by Diane VanDyke
Seventeen students celebrated their graduation from Montgomery County Community College’s Partnership on Work Enrichment and Readiness (POWER) Program on Dec. 13 during a ceremony held at the Central Campus.
During her welcoming remarks, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost Dr. Victoria Bastecki-Perez noted that the program was in its sixth year with more than 270 graduates. “It’s remarkable,” she said. “The POWER Program is making a difference in the lives of students and their families and in the community.”
The POWER Program helps individuals in mental health recovery to successfully reach their education and career goals through a two-credit college course. With the assistance of advisors, participants develop education and career plans. Classes focus on time management, study skills, public speaking, college success skills, career assessment, resume writing and professionalism.
As part of the ceremony, 10 students were recognized for their achievements through the POWER Plus Program. These students are attending college classes, enrolled in degree programs or are currently employed as a result of their participation in the POWER Program.
The Keynote Speaker and POWER graduate Karleen Caparro described her difficult life as a teenager when she dropped out of school due to mental health issues, started using drugs and alcohol and became addicted to heroin at age 16. After spending time in prison, she participated in a rehabilitation program. Then she joined Alcoholic Anonymous and enrolled in the POWER Program.
“Through the support of the teachers and my peers, I found hope in myself,” she said. “I continued with the POWER Plus Program and started taking classes here one at a time.”
Eventually she became a full-time certified peer specialist and started helping others in recovery. Today, she is financially independent and no longer requires Social Security Disability income and is continuing her education.
POWER Program graduate Liam Wolf also shared his recovery story and spoke about the vital support and resulting success he found through the program.
“Six months ago, I would not have imagined I would be standing here giving a speech, graduating or even being alive,” he said, describing how he was severely depressed and attempted suicide through a drug overdose.
“The POWER Program staff instilled a positive attitude in me, and I found myself growing stronger and excelling in school,” he said. “I realize now there are many things I can do. I have gained so much confidence. This program is truly wonderful.”
The program also provided hope for graduate and speaker Robert Doll, who attempted suicide after losing his business, home and self-respect. “Because of the POWER Program, I feel better about myself. I am no longer dwelling on my past but am looking to the future. I am striving to become a counselor to help others find the POWER Program.”
During the ceremony, POWER Community Liaison Lori Schreiber presented the POWER Advocate Award to Jeanette Maitin of Abington for her ongoing advocacy of the program.
“The change in students is remarkable,” Jeanette said, describing how students would previously not look at her in the school hallway and now come up to talk to her. “Have you ever seen a program like this? If I were a millionaire, I’d give you all my money.”
Inspired by the students’ experiences and successes, Montgomery County Mental Health and Recovery Administrator Eric Goldstein concluded the graduation with the following remarks: “The program is not only about recovery, getting an education and finding jobs but also about reaching the next level as a citizen who enjoys life and contributes to the community.”
The Power Program team includes Director/Associate Professor Diane Haar, Community Liaison/Senior Lecturer Lori Schreiber, Student Advisor Lisa Barbiero, Senior Lecturer Donna Vanderwyst, Continuing Education Instructor Byron Goldstein, Peer Mentor Kelly Davis, Administrative Coordinator B. Dianne Johnson and Dean of Social Sciences Dr. Aaron Shatzman.
The POWER Program is funded in part by the College, the Office of Montgomery County Behavioral Health, and private foundations, such as the Van Ameringen Foundation and the Odd Fellows of Philadelphia.