by Diane VanDyke
Montgomery County Community College Associate Professor of Human Services and Psychology Diane Haar has a passion for helping people in mental health recovery succeed. In turn, their accomplishments inspire her to extend her skills and expertise beyond the classroom and to take a leading role in resource development to provide the vital programs they need.
The National Council for Resource Development recently honored Haar for her leadership and ongoing dedication in securing resources for the development of the College’s Partnership on Work Enrichment and Readiness (POWER) Program—a personalized education, career and life skills program developed to empower individuals in mental health recovery to pursue the next stages in their lives.
“Our students should not be defined by their diagnoses,” Haar said. “Each individual has his or her own special skills to be nurtured. As a society, we have made much progress with accepting people with physical challenges and alternative sexual orientation, but people with mental health issues still bear a stigma that needs to be erased.”
The POWER Program started in 2006 as a result of Haar’s concept and collaboration with the Montgomery County Department of Behavioral Health/Developmental Disabilities Department, which provided a $20,000 seed grant.
“The focus of recovery at that time changed from being a daily or weekly treatment plan to a life plan, that includes education, employment and independent living,” Haar said, noting that the POWER Program provides these tools in a supportive classroom environment.
After securing this initial grant, Haar worked with the College’s Grant Development Office to identify other sources of support for the program and became involved in the grant application process.
Over the years, due to Haar’s persistent efforts, the POWER program has received multiple grants, including grants from the Patricia Kind Foundation and the van Ameringen Foundation. Additionally, Haar secured donations from the Odd Fellows of Pennsylvania and the National Alliance on Mental Illness—Pennsylvania to support the program. As the County’s Department of Behavioral Health witnessed the success of the program and opportunities for growth, it increased its support to $60,000 by 2010.
Since its inception, more than 270 students graduated from POWER and the transformation of their lives has been remarkable.
“I see students enter the program with little going on their lives,” Haar says. “But, as they develop skills and confidence, they are able to create resumes, interview for jobs and become employed for the first time.
“There is one student who was on disability services for 20 years when she enrolled in the POWER Program,” she continued. “After graduating from this two-credit course, she continued her education and eventually earned her bachelor’s degree and is now employed full time and no longer needs disability services at all.”
The program impacts the lives of approximately 50 students each year from the five-county Philadelphia region. Seventy percent of last year’s POWER graduates enrolled in higher education.
In addition to the POWER Program, the College provides a POWER Plus course—a weekly class that provides support and problem-solving techniques for students who are enrolled in credit courses at the College. This semester the POWER Program initiated a basic computer skills course.
Most recently in 2011, the College received a $100,000 grant from the van Ameringen Foundation to start a POWER TAY (Transitional Age Youth) program. This career and education program is specifically designed for students between the ages of 16 and 28 years, who have a diagnosable mental illness that has led to functional impairments in one or more life domains, such as education and work.
“This program focuses on providing skills earlier in life so that those students will have a higher probability of life success without bearing the stigma of a diagnosis,” Haar said.
With the growth of programs and government budget cuts, resource development becomes more challenging and more necessary.
“We need to continue these programs—they are life-changing for these individuals. With education and skills, they become independent, contributing members of the community,” Haar said.
The POWER team includes Director/Faculty Diane Haar, Program Coordinator/Advisor Lisa Barbiero Community Liaison/Advisor Lori Schreiber, Peer Mentor Kelly Davis, Administrative Coordinator B. Dianne Johnson and Dean of Social Sciences Dr. Aaron Shatzman.
Individuals interested in the POWER TAY or POWER programs may obtain a referral from their mental health or school provider or may self-refer. For more information, contact Community Liaison Lori Schreiber at 215-461-1151 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Program Advisor Lisa Barbiero at 215-641-6425 or email@example.com.