by Tamara A. Measler
Stefanie O’Connor, a Human Services student at the West Campus of Montgomery County Community College, is the recipient of the Soroptimist Supporting Women scholarship. Given by Soroptimist International of Pottstown, a volunteer service organization striving to make the lives of women and girls better, the award is part of a mentoring program that provides financial support and life skills.
“I am very excited and grateful to have this opportunity to be mentored by such positive and successful women. They help motivate me and show me they really care by taking the time to listen to me and help with life situations,” said O’Connor.
Stefanie meets with the Soroptimists two Wednesdays each month and learns about self-help, budgeting and saving money. As long as program requirements are met, the Soroptimists also pay a monthly household bill, up to $200.
It is difficult to fathom just how much this help means to O’Connor, who works and attends school part-time while also raising five children essentially on her own. Her husband, who is not currently living with the family, provides babysitting help when he’s not working or attending classes.
Stefanie participates in the KEYS (Keystone Education Yields Success) program at the College, which provides support for referred TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients who wish to go to college. The program is limited in time and includes GPA requirements and mandatory weekly hours participating in approved activities such as attending classes and working, searching for work or performing community service. KEYS provides counseling and limited assistance with things like transportation, childcare, laptop loans and career counseling.
Lori Davidson, Stefanie’s KEYS advisor, sums the program up this way: “Whatever barrier is present that might stop [our clients] from being successful, we just try to knock it down.”
About Stefanie, Davidson says, “She is very bright and very motivated. I don’t think she sees the potential within herself but winning the scholarship helped her to see what I’m seeing, what her other advisors are seeing, that it’s not just KEYS trying to prop her up.”
As for Stefanie, she believes, “Being in the KEYS program is a must for a student in my situation because if it wasn’t for their help, I wouldn’t be in school still.”
Stefanie faces her fair share of challenges, but she has not has not lost hope or optimism.
“My goal right now is for me and my family to continue doing our best in school.”
Stefanie will complete her Associates in Applied Science from the College in spring 2013. After that, she plans to continue her education at Chestnut Hill College, working towards a combined Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Human Services and pursuing a career counseling teens or working with women.
“She’ll be a great asset in Human Services because of the things she’s been through, the barriers that she’s already overcome and barriers that she’s not yet overcome but is recognizing and taking action on,” said Davidson.
Asked about her dreams for the future if money and time were of no object, Stefanie’s answer provides perspective on the important things in life. Her wish is “to be able to take the kids on a vacation and to just enjoy life with my family.” Her determination to succeed is likely her best asset in making this particular dream an eventual reality.