Educators address funding, job placement

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Access to higher education and providing culturally sensitive services to their clients is how a state wide and a local organization plan to tackle the economic challenges facing them in the coming days, months and years. It is a crucial time for the Pennsylvania Black Conference on Higher Education and Addison Behavioral Care and social service organizations country wide.

In President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union Address he proposed cuts in community action programs which will cause Community Service Block Grant funding being cut in half and the standoff between the President and Congress has resulted in the 111th Congress extending FY2011 Continuing Resolution until March 4, 2011 which essentially continues funding for most programs at the FY2010 level.

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WELCOME—PBCOHE Western Regional Director, Erroline Williams shares her excitement about the conference with over 150 attendees.

While preparing her staff and constituents for what is a head, Bernadette Turner, MS CCDP, executive director of Addison said, “The cuts will be painful. Non-profits and social service agencies currently operate on very lean resources; any additional cuts will only widen an already large gap in services.” She calculates that her organization for more than 28 years has served thousands of youths, individuals and families through community events that have assisted them in changing and maintaining their quality of life. Today Addison’s’ mission is to provide culturally sensitive services to individuals and families that help them focus on their quality of life; specializing in substance abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment.

Often stating during a three day conference, that young people are our future, educators from across the state last week convened at the Doubletree Pittsburgh/Monroeville Convention Center with a deep commitment to improving and ensuring the education of underrepresented students. Highlighted activities during the 41 annual Pennsylvania Black Conference on Higher Education, themed “Campus Climate: Moving Toward Inclusive Excellence” included numerous workshops, an opening plenary session with Robert Hill, Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh serving as the keynote speaker, a Tribute Luncheon honoring Lloyd Bell, Robert Lynch and Charlotte Stewart; three members of the organization classified as giving long dedicated service to PBCOHE that have left a legacy.

Moderated by Richard Arnold a retired administrator from Edinboro University, the panel addressed the conference theme while recognizing the upcoming ramifications of the economic status. “Life does happen,” said Charlene Dukes. “You have to package the dollars differently. We are using ten percent of our Pell grants to help fill the gaps of our students.” Located in Prince George County Maryland, labeled as the richest African-American county in the nation, she said she and her staff utilize wraparound services within the community to help their students meet their challenges. She also concurred with the comments of Valerie McDonald Roberts that employers have to step up and provide viable employment for students that are not work study.

Other than Dukes; President of Prince George’s Community College and McDonald Roberts; Manager Department of Real Estate City of Pittsburgh, panelists also included Michael Depaz a sophomore at Duquense University, Taunya Marie Tinsley; Counselor, educator and assistant professor at California University of Pennsylvania and Reginald Irvis; Federal Grants Manager at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.

Attendees of the conference participated in a Service Learning Project at Woodland Hills and Edgewood Elementary Schools, conducted a Scholarship Awards Luncheon and their annual Regional Awards Banquet. Rev. Lora A. Adams-King pastor of the Erie Street Church of God in Franklin was the speaker.

Founded by former Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, K. Leroy Irvis, the mission of the PBCOHE is to provide programs and services which help ensure the post-secondary educational needs and aspirations of African-Americans in particular are met, and to work in concert with members of other underrepresented groups in the Commonwealth.

Excited about the conference and the continued need of the organization, Erroline Williams; Manager, Professional Development and Corporate Outreach School of Leadership and Professional Advancement at Duquesne University said her view of the conference as the organizations Western Regional Director was for it to build a strong framework of empowerment and to create renewed strategies to conquer some of the challenges faced on today’s campuses. “As Robert (Hill) pointed out in his presentation we still live in a climate of segregation which causes an economic down fall. The PBCOHE is a venue that provides collaboration and a way to advocate and focus on key issues affecting the future of higher education in Pennsylvania,” said Williams. She pointed out that the group collaborates with the Black Caucus and works with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education on legislative and advocacy matters.

Williams indicated that colleges and universities involved in PBCOHE have experienced a decline in African-American student attendance but indicated that the biggest problem due to the economic climate is student retention. “It’s an economic nightmare, students are getting in but are not able to complete to the end with loans drying up.”

Concerned about African-American males, Reginald Irvis says it is a crisis that they are not moving into higher education. He said young males of today need mentoring, to be taught about careers, how to find jobs and how to be a man. Irvis, Federal Grants Manager for PHEAA, works for the organization in which his father is credited for creating.

In the meantime while preparing for a twenty to thirty percent cut in Addisons’ funding, Turner who agrees with Irvis suggests that her clients as well as clients of other social service agencies begin to look at the areas in their lives that can’t afford to be neglected and to work with their current service providers to find ways to access support. “Lean on family and friends to see how they can support one another,” she advised.

As Congress and the Obama administration continue to propose budget cuts, the effects will impact middle class and poor people, according to Congressman Alcee Hastings.

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