The YWCA's Liberty House program, which helps struggling women and children get back on their feet, recently received the Society for Public Health Education's 2013 Program Excellence Award.
The society looks at educational programs across the nation and chooses one each year to receive this award. Previous winners have included Kaiser Permanente and the Stanford Chronic Disease Self-Management Program.
Liberty House provides transitional housing for homeless women and children, as well as a wide variety of educational programs that include life skills training and classes on career and financial empowerment and creating a budget. The program also brings in tutors to teach focused classes on resume and cover letter writing.
"We're more than just a shelter. Our goal is to help women develop skills which will be necessary when they leave here. We want to make sure they can find a job, a stable home, and not find themselves back in the same situation," said Mae Ling Kranz, program manager.
Liberty House has been helping people for more than 10 years. However, its program recently implemented changes that were sparked due to research collected by Beth McMahon, a professor at Lock Haven University. McMahon and program staff spoke with women enrolled in Liberty House to see what they felt were the biggest challenges facing them.
"We can tell someone the things we think they should do all day. But one of the things we wondered was, 'What do these women feel they really need to do?' " Kranz said.
Many women in the study spoke about the struggle to find reliable transportation and affordable child care. Women also discussed their desire to obtain further education and careers, rather than minimum wage jobs. These ambitions often are compromised by the realities of meeting their families' day-to-day needs, according to the study.
"Once that study was complete, we were able to use the research to make improvements to our program to ensure that we were filling the gaps," Kranz said.
The intake process was overhauled to gain more information about the backgrounds of clients, including education, criminal backgrounds, previous abuse and job status. The staff also started offering women new classes in financial independence, job seeking skills, nutrition, life skills and parenting, Kranz said.
Since implementing the changes, 70 percent of program participants have reported that they were able to find permanent housing, according to Kranz.
Liberty House has 28 rooms with 35 beds. The program typically runs at about 80 percent capacity or more.
"Sometimes we end up filling all our beds and have to create a wait list. Because it's a two-year program, sometimes it can take a long time to find an open bed," Kranz said.
Kranz noted that the poor economy and sky-high rents in the area have taken their toll on the women and children in Lycoming County.
"Many of those women who were able to make it on a minimum-wage job are finding they're not able to do it anymore," Kranz said.