Women and Work is a 15-week program that teaches participants—many of whom are survivors of domestic violence—life and work skills that improve their lives. Carmella Marrone founded this innovative program at Queens College in 1998 after herself surviving cancer and then undertaking a sort of spiritual journey.
Marrone started her career in corporate public relations and sales, enjoying a wealthy lifestyle that included sports cars and travel in corporate jets. But in 1990 her world fell apart when she was diagnosed with cancer that had metastasized. She underwent several operations, and then a divorce.
Weak and weighing just 93 lbs, Marrone withdrew to a cabin in Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, five miles from the nearest road, to recuperate. She lived there for a year with a caramel-colored mutt as her only companion. As she convalesced she reflected on her life, writing later that she came to see her illness as a blessing in disguise: “It had given me a chance to realize what was truly important to me.”
Marrone resolved to devote herself to helping women who needed another chance in life. She enrolled at Queens and earned a bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies and Sociology and a master’s degree in Applied Social Research before going on to establish the Women and Work Program.
Classes for Women and Work are held at the former CUNY Graduate Center at 25 W 43 St. in Manhattan. So far, more than 900 women have graduated. Many are immigrants; most were living in poverty. Marrone proudly reports that 91 percent of those who start the program finish it, and 85 percent are still working after three years, typically in much better jobs than before. Women and Work helps to build stronger families and communities by investing in one woman at a time.
Marrone, who lectures on domestic violence, is also teaching a class this semester at QC entitled “Domestic Violence: An American Epidemic.” Additionally, she is launching a project in which QC students will be trained to speak about domestic violence at community centers, schools, and places of worship. A community activist who advocates for social justice for women, Marrone last year received the Crystal Award, a prize honoring 25 of New York City’s most influential women leaders.
Marrone’s canine companion from her Georgia cabin is no longer around. An avid backpacker, she is accompanied these days by Jett, a six-year-old Doberman-Rottweiler mix she rescued from an abusive home.
Favorite Book: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Favorite music: folk, bluegrass, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), Chopin