The college recently received a grant to develop a work enrichment program for students with mental illness.

A Montgomery County Community College program aimed at empowering students diagnosed with mental illness was recharged by a recent grant from the van Ameringen Foundation.

According to an MCCC press release, the foundation, based in New York, recently awarded Montgomery County Community College a $100,000 grant toward the development of the Partnership On Work Enrichment and Readiness for Transitional Age Youth (POWER TAY) program.

The POWER program, originally funded by the Montgomery County Mental Health Administration and the college, has been in existence since spring 2006; since then, 200 students who have diagnosable mental illnesses that have led to functional impairments in education and work have participated in the program, said Diane Haar, POWER program director.

When she thinks about the program’s successes, Haar thinks of Mae. 

“Mae had been in and out of psychiatric facilities since childhood and was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder and bipolar disorder, Haar said. “When she began the POWER Program in her 40s, she was still in an intensive outpatient program. After completing the 14-week course, she continued to enroll in college courses within the human service degree program.”

Mae graduated with an associate’s degree in human services from Montgomery County Community College and obtained a full-time job as a recovery coach at Central Montgomery Mental Health/Mental Retardation Center, Haar said.

“At the same time, she went to Chestnut Hill College, and this May received her bachelor’s degree in human services. She plans on continuing her education to obtain a postgraduate degree. She has become financially self-sufficient.”

For another success story, visit recoverydiaries.com, under the heading “A New Life: From Heroin to Hope—a story about Jerry Cutler.”

POWER students take a 14-week course (for two college credits) that orients them to college life and teaches them about the library, college services, college clubs, and the financial aid and registration process.

The class also covers time management, professionalism, note-taking, communication skills and other topics, Haar said. Each student completes a polished resume and develops an educational and career plan. 

POWER TAY (the TAY refers to “Transitional Age Youth”—age 17 through 28) students will have the option to attend a weekly study group for additional academic tutoring, Haar said. A part-time, grant-funded peer mentor coordinator, who is a graduate of the POWER Program, will monitor the weekly class and match students with POWER graduates in similar career or educational programs.

After completing the initial 14-week course, students who are continuing their education attend the POWER Plus class. 

“Mae was one of the students in this class,” Haar said. 

The POWER Plus class meets once a week and serves as a support group, as well as a problem-solving class in which students share challenges and insights about their academic progress. 

“It is not a therapy group!” Haar said. “It is a class that focuses solely on issues related to school. Topics might include how to integrate into the college life, where to find extra tutoring help, and how to approach a professor with a question."

“Mae attended this class for a couple of semesters,” Haar said. “Toward the completion of her human services degree, Mae was hired to become a student mentor for other power students who were ‘coming up’ in the ranks of the program.”

“As director of the POWER Program, I am personally and professionally inspired by the students who have taken the risk to become integrated into the college and larger community,” Haar said. “And it is through the teamwork of the POWER staff, as well as the support of the County Behavioral Health Administration, the college and the private foundations and donations, that we have been able to change the lives of many students who are in mental health recovery.”


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