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Buffalo City Missions landmark GED program graduates its first success story

BY: Community Papers of WNY Staff | August 28, 2013

BUFFALO - Last December, the Buffalo City Mission and Erie Community College rolled out an innovative program to provide GED training and pre-collegiate studies to residents of the mission and its women’s shelter, Cornerstone Manor. The College for the Homeless was launched, enlisting ECC instructors to work with mission residents with the goal of enrolling residents at ECC for a one-year certificate program or two-year degree that could ultimately lead to employment. Residents begin by taking GED classes and then move into pre-collegiate studies.

The mission announced this week their first successful graduate of the GED program, Shannon, a widow in her mid-40s who represents the new face of homelessness in our region. Shannon came to Cornerstone Manor with her 6-and 13-year-old daughters on New Years Day ready for a new start. After the death of her husband, the family’s major breadwinner, Shannon faced a hard road, which for her unfortunately led to homelessness. She was initially very reluctant to enter the GED program due to her fear of failure. After much encouragement from Cornerstone Manor staff, she officially began her GED studies on March 4.

Shannon passed the GED test in late July. It has been a long road for Shannon but she is exceedingly proud of her accomplishment. While she studied for the GED, her daughters attended Cornerstone Manor’s summer camp, which focuses on science and literacy.

“I was scared but with God’s help, I did it,” Shannon said.

This September, Shannon will begin studies at ECC, enrolling in a one-year certificate program. Several other mission residents are also on the verge of success. Three residents are expected to earn their GED within the next few weeks.

A New York City study found that half of all homeless parents have not earned their high school diploma, limiting them at best to low-wage, dead-end jobs.

“If you miss your education during childhood, you’ll be poor and homeless,” says Dr. Ralph da Costa Nunez, president of the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness. “If you want to deal with this problem, put a GED program in every shelter. Not only do you leave a shelter with a home, you leave with a degree and a better opportunity to go to college and to work.”

The forward thinking leadership of the Buffalo City Mission led the charge by partnering with ECC in the College for the Homeless initiative.

“We know that we need to break the cycle of poverty,” said Stuart Harper, executive director of the Buffalo City Mission. “We are so proud of Shannon and know that she is just the first of many who will benefit from the College for the Homeless. We are now giving people the tools to end their homelessness and giving them hope for their future. Through our partnership with ECC, instructors provide free adult learning courses at both the men’s and women’s shelters to help people earn their GED or prepare for college courses. An ECC staffer and several interns visit the shelters weekly to assess educational and social needs, test people for potential career options, or help fill out the admissions and financial aid forms needed to attend ECC. This program is running beautifully and we are especially grateful to ECC for this partnership which is benefitting so many.”

“Erie Community College is excited and committed to this partnership with the City Mission, staff and residents,” said Rick Washousky, executive vice president of academic affairs at ECC. “Bringing education to mission residents through the College for the Homeless program under the college’s Education 2 Recovery Program is part of our mission of open access. Since January 2013, over 100 individuals have enrolled in the program, with on-site GED and pre-collegiate studies classes. We are now seeing our first graduates getting their high school diplomas and those completing pre-collegiate classes enrolling in degree and certificate programs at the college. We are processing the applications for 20 residents for fall 2013. President Quinn and our board of trustees believe community college education is for all and bringing programs into the community helps to create hope and encouragement for those who previously did not believe they could attend college.”

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