It has been an exciting summer here at PIC with the hustle and bustle of special summer programming for youth and families! We covered everything from poetry to STEM and career exploration. And we can’t believe how quickly the summer flew by!
Now as we approach fall, our preschool and afterschool programs are starting their new school years. We wish students of all ages a wonderful year!
We are pleased to bring you this edition of the e-newsletter!
In Profile: Sandra Gill and the DREAMERS Program
ALIQUIPPA, Pa. – Each year, approximately 35 to 40 girls in Aliquippa between the ages of 8 to 18 participate in the DREAMERS program run by Sandra Gill.
For these girls, the DREAMERS program (short for Determined to Reach, Educate, and Motivate Encourage Responsible Sisters) is a welcome outlet to develop self-esteem and develop supportive relationships. The group, which meets in Gill’s own home, is provided a safe, comfortable place to congregate and discuss volunteer/community service activities and possible educational trips. In fact, the DREAMERS hope to visit the White House in the near future.
According to Gill, who is affectionately known as “Miss Pumpkin” by her girls, the DREAMERS program provides youth who face barriers in their community with a support system and empowers “them to have respect for themselves and their schools.”
The DREAMERS program began in April of 2007, when a group of young girls contacted Gill and asked for help starting a support group for girls in their community. “It was them inquiring and taking a leap of faith,” Gill said. She also gives the young girls credit for the acronym DREAMERS.
She believes her hands-on, compassionate attitude plays a strong part in her close relationships with the girls.
Gill, who is an Aliquippa High School graduate herself, has close ties to the community. Although all of her siblings went to college, she did not have the opportunity to attend college directly out of high school. But in 2012, after much coaxing from the girls in her program, Gill received her college degree–years after her siblings did and years after raising her own family. She attributes her success to the motivation the girls gave her. “They kind of used my own words against me,” she laughed.
Along with running the DREAMERS, Gill also serves as a Community Representative on the Head Start of Beaver County Policy Council and is the Head Start Policy Council Representative on the PIC Board of Directors. After having all of her own children and a grandchild enrolled in Head Start, along with seeing the Head Start program remain active in her community, she decided to get involved with Policy Council.
“[The Head Start program] went far beyond the call of duty—they are very personal. Head Start is a fun, safe environment,” said Gill. She also credits past staff of the program when her son was enrolled in classes (and while she was on the Parent Committee) with discovering his hearing issues.
“[Head Start] taught me a lot about responsibility and helped me as a parent,” Gill recalls.
Gill believes that the DREAMERS and Head Start can work together to help with giving students and parents a push, a way to say “you’re worth it.”
Looking toward the future, Gill and her DREAMERS have big plans. They hope to have a recreation center built in the community so that the group can have a formal meeting place. Gill also envisions a mentoring program, which would involve volunteers to mentor the girls as well as the girls mentoring each other, and an after-school program to help students in Aliquippa with their homework.
An Expanded View of Post-Secondary Training
In today’s job market, having some form of post-secondary training is an absolute necessity.
As Mary Lou Friedline, a PIC Adult Education instructor who helps adults hone their academic skills in preparation for entry into training or the workforce, notes, post-secondary training demonstrates to an employer that “you are capable of learning.”
Adult Education supervisor Brett Baumgartel adds post-secondary training makes job seekers more marketable and that having no training other than a high school diploma is “career suicide.”
“A person can’t rely on a high school diploma out there and still be competitive [in the job market],” Baumgartel notes. He believes that post-secondary training gives job seekers the knowledge needed to obtain a career with a “living wage.”
When it comes to obtaining post-secondary training, a bachelor’s degree is often seen as the natural and most reliable path for achieving success—a guaranteed ticket to higher-paid and more secure jobs. Too often the term “post-secondary” training is equated with a four-year degree.
Not every job opportunity, however, requires a four (or more) years of schooling—and post-secondary training can include many different tracks. College is just one of those options (and itself includes a few different paths, such as two- and four-year programs). Post-secondary training options also include certificate programs, trade schools, on-the-job training, and apprenticeships.
Jobs such as steamfitters, plumbers, electricians, operating engineers, and welders—which require skills learned through vocational training programs and apprenticeships—offer family-sustaining wages, but are often overlooked in favor of white-collar positions. Baumgartel, who has a master’s degree in counseling, thinks that a common barrier that school counselors must overcome is the stigma associated with high school vo-tech programs.
