Barbara Lopez is originally from Paterson, New Jersey and moved to Berks County for her freshman year of high school. She was very interested in finance, so when she graduated from Reading High School in 2003, she was eager to learn more about personal finance in college. “I love helping others improve their financial health.”
The accessibility of RACC is what attracted Barbara most to the college. She needed a program that was suitable with her very busy schedule. “The fact that RACC’s campus was conveniently located and offered several classes online, I was able to juggle being a single mom, working full-time, and taking classes.”
Barbara graduated from RACC with an associate degree in accounting and then transferred to DeSales University. Recently, Barbara completed a dual degree earning a bachelor’s in finance and accounting. Plus, she finished the Certified Financial Planner Program and will be taking the exam later this year. Barbara credits RACC for giving her the foundational knowledge needed to continue her education. “Having the experience of taking so many classes online at RACC gave me the confidence to be able to complete my bachelor’s degree 100% online at DeSales.”
Barbara is very grateful for the guidance she received from her RACC faculty, especially Wendy Bonn and Dr. Maria Perez. Wendy’s support gave Barbara the extra help she needed both in and out of class. “She is one of the best instructors at RACC because of her dedication to make sure her students succeed.” Barbara personally knows Dr. Perez and spends time with her outside of RACC. She admires Dr. Perez’s work ethic and determination; and it resonated with Barbara while taking classes. “She is always encouraging me to work toward my goals and she was instrumental in my transfer to DeSales.”
Barbara currently works as the executive assistant to Berks County Commissioner Michael Rivera. She thanks her exceptional RACC experience for helping her in her current position. “RACC has helped me in understanding how important it is to build valuable relationships with others in the community and this has been essential in implementing initiatives that will benefit the residents of Berks County.”
By Jen Gittings-Dalton, KEYS Student Facilitator - There was a period in Taneah Mays’ life when life was turned upside down, and she and her daughters became homeless. She knew of no one who could help her.
“I was the last person who thought that this would ever happen to me,” she said recently in a recent meeting with KEYS program staff. “I don’t know how I made it during that time. But I was lucky. A homeless organization connected me to the County Assistance Office, who helped me apply to RACC and I entered the KEYS program. I could never have done it alone.”
She shakes her head at the memory. “My KEYS Student Facilitator, Rebecca Paull, and my amazing instructors in the Respiratory Therapy program, got me through. Now, I work at Tower Health as a Respiratory Therapist.”
On her one day off from the hospital this recently, she took time to talk with Rebecca and myself. Her smile is tired but compassionate. Her daughter, who just returned from six weeks with her uncle so that Taneah could work long hours in the current epidemic, is clearly very happy to have her mother at home with her. She pops in and out of our “Zoom” session.
Taneah is many women in one: a mother to her young daughters; a KEYS alumna; a dedicated scholar who achieved an honors academic record at RACC while overcoming her homelessness; an advocate for mental health care; and now, she works with very sick patients who need to be transferred to the ICU at Tower Health, in the very front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Rebecca asked Taneah what advice she would give to someone like her earlier self. Taneah doesn’t hesitate. “The best advice I can give is – it is okay to ask for help when you need it! Vulnerability is a good thing sometimes.”
She should know. “I was a poor student in high school, and wasn’t ready for college,” she remembers. “I worked for a while in different jobs and realized that I really wanted a career in health care. When I became homeless, my caseworker put me in touch with a counselor, and I learned I was depressed and had anxiety, which were holding me back… but, as hard as it was, I don’t regret that time in my life. I learned so much from it. The coping skills I learned then, help me deal with challenges today. Everyone will need counseling at some point in their lives, and should get it.”
Safe childcare was provided by the county, and that made all the difference to Taneah. “I started to work part-time in retail, then in a medical lab, and I loved it! I knew I wanted to work in healthcare. I chose RACC and got connected to KEYS right away. I started out wanting physical therapy assistant training, but there was no way I could travel to the clinical site in Allentown. Rebecca helped me decide that Respiratory Therapy was the way to go.”
Rebecca Paull, a 15-year KEYS staff member, became her main support at RACC. “I always knew I could stop by and see Rebecca when I needed her,” Taneah says with a smile. It is immediately obvious that their bond is a strong one. “She helped me deal with any issue – when my car broke down, exploring majors, finding money for gas, and the KEYS pantry was helpful – but it was knowing she was there, that mattered.”
