s all about the moms. “They lead us,” she insists. From her own mother’s influence, to her life’s work providing opportunity to struggling single mothers, Ray has inspired real, positive change in thousands of lives through CLIMB. It takes courage to invite growth, and it’s perhaps this action which we can all learn from Ray, Pat, and the women of CLIMB.