Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill honored as POWER Advocate
Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) held its 22nd graduation ceremony on Dec. 8 to recognize the achievements of students who successfully completed the Partnership on Work Enrichment and Readiness (POWER) program and to honor an advocate of the program, Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill.
The POWER program helps individuals in mental health recovery to successfully develop and reach their education and career goals through a free two-credit college course that focuses on career self-assessment, presentation skills, time management, resume and cover letter writing, interview skills, computer basics, goal setting and college success skills, among others.
Twenty-six students graduated from the fall POWER program and 11 students graduated from the new summer program, said program Director Lisa Barbiero. Approximately 18 students will be continuing their education at MCCC in the spring, while the other students will seek employment. Additionally, 17 students graduated from the POWER Plus programs, which are supportive programs that assist POWER graduates as they continue their education or obtain employment.
During the ceremony, Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill, who presides over the Montgomery County Drug Treatment Court, was honored with the POWER advocate award. O’Neill founded the court in 2006 to address the disease of addiction, which often leads to criminal behaviors, as he witnessed. After participants successfully complete the 15 to 36-month treatment program, they can enroll in MCCC’s POWER program to take the next steps.
“More than 400 people have graduated from Drug Treatment Court. . . . They were able to rise through the abyss of addiction, remain in recovery and do things they never imagined they could do,” he said, noting that the POWER program “lights a spark in people that they didn’t even know was there.”
One of the POWER and Drug Treatment Court graduates, Ernest Brewer, presented the award to O’Neill.
“The first time I met Judge O’Neill on February 23, 2015, I was in handcuffs,” Brewer said. “Now, I am clean, sober and clear-minded, thanks to these programs. It is an honor for me present the POWER Advocate award to this special person. Thank you, Judge O’Neill, from the bottom of my heart.”
County Commissioners Dr. Val Arkoosh, chair, and Joseph Gale spoke at the ceremony, praising the program and its success.
“From my experience, I know there is enormous stigma with mental health and addictions,” Arkoosh said. “The POWER program, however, sees people in recovery as diamonds in the rough and as strong, resilient people who just need a hand to get started.”
“The POWER program makes things that seem impossible, possible,” added Gale. “You can learn to overcome obstacles if you use the resources around you.”
As part of the celebration, several POWER graduates shared their stories, describing the challenges they overcame in their lives and how the POWER program provides the self-assurance and skills they will need in the future.
One student, Jeffrey Tourdot, described how he came from a “normal, loving family,” but he had problems fitting in as a teenager. He started drinking and using drugs, and by the time he was 18, he was stealing cars and breaking in homes to support his addiction. Fortunately, he was referred to the Montgomery County Recovery Center, where he able to overcome his addiction. He then enrolled in the POWER program.
“The program is truly a blessing. I was able to make positive changes, and I was finally able to realize my potential. I am motivated to succeed, and I now have a sense of purpose to push forward in the right direction,” he said. Tourdot will be continuing his education at MCCC next semester.
The POWER program also provided direction for student veteran James Duffy, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 28 years.
“Through the POWER program, I learned I have options and the program gives me the tools to pursue those options,” he said. Duffy plans to continue his education at MCCC and pursue a degree in the addictions/counseling field. “I want to help others so I can save someone from going down this destructive path.”
For student Mary Randall-Johnson, the POWER program gave her the confidence to attend MCCC and pursue a Human Services degree. “Thank you, POWER team, for having faith in me,” she said.
The POWER team includes Director Lisa Barbiero, Community Liaison Lori Schreiber, Employment and Grant Coordinator Tarsha Scovens, Academic Specialist Holly Harris, Peer Mentor George Rohde, Faculty Byron Goldstein, Faculty Rosemary Regan and Dean of Social Sciences Division Dr. Aaron Shatzman.
The POWER Program started in 2006 as a result of a concept proposed by Diane Haar, former program director, in collaboration with the Montgomery County Department of Behavioral Health/Developmental Disabilities Department.
The POWER Program is funded by the Pew Charitable Trust, Montgomery County Office of Behavioral Health, the Odd Fellows of Philadelphia, Pat Kind Family Foundation and Montgomery County Community College.
Photograph 1, group shot: Montgomery County Community College recently hosted a graduation ceremony to honor 37 individuals who completed the College’s Partnership on Work Enrichment and Readiness (POWER) program, as well as 11 students who participated in the POWER Plus Education and Employment programs. Pictured are the graduates of the programs, as well as the POWER staff and POWER Advocate Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill. Photo by Sandi Yanisko
Photograph 2: POWER Program Director Lisa Barbiero, Montgomery County Commissioner Chair Dr. Val Arkoosh and the Honorable Judge Steven T. O’Neill, POWER Advocate Award recipient.