Twenty Bucks County families “graduated” from poverty into a new life of self-sufficiency on October 23, 2013. Nearly 215 guests gathered at the Bucks Club in Jamison to celebrate the graduates of the Bucks County Opportunity Council’s most recent Economic Self-Sufficiency Program. The event was sponsored by First Federal of Bucks County.
The Opportunity Council’s Economic Self-Sufficiency (ES) program is nationally recognized for helping low-income families acquire the education, skills and employment necessary to permanently leave poverty as opposed to merely coping in it. The organization has helped 263 Bucks County residents permanently leave poverty since 1997. The Opportunity Council pairs a self-sufficiency coach with each participant to support them as they work through their goals. Together, they create an individualized plan that includes education, employment, and creative budgeting to accomplish their goals to permanently leave poverty within a 5 year period.
To graduate from the ES program, all participants must have achieved: employment that pays a family-sustaining wage, access to safe reliable transportation, affordable, safe housing, a balanced household budget, health plan for the entire family and freedom from all welfare subsidies, including cash assistance, food stamps and subsidized housing. The ES Program is not an entitlement program. It ultimately saves $4 in cash welfare subsidies for every $1 invested in a successful graduate.
Before entering the program, nine of the 2013 graduates were unemployed, and fourteen were receiving welfare and/or a housing subsidy. None of the employed had family-sustaining wages. Through an average of 31 months enrolled in the program, the participants were able to secure gainful employment in the health, technical support, accounting and customer service fields, raising the group’s average income by $39,328. Collectively, 24 children are supported by these hardworking Bucks County residents.
Among the graduates was Annika, a Bucks County resident struggling to get by with an income of $420 per month, and unable to afford a place to live. After losing her job, she turned to the Opportunity Council to for help.
Today, Annika works as a Certified Recovery Specialist and has a permanent home she can afford without subsidies. Annika was most appreciative of the graduation ceremony that recognized her newly achieved self-sufficiency.
“[The night] was incredible,” said Annika. “Thank you again for everything! I couldn't be where I am now without all of your help and support.”
Lola was another graduate with cause to celebrate the evening. Before coming to the Opportunity Council, she and her two children had been evicted from their home after her unemployment benefits expired. Undeterred, she sent her children to live with a friend and attended nursing school while she often had no place to stay other than her car. The Opportunity Council was able to help Lola move into safe housing so she could be reunited with her children and she could continue with school. With BCOC’s continued support, earn earned a BSN. Today, she is working full-time as a Registered Nurse, and is able to support her children without government subsidies.
“There is no way I would be where I am today without the help of the Opportunity Council,” said Lola. “They made it possible for my children to have a better life.”
For current Economic Self-Sufficiency participants, attending the graduation was a reminder of the ultimate goals that led them to enter the Opportunity Council.
“I would like to thank everyone again for all this program offers to people,” said Terri, a current Economic Self-Sufficiency participant. “All that you do is more than a ‘bridge out of poverty’ but a ‘bridge out of low self-esteem, hopelessness and despair. Thank you!”
Bucks County Opportunity Council, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping low-income people in Bucks County achieve and maintain economic self-sufficiency. For more information, visit www.bcoc.org.