Project Self-Sufficiency honors academic achievement


Brian Doyle's smile says it all. He's in recovery and has accomplished more than he ever imagined thanks to Project Self-Sufficiency. Here he tells his story at the PSS Awards Ceremony last Thursday night. Photo by Laurie Gordon

By Laurie Gordon
NEWTON — Brian Doyle recently earned his high school equivalency diploma through a program offered by Sussex County Community College. Oh, and he graduated with above college scores. Pretty impressive, right? Not nearly impressive as what he's done to make a life for himself and his two little ones. That's what Project Self-Sufficiency is all about and Doyle's story is about he was able to use their resources to become not just average but great: in his words “the man and father he always dreamed he could be.”
“I also just got a full time job close to home,” Doyle announced to the gathering of about 100 people at The Celebration of Literacy at Project Self-Sufficiency on Thursday evening, as part of his story.
It takes gumption to get up in front of a room full of people and talk about what you've done. But in Doyle's case, his success overcame his fears and he's both proud of himself and extremely thankful to Project Self-Sufficiency for making what he could be what he is.
“I was in a tough spot,” Doyle told the audience. “I had two very young children with my fiance and she started using drugs in the house. I'm in recovery myself, so this was a really bad situation and I needed help. I wasn't going to jeopardize seven years of being clean or my kids' safety.”
A friend told Doyle about Project Self-Sufficiency and to give them a call. That call changed his life.
“They helped me with parenting skills, taught me what foods to buy for my children. I was able to go to parenting classes, and they helped me build a resume: something I'd never had before. I went to a job fair and there were just so many ways in which Project Self-Sufficiency helped me. I never thought I'd be the person I am today standing in front of you.”
The Celebration of Literacy honors agency participants who had impressive academic achievements, as well as those who had completed significant steps towards economic self-sufficiency during the past year. Seven participants received honorariums in memory of longtime Project Self-Sufficiency supporters. