The program helps low-income students pursue educational opportunities with supports such as money for child care and gasoline.
A 34-year-old mother of two broke down in tears of joy Wednesday for the opportunity to get an education at Reading Area Community College.
Leslieann Ramirez said that she was going through a difficult time when she moved from New York to Reading three years ago. She didn’t have a job or a high school diploma.
“I was a single mom,” Ramirez said while sharing her story with state Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller during a program at RACC. “I didn’t have any support.”
Miller, appointed in January by Gov. Tom Wolf, was visiting RACC to learn about the Keystone Education Yields Success, or KEYS program, which offers funding for community colleges to provide education to low-income students.
Miller listened as a half-dozen RACC students shared their experiences. A total of 120 students are in the program, which requires students to fill out forms weekly to obtain benefits for their education. Ramirez said her counselor at the state Department of Human Services office in Reading referred her to the KEYS program.
Ramirez earned her GED and has already completed three semesters toward her associate degree in business administration. She also works at RACC, tutoring GED students.
“The toughest part was to sign up,” Ramirez said. “This is all about focus, not just for your children but for yourself. This is all about having a career. I am happy.”
“Can you say anymore about child care and transportation?” Miller asked. “What I am hearing is that these are the two biggest barriers.”
Ramirez said she receives funding for child care and more.
“I don’t have to rush home because the child care is fine,” she said. “I have a vehicle. They (RACC) provide gas money.”
Participating students praised the leaders of RACC’s program — Mary Turner, program student facilitator, and Rebecca Paull, student facilitator — for motivating them daily to succeed.
Gregory Miller Sr., 47, of Reading shared that he has finished the program and is working toward a degree in business from Kutztown University.
Miller said he earned a 3.97 grade point average at RACC and is majoring in marketing at Kutztown.
“I have eight children,” Miller said. “It’s difficult.”
Angela Haring, 35, of Reading said that she had a difficult past, including addiction and abusive relationships. Haring earned her associate degree in addiction counseling and landed a job at Hope Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter in Reading.
She obtained three raises since she started in June 2015.
“There is no doubt that Angela will continue to be successful,” Paull said.
The students said they provide a support system for one another. They said they stop in the KEYS office at RAAC regularly for motivation.
Ramirez said getting started in the GED program was the most difficult part for her, but was well worth it because she got a good job.
“A GED may just be a piece of paper to some people, but to others, it’s a life,” Ramirez said as she enjoyed refreshments after the program.