Pitt-Bradford Students Help Prepare Homeless for Work Re-entry

BRADFORD, Pa. – University of Pittsburgh at Bradford students have learned a lot about homelessness in the last few weeks.

In helping at the YWCA Homeless Shelter in Bradford during the spring semester, Alyssa Smith did not know that something as simple as a speeding ticket could begin a path to homelessness.

She said the person could be late paying the traffic citation because they couldn’t afford to, adding to its cost until additional late fines made it unpayable.

“Things like that can spiral out of control,” said Smith, a business management major from Erie.

Things like that are why students from Students in Free Enterprise, the Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship class and the Pitt-Bradford entrepreneurship program have come together to help those at the YWCA.

With the help of a $2,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation, the students are helping to prepare women for when they leave the shelter and get back into the workforce.

About 30 women find temporary homes at the shelter each month. Students hosted various readiness classes at the shelter throughout the spring term, which ended Friday.

Last month, two students, along with Diana Maguire, SIFE adviser and associate director of the entrepreneurship program, talked about different places of employment with two residents.

Earlier that month, three students and Maguire worked with two residents, going line-by-line through the budgeting process. They took turns covering topics such as income, food and rent.

Residents have found the workshops beneficial.

“The workshops have helped build confidence,” said Chrie Denning, who has been at the shelter for about a month. “You forget you know things, and it brings it back.”

She said she wants more for herself and her children than living in the shelter.

In addition to providing training, students used the grant money to provide clothing to residents and upgrade computers at the shelter.

Also on the drawing board is bringing a makeover program that would prepare women for such things as job interviews.

Becki Rix, who has been a resident at the shelter since March, said such an event would be great.

Students began pitching in at the center in late February. First they explored the needs of the shelter before launching into the project.

Rachel Towsey, a business management major from Ambler, said she did not even know the YWCA existed before beginning to tackle the project.

She soon realized something disturbing, “That no one was really helping the YWCA.”

Through this project, Maguire said, students are being turned into leaders.

When Chelsea Reynolds, an entrepreneurship major from Smithsburg, Md., first pitched in at the shelter, she felt nervous. That apprehension soon faded, and she wanted to go back to the shelter. She has helped at the shelter at least three times.

Doing even small things “can go a long way with the residents,” Reynolds said.

Just because the semester has ended at Pitt-Bradford does not mean help at the shelter will end, Maguire said. Work will continue in the fall.

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