Friedline says that the environment in which a student learns is very important and that the traditional academic setting (AKA college) isn’t the only credential employers see as job-worthy. In fact, most of the skills that Friedline and Baumgartel agree are missing from today’s labor force—work ethic, accountability, responsibility, and awareness of one’s own talents and skills—cannot be directly gained in the classroom. Rather, these are traits that are generally acquired through experiences out of the classroom.
With that in mind, jobseekers and students should at least consider the many other programs out there that can equip them to them to fill in-demand careers before enrolling in a four-year program.
While college is still most certainly a good option for many, it is essential for anyone looking to advance their education to look at the bigger picture when they’re planning for their future. Yes, it is essential to pursue additional training beyond a high school diploma, but that does not necessarily need to be limited to a four-year degree. When deciding on a post-secondary path, individuals should consider their interests, goals, and priorities. Investigating other post-secondary options can help people connect with work they enjoy—and that helps them obtain financial security.
Behind the Scenes: Meet Rene Despot
René Despot’s passion for helping children and families in Fayette County shines through in everything she does. So it is very fitting that she was one of just two individuals to be named a Shining Stars Early Learning Champion at the Southwestern Regional Key 2014 Celebration on June 26.
Despot is the supervisor for PIC’s PA Pre-K Counts Partnership of Fayette, and as such, she oversees seven high-quality preschool classrooms that serve children from low- and middle-income families.
She notes that the favorite part of her job “is when I walk into one of our classrooms and I’m greeted with hugs and smiles. I also enjoy seeing the growth in our children from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. It is a special feeling to know we are a part of building their educational foundation.”
Despot also heads the Fayette County Early Care & Education (ECE) Committee, which brings together early childhood development professionals, school district staff, and families to address the needs of children and families throughout Fayette County. She was recognized as a Shining Stars Early Learning Champion because of her commitment to ensuring that quality early childhood information is shared throughout the county through continued ECE activities.
Through her role on the ECE team this year, she spearheaded the Family Engagement Pilot Project in Fayette County, which was part of a state-wide initiative to identify localized best practices for promoting family engagement in school readiness.
She joined the PIC staff in March of 2005 as a Family Resource Specialist (FRS) with Early Head Start in Uniontown. She connected with families and their children while identifying their strengths and providing information on child development in order to ensure that their needs were met—both cognitively and physically.
Before becoming an FRS with PIC, Despot worked as a project manager of the Fayette County Community Action Agency, where she oversaw the operations of the adult education department, instructed students and gave assessments, and collected data for grant writing and research. She believes that her past position prepared her for current job because she gained experience in “helping families to meet individual goals.” She also served as the Fayette County school base mentor coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Laurel Region.
Despot holds a BS in Education from California University of Pennsylvania, with dual certifications in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. She is a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fayette County Human Service Council and sits on the Fayette Business and Education Partnership.
PIC’s Early Childhood Development Division calls on her expertise to help plan early childhood learning initiatives and build strong collaborative partnerships that benefit young children and their families in Fayette County. She truly is a champion for early learning!
Easing the Transition to College
NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – The transition from high school to college can be an intimidating time. Fortunately there are programs out there that can make things easier by helping prospective college students make that transition from high school into a post-secondary setting, giving them a boost as they pursue a higher education.
A few years ago, Penn State New Kensington and PIC formed a partnership to create such a program for Penn State students. The goal was to help prospective students learn strategies for overcoming obstacles to academic success.
The partnership was a natural one because of the work that PIC already does in New Kensington to help prepare adult learners for post-secondary and workforce environments through its Adult Education program (Adult Career Education and Skills [ACES]) classes, which focus on honing math, reading, and writing skills.
Preliminary planning for the program, which is now known as Transition to College, at Penn State New Kensington began in 2012. Through this process, staff from Penn State New Kensington and PIC determined that the program would target skills to develop positive study habits and routines. The pilot version of the program was a 12-hour study skills workshop for prospective Penn State New Kensington students and was held in the summer of 2012.
It was a success—but 12 hours did not offer enough time to apply the skills learned. As a result, the 12-hour workshop was expanded to a 72-hour class, which was delivered for the first time last fall. Designed by PIC adult education instructor Mary Lou Friedline, the class not only helped to prepare individuals for post-secondary education, but to also equip them with effective study habits such as note-taking and pre-reading strategies. The class provides an atmosphere for prospective college students to learn skills that can help them thrive in a college classroom.
