The New Choices Career Development Program has been a fixture in Lancaster for 35 years, helping thousands of local residents transition to “economic and emotional independence” one ten-day class at a time. Throughout that time, the YWCA Lancaster, the Junior League of Lancaster, the Lancaster County Career & Technology Center (LCCTC), and, more recently, the Lancaster County Career Technology Foundation have been collaborative partners supporting and sponsoring New Choices’ work and vision.
Starting in the new year, the New Choices program will undergo its own transition from sponsorship through the LCCTC to the YWCA Lancaster. This change will hopefully allow New Choices to address the needs of Lancaster residents more fully and allow for the possible expansion of services into neighboring regions.
New Choices Executive Director Deb St. Onge says that the overall delivery of the career guidance classes to Lancaster residents in transition will not change. The classes will continue to offer hard skills training in job seeking, interviewing, and résumé writing. Students also learn the value of self-esteem, effective communication styles, and stress management. Classes are currently held virtually during the pandemic. The classes and the support services for class graduates will all continue under sponsorship from the YWCA.
“It’s a homecoming of sorts,” St. Onge explained. “The YWCA of Lancaster was a founding partner of the New Choices Lancaster program back in 1985 and for many years New Choices classes were conducted at the YWCA.”
Rachel Sprecher, Dental Assistant Program Instructor at the LCCTC, is one of those many people who attended New Choices classes at the YWCA and found a whole, new professional and personal direction thanks to the program. She describes a difficult personal period in her life when she didn’t believe in herself.
“I wasn’t in a good place back then,” Sprecher said, “I didn’t think that I was capable of much and I didn’t think that there was much point in trying.” She continued saying that family and fate led her to the New Choices program.
“I could see, through those activities that we did in the New Choices program, that I had hope and I was capable of doing well and succeeding. The program helped build self-confidence which was a huge part of getting me where I am today,” she said. Sprecher explained that jump-starting her self-confidence led to one small success, which led to another and to another. She attended the Dental Assisting program (the one she now instructs), graduated, worked as a Dental Assistant, and returned to the LCCTC to take classes to become an Expanded Function Dental Assistant. Eventually, her career path intersected with an opening at the LCCTC to teach the Dental Assisting program.
“There is NO way in looking back at the person I was [before the New Choices program] that I would have even attempted to apply to be an instructor at this school,” she said.
Stories like that are the reason that YWCA Lancaster Chief Executive Officer Stacie Blake said that she is thrilled to welcome the New Choices program back to the YWCA. For many years, the YWCA Lancaster had been the home for New Choices classes before it moved its headquarters to PA CareerLink of Lancaster County on North Charlotte Street. Blake said that she looks to continue and expand the relationship between the New Choices program and the YWCA.
“I think that the program fits a particular niche within the YWCA’s program offerings to support economic independence and opportunity. We have lots of parents who use our childcare services who are working but are low income and are looking for an opportunity and support to move forward in a career. I just think that there will be some really great opportunities to seize in the future,” she said.
Tom Kifolo, member of the New Choices Advisory Board, said that there is an exciting opportunity for the New Choices program to expand its footprint to the surrounding region and offer the same successful and time-tested support services to a greater number of individuals in transition in the region.
“I think that this could be a great chance to offer career development support services to some counties and regions where New Choices or similar programs don’t currently exist,” he said.
Blake said that she had held conversations with leaders in New Choices parent program, PA Women Work, about the possibility of expanding services geographically and offered to reach out to sister YWCAs in the region to broach the issue.
“After reaching out, I had three different YWCAs respond in a single day saying that they would like to start up a New Choices program in their county. I think that the YWCA’s mission to eliminate racism and empower women is just a great fit with New Choices,” she said.
Dr. Stuart Savin, Administrative Director for the Lancaster County Career & Technology Center, said that New Choices has been a fabulous program for the community.
“This is the type of community program that really can make a huge difference for people on an individual level. New Choices has improved the professional and personal lives of thousands of Lancaster residents. We look forward to continuing support of the program through fundraising events like the popular “Taste of Success” cooking competition.
Former New Choices student Rachel Sprecher, and others like her, are pleased that the program will continue to run, serving the Lancaster community as it has for a generation.
“A confident and empowered workforce is always going to be needed,” Sprecher said. “We will always need programs like New Choices to help develop people who are determined and willing to work and do it well.”