Bucks County resident Terry Shea first heard about the Bucks County Opportunity Council from someone in line behind her at a food pantry. It was just before Christmas, 2010, and she wondered how she would be able to provide for her then six and ten year old daughters. Three years later, she is the recipient of a Self-Sufficiency Award from the Community Action Association of Pennsylvania.
Terry had been a single parent for two years. She managed to survive with the help of Bucks County Opportunity Council’s Food Pantry Network, food stamps and sporadic child support payments from her former spouse, but her income still hovered close to the poverty line. Her marital home was in foreclosure and although she worked full time, she struggled to maintain her apartment and avoid eviction.
After contacting the Opportunity Council, Terry was introduced to her coach, Deb Rosenberg and began a twelve-module course called “Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ By World.” In her weekly two-hour sessions, Terry impressed her coach and others with her high energy, her love for her daughters, and her passion for healthy living. She influenced her entire Getting Ahead class to accept her views on healthy eating. The class had a transformational effect on Terry, as well.
“The Getting Ahead workshop was eye-opening for me,” she says. “It helped me gain perspective on poverty at so many levels. My girls, too, learned from the talks we would have on the way home. It created a ripple effect as they saw first-hand the different levels of poverty.”
Terry worked two and sometimes three jobs while taking college courses toward her Associate Degree. In August 2011, she enrolled in an online program with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She is now a board-certified health coach and works as a sushi cook while building her own business.
Coach Deb Rosenberg says “It has been a true pleasure working with such a motivated, intelligent and caring woman.” Deb says she has learned a great deal from Terry about how nutrition and good health habits affect our lives on many levels. Terry Shea’s compassion has led her to specialize in services to cancer patients as she builds her Health Coach business.
During the program, Terry opened a savings account for the purchase of a new car.
On April 17, 2013, Terry Shea was awarded a CAAP (Community Action Association of Pennsylvania) Self-Sufficiency Award for 2013 in Harrisburg. She was nominated by Bucks County Opportunity Council and chosen by a committee of CAAP members from multiple nominations from around the state.
Benchmarks achieved by Terry (and all graduates of the Opportunity Council’s Economic Self-Sufficiency Program) include:
• Employment at a livable wage
• Access to safe reliable transportation
• Safe affordable housing
• Balanced household budget
• Checking and savings accounts
• Health insurance for the entire family
• Freedom from all welfare subsidies including cash assistance, food stamps and subsidized housing.
• Reciprocity through community involvement and volunteerism
• Relationships with supportive, resourceful individuals and organizations
In Pennsylvania, 43 Community Action Agencies provide services for low-income families in all 67 counties, aiming to empower the 1.3 million Pennsylvanians living in poverty with the skills and confidence they need to succeed.
In Bucks County, the Opportunity Council and its volunteers and donors, county government, local businesses and nonprofits and many other groups, served 8,100 people last year. The Opportunity Council prevented over 250 evictions and helped 70 households leave homelessness and find housing. Fifty-seven graduates are homeowners. The organization successfully weatherized more than 400 homes in 2012, a service that can reduce annual energy costs by 15 to 25% and increases the safety, comfort and value of the home. Whenever possible, families and individuals are asked to contribute a co-payment.
Through Buck$Back, its free tax preparation service for low to moderate-income families, the Opportunity Council saved Bucks County residents $10.5 million in returns, tax credits and filing fees over the last eight years. It supports 27 food pantries in its Food and Nutrition Network (FaNN) and distributes 463,000 meals annually.
Since 1990, 244 people have permanently left poverty through the Opportunity Council nationally recognized Economic Self-Sufficiency Program, saving the community more than $4 of welfare subsidies for every $1 invested in a graduate.
Clients of the program say “They treat me like a person, not a number;” “The BCOC took me from a place where I felt helpless and alone to a place where I feel proud and empowered:” and “They help all races, religions and cultures.”
Since 1965, the Bucks County Opportunity Council has been providing people in poverty with an opportunity to succeed. For more information, visit www.bcoc.org, or contact 215-345-8175.
About the Contributor:
Linda C. Wisniewski writes for the Bucks County Herald and the Bucks County Womens Journal and teaches memoir classes and workshops. A graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, she holds a masters degree from Villanova University and a certificate of advanced study from Drexel University. She is regional representative of the International Womens Writing Guild and a former board member of the Story Circle Network. Linda is the first prize winner for 2012 of the Pearl S. Buck Writing Center Short Story Contest! We are so grateful to have Linda volunteer at the Bucks County Opportunity Council.