This fall, the class will run from September 9 to November 6. The program takes place over nine weeks, Tuesday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., in a computer lab at Penn State New Kensington. Tutoring will take place from 1 to 2 p.m. Key objectives focus on exposure, practice, and review methods to prepare individuals for learning in a college classroom.
Individuals who have already gone through the Transition to College program continue to use the skills they gained and have the motivation to challenge themselves. The bridge program measures student success through pre- and post-tests as well as follow-ups that help maintain the education taught and learned in the program. The individuals that went through the instructional sessions had positive responses and appreciation for the foundation that was set to enrich and develop their pursuit of a higher education.
It is important for individuals who are considering higher education to have the support needed to elevate to the next level. For additional information about the Transition to College or ACES programs, please contact Mary Lou Friedline at 724-755-2330, ext. 133.
In the Spotlight: YACHT Program
What is the YACHT program?
The Young Adult Careers with Hands-On Training (YACHT) program is designed to offer FREE training and employment placement services to youth in Westmoreland and Fayette counties in order to build the local workforce.
The program currently focuses on building skills and providing work experience opportunities related to the labor/maintenance industries. But we hope to soon expand the types of training offered through YACHT to reach additional youth.
Are there eligibility requirements for the program?
Yes. Participants must be between the ages of 18-24 and be at or below 235% of the Federal poverty level. In the past, many of the individuals who have participated have been male because of the focus on labor and maintenance. However, there are great opportunities in these fields for both men and women.
How does the program work?
Youth attend between 13 and 20 hours of adult education classes and 30 hours of paid training here at PIC. After the classes and hands-on training are complete, participants are placed in numerous local companies to work for 30 hours per week for four weeks, for a total of 120 hours. The work experience is also compensated.
Where have past participants been placed to complete their work experience?
Participants have been placed in companies such as Stone and Company in the oil and gas industry, Demo Depot doing demolition, and numerous local businesses in the maintenance sector. The YACHT program will work with any for-profit or non-profit business.
What do participants gain from the program?
Youth build skills related to labor and maintenance industries and gain valuable work experience to put on resumes, as well as help in overcoming hurdles that cause unemployment.
Youth as a group are hitting many barriers to finding employment—including, at times, negative employer perceptions about the work ethic of their generation. YACHT helps youth learn technical skills, but also gives them a chance to prove themselves on the job through subsidized employment.
Do participants receive any special certifications or knowledge after they complete the program?
Absolutely! Youth can leave the program with certification(s) and knowledge in OSHA, blueprint reading, mechanical tools, and retrofit.
Why does the YACHT program focus on labor and maintenance?
We hope to eventually expand the YACHT program so that youth can choose from a few different tracks. But we are initially focusing on labor and maintenance because those types of skills offer a good return on investment (of time). Plus, the certifications/knowledge gained through the current YACHT program can be applied to different career fields and leave participants with valuable skills to use throughout their lives.
What happens after the program ends?
Depending on the participants’ job performance and the availability of positions within the company, there is a possibility that the youth could be offered a permanent position with the company they’re placed with for their 120 hours of subsidized work experience. Almost all of the companies we place our youth workers in are actually hiring, and employment with that company is a strong possibility.
We have your back no matter what, though! If no permanent offer of employment is made, youth are referred to PIC placement staff at the local PA CareerLink® for additional job search support and identification of training and employment opportunities.
What changes are coming to future YACHT programs?
We are looking to create additional industry tracks for participants in the future. In the immediate futures, however, we are adding a drug awareness certification to the training portion of the program. Drug use is a major barrier for individuals seeking jobs, and we recognize the need to make youth more aware of just how seriously use of marijuana and other substances can affect one’s ability to get and keep a job.
How can I learn more?
Also, just a reminder that this program is completely FREE. Each participant will earn a minimum of $1,550 by successfully completing each phase of the program. Space is limited, so call today!
Round of Applause
Special thanks goes out to Alaina Sphon and Kenya McCary, who helped to create the articles included in this month’s PIC e-newsletter. Alaina and Kenya spent their summer with us through the Summer Work Experience Program funded through the Westmoreland-Fayette Workforce Investment Board. Through an internship environment, they honed their writing, research, and Excel skills, helping to create website and e-newsletter articles as well as materials for our Head Start/Early Head Start community assessments. We are so happy to have had a chance to work with both of these ladies and wish them the best of luck!