Rebecca laughs. “Yes, I knew you (Taneah) were out there doing what you needed to do. I didn’t worry about a missing attendance form here or there! I remember you loved doing your budgets.” Both of them smile. “I could see your dedication to your work, and now to your profession.”
Taneah also becomes enthusiastic talking about her instructors at RACC.
“I had incredible teachers, who worked with me. While I was still struggling, some teachers early on in my first semester, worked with me to attend class one day a week, and I completed all the required work. I could not have done it without them.” Taneah falls silent as she considers that time. She quickly navigated her new environment. “Of course, to succeed in the Respiratory Therapy program, dedication, participation, and attendance are important… and the instructors in my major also cared very much about all of their students.”
“I also had some amazing friends from my church who would come watch my kids early in the morning and get them off to daycare, so I could go to clinicals. I could not have done this alone. I had great people in my corner.”
She was one of those people “In the corner” for others, too. Even while she was a student, a worker, and a busy single mother, she still found time to serve her fellow students as a GED tutor and a RACC Student Ambassador.
Taneah did her clinicals at several regional hospitals, and was offered a position in her field two months before she graduated. She started working for Tower Health in 2017 and was hired full-time there in 2020. “RACC prepared me well,” she says.
We asked Taneah what her life is like now, as a member of the front-line team helping COVID-19 patients at Tower Health-Reading Hospital during this epidemic.
“Well, I love my job, but it is very hard right now. It’s scary! There are more very sick people than ever. We are physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. In the beginning we weren’t fully prepared for what was happening, but we are now. The best part is that we are part of a team. I love my coworkers. We rely upon each other to make it through each shift….” Her voice is emphatic, but sad.
“…But the hardest part is seeing that many coronavirus patients, because of their isolation, end up dying alone. So many have touched my heart. They are very sick – air hungry, low on oxygen. Sometimes I am one of the last people they get to see. We help them do FaceTime with their relatives, but many still end up alone.” Taneah pauses. “I was feeling impatient with one patient who wasn’t doing what I needed him to do. I took a step back and had to re-think, because I was feeling overwhelmed. This patient was fighting for his life. I vowed I would do better.”
She continues, “One result of this crisis is that, although very often Respiratory Therapy used to be sort of unrecognized by the public as a profession, now we are definitely feeling love from the community! For all healthcare workers. It helps a lot.”
We ask, what would she say to new workers in her field right now?
“You will need support to get through. Ask for help – find the right people to turn to. Jump right in.” Taneah shrugs her shoulders. “We’ll get through it. I have no other advice – these are not usual times.”
“What can we, the public, do to help?” we ask.
“Well, wash your hands, stay at home if you can. I feel so sorry for the small businesses that have taken a hit. I am very grateful to have a job. But I am concerned about opening too soon; it may make it worse.”
We ask our final question: “Taneah, remembering yourself at the beginning, what was your motivation to do so well despite all the difficulties? So many others fall away.”
She pauses, looks off-screen where her daughter is playing. “Well, I wanted this for my children. They kept me going.
“And for all the great people who were in my corner.”
“And I never give up,” Taneah Mays says.
(Reading Area Community College’s KEYS Program is a Pennsylvania state grant-funded program which helps low-income students utilize a wide array of academic, personal, and advising support as they educate themselves for a better career and fulfilling life.)
HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges (PACCC) recently announced the 26th Annual All-Pennsylvania Academic Team. The honor recognizes an exceptional group of community college students who have achieved academic excellence and demonstrated a commitment to their colleges and communities.
The 2020 awardees include three Reading Area Community College outstanding transfer scholars. Transfer students must have completed at least 36 credits at a community college and must have a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher to be considered for these awards. Workforce students must have a minimum of 12 college-level credit hours at a community college and a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher.
The three Reading Area Community College scholarship winners are Ms. Valerie Mackey, Ms. Afaf Maslah (Coca-Cola New Century Workforce Pathway Scholar), and Ms. Emma Wright.
“We at Reading Area Community College applaud these outstanding student scholars on their terrific academic achievements,” says Dr. Susan D. Looney, president of Reading Area Community College. “By enrolling in high-quality educational programs, these students are building a foundation for a successful career while furthering their postsecondary study.”
Pennsylvania’s community colleges partner with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities to provide scholarships to eligible All-PA Transfer Team members at PASSHE institutions, providing two years of tuition at any PASSHE school.
Students nominated to the national All-USA Community College Academic Team are automatically named to the All-State Community College Academic Teams. The programs share common eligibility criteria, which includes enrollment at a community college, a minimum 3.5 grade point average, completion of a minimum of 36 college-level credits and being on track to receive an associate or bachelor’s degree.
In Berks County, a grassroots effort is providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers who can’t stay home during the
In Berks County, a grassroots effort is providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers who can’t stay home during the COVID19 pandemic. The Berks PPE Resource Network is a consortium of people at area organizations including hobbyists and engineers working to 3D print face shields. Reading Area Community College (RACC) is one of the organizations participating.
Working closely with the PPE Resource Network and American Polarizers, a Reading-based precision engineered optics company, the Schmidt Training and Technology Center (STTC) on the RACC campus, has been transformed into a temporary face shield manufacturing and assembly hub. Led by STTC Director Bonnie Spayed, the facility has been producing full face protective shields and 3D printed face shield brackets as quickly as they can. “We will shortly have produced close to 3,000 face shields that will immediately be used in the field by police and emergency responders. I am so proud to be a part of this group of people who have come together to get this done for our community. Our STTC staff has been very creative and resourceful in pulling all the pieces together and producing and assembling this gear for our local heroes who are working hard to keep us safe during this pandemic,” says Spayd.
According to PPE Resource Network organizer Ellen Albright, director of talent and workforce development at Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, the partners were wondering how to harness existing 3D-printing resources to produce PPE for front-line workers.
“Instead of getting stuck in those questions — ‘How do we do that?’ or ‘What happens next?’ — we kept tapping this ad hoc committee that we had,” says Albright. “Take your piece of this and let’s run. Build the plane while you’re flying, because it’s not anything any of us had done before.”
It’s not only hospital workers who need the shields, though their PPE needs have understandably gotten the spotlight. According to Adelle Schade, a Network organizer and founder of the nonprofit Albright Science Research Institute, people like police officers, firefighters, Game Commission staffers, postal workers, grocery-store clerks, and even private-practice physicians have been going without face-shields while doing their essential jobs. The PPE Resource Network is fixing that.
Reading Area Community College student, and Phi Theta Kappa Vice President, Valerie Mackey, has been selected as a 2020 Phi The
Reading Area Community College student, and Phi Theta Kappa Vice President, Valerie Mackey, has been selected as a 2020 Phi Theta Kappa Guistwhite Scholar and will receive a $5,000 scholarship. Guistwhite Scholars are chosen based on academic achievement, leadership accomplishment, and engagement in Phi Theta Kappa programs. Fifteen Guistwhite recipients were selected by a panel of independent judges from more than 3,400 applicants this year.
Each Guistwhite Scholar is awarded a medallion and a $5,000 scholarship for their baccalaureate studies. Your student has received an email with details of the award. An accompanying press release is attached to be shared with your college’s public relations department. Winners were selected from among 3,400 applicants nationwide, and their selection was based on academic excellence, leadership accomplishments, and engagement in Phi Theta Kappa programs. They will also receive a commemorative medallion.
This is the second-highest scholarship offered by Phi Theta Kappa. It is named in honor of the late Margaret and Dr. Jack Guistwhite, who established the first transfer scholarship designated exclusively for Phi Theta Kappa members to Florida Atlantic University in 1975.
“What Dr. Guistwhite started 45 years ago has become a transformational force in the lives of PTK members and has resulted in more than 800 colleges and universities designating transfer scholarship for our students,” said Phi Theta Kappa’s President and CEO Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner. “It is fitting that we continue to honor our students who excel in scholarship and leadership as Guistwhite Scholars in celebration of Jack and Margaret.”
Phi Theta Kappa is the premier honor society recognizing the academic achievement of students at associate degree-granting colleges and helping them to grow as scholars and leaders. The Society is made up of more than 3.5 million members and nearly 1,300 chapters in 11 nations, with approximately 240,000 active members in the nation’s colleges. Learn more.