A few years ago Stefanie O’Connor was part of the Montgomery County EARN program, she had five children, three of which were under the age of four, and she was having trouble finding a job. Going back to school hadn’t been her original plan, but when she found herself at Montgomery County Community College sitting with Lori Davidson, learning about the KEYS program and going through each and every potential degree to find the one that fit her best, O’Connor was inspired.
“I thought it was interesting when I talked to Lori Davidson about her life,” O’Connor revealed, “how she went through the college herself and how she wound up with her job working at the college, I thought it was neat.”
After considering all of the possibilities, O’Connor chose to pursue a degree in Human Services, for a very simple yet very profound reason.
“I was in between criminal justice and human services, but my biggest thing was that I just always wanted to help people. I knew that I always wanted to help people, I just wasn’t sure how.”
O’Connor, now a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor’s Society who graduated with her associate’s degree in May, has had to juggle a busy family life with her academic commitments, and she gives a lot of credit to the KEYS program for helping her to find success.
“For me personally, because I have five kids and one of them is special needs, if I didn’t have the KEYS program backing me up and helping me get through some of the hard times I’ve been through, I don’t know that I would have made it through by myself as a regular college student,” O’Connor admitted.
However through her own self-determination and with the help of college resources, O’Connor has been able to balance the titles of mother and student.
“I was fortunate enough that while I was in the KEYS program they offered you childcare, so the kids were in school all day and in daycare and I could go to school and study in the library and do all of those things,” O’Connor said. “And then I could come home at the end of the day and I wouldn’t have to worry about schoolwork, because I had all day to do it at school.”
It’s been tougher for O’Connor this semester, as she came out of the KEYS program a few months ago. But taking online classes and caring for her pre-school age children during the day did not slow down O’Connor’s drive to graduate in May and find a way to help the people around her.
This past January, O’Connor spoke about the KEYS program with potential applicants, sharing some of her own obstacles and the resources made available to students. With her degree in Human Services, O’Connor would like to take her experience and knowledge of resources beyond the college, to women and children who are struggling.
After completing an internship at the Montgomery County Youth Empowerment Program in Norristown, and community service working primarily with women at the Rolling Hills Social Services Department, O’Connor found her ideal model of service.
“These women, I could help them because some of them were starting where I was, on welfare and having kids and thinking that they couldn’t make it,” O’Connor said. “I realized if I had somebody when I was in their situation, someone like I am now where I’ve figured out how to get through it and what the resources are, if I could give that to somebody else and they could get moving earlier than I did or just get the confidence in themselves to make it….it would make me feel so good.”
In the present, O’Connor is planning on taking the summer to focus on her family and consider her next step. The plan is to move forward at Chestnut Hill College, where she will work towards her bachelor’s degree in Human Services.
As far as obstacles go, O’Connor knows how to handle them, and the future is undoubtedly bright for a student who just wants to help others.
~ by Kelly Cox