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Rise to the Top

Will you tell me a little about how you joined the McGowan team and RISE?

In October of 2021, I helped with the public launch of NEPA RISE. Throughout that time, I was still on the marketing side, really trying to grow the awareness of this wonderful program because though we have other workforce programs in our region, this one was so unique. We always say it’s not a one size fits all box; every student that we support has their own unique story and their own needs and their own goals. Working with the RISE team and working with the McGowan Fund, it became clear that in order to help this pilot program lift off, we needed someone that could be boots on the ground, someone who could be front facing and help to create partnerships and understanding so that we can be a top-of-mind program in the community. In July of 2022, I came on as program director for NEPA RISE.


What has been your favorite part of the job so far?

I’m so grateful to get the chance to know some of our participants and encourage them throughout their whole process. I love being there for orientation, the first day that we bring cohorts into the program, congratulating them. The way we look at it, taking that first step and getting inducted into the program, you’re a winner already. It’s something to celebrate. Celebrating those little steps along the way is a critical component to feeling increased confidence and resilience as a person. I also feel very lucky for the opportunity to sit next to our participants and hear about their hardships. It helps to know their stories.


Would you share some of those stories with us?

I can never get this one out of my head. This was the first interview I ever had with one of our students, Lucy, during Cohort One. Lucy was an immigrant and was explaining to me that she had left her family for this better promise of the future. She was just trying to make ends meet, and she told me that to get groceries, she was walking three miles to the closest Walmart. It was three miles up and down hills, and then, she’d have to go home that same way, but with grocery bags. And Lucy was doing it at least once a week. There is so much grit there, and I feel very fortunate to be able to help provide support around somebody like that so that we can alleviate that burden and make her life a little easier. In terms of this particular student, our services helped her with the affordability of transportation, and we got her a bus pass so that she didn’t have to do that walk.


It’s clear these extra services really benefit the participants. How have you seen the program benefit their careers more long-term?

One participant, Melanie, a single mother of four, came to the RISE program interested in becoming a computer and security specialist. Nearer graduation, as Melanie was applying for jobs and trying to really get placement in the field, she had an interview as an IT help desk specialist. She interviewed great and felt that it was due to the support that she received throughout our program. She told me that during the interview she was able to draw upon the executive functioning skills that she’d learned. In fact, it turned out that she had interviewed so well, that the company brought her back and offered her a bigger job than help desk; they offered her a job as a recruiter for the company and explained that her incredible interview coupled with her background in retail and her interpersonal skills made her ideal for the position. Now she’s traveling as an ambassador on their behalf.

Another student, Jackson, came to NEPA from Haiti to escape political unrest, as well as natural disaster, in search of better opportunities for his family and himself. He was also interested in the same program as Melanie, the computer information security and support program. One time he had to bring his daughter into class, and it was so sweet because she was just so proud of him, to be on a college campus with her father. And he was so proud too, to be able to show her his experience. He’s now able to build a career for himself and provide for his family in a sustainable way. Jackson is now building upon his RISE education and working toward an associate’s degree in computer IT.


So it’s not just career changes you’re seeing, it’s ultimately a multi-generational shift?

Absolutely. We had one student, Takiyah, in Cohort One, and she graduated through the medical assistant track. She was a bright light. She pursued the medical assistant track to utilize previous experience she gained and recognized the great demand in our region for this type of position. As a survivor of domestic abuse, it was her number one goal to provide for her family and create a better future for them. Through the RISE program, Takiyah found a support system in her peers and the RISE team, and when graduating, she knew RISE was a great opportunity for her older children too. Takiyah’s daughter, Taahairah, was accepted into RISE Cohort Two. She also pursued the medical assistant track and not only earned the academic credentials but graduated at the top of the program; Taahairah is now pursuing a career at one of our local hospitals.


Do you stay in touch with participants after, to track how they’re doing?

Recently, we were doing a random check-in and a graduated participant, Nicole, and the team at the United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern PA (UNC) were having a great discussion. Then, as they were about to wrap up, Nicole shared that they had to figure out how to get their car fixed. The team asked if there was a way to help. And it turns out Nicole was scrambling to figure out this unexpected $800 car expense. It was creating so much stress because when you live paycheck to paycheck, $800 blows up your budget. It’s a house of cards. Luckily, the team at UNC swooped in and Nicole was floored because she wasn’t even asking for that support. Our team paid the $800 bill and we helped to keep her from having to worry about it because we want her to focus on her career, on thriving.

The truth is that when we connect with past participants, it’s rewarding because they’re always in a better place than they were prior to being accepted into the RISE program. And typically, you get to hear incredible stories about how RISE helped improve their lives and the lives of their families. I’m glad I got to share some of those stories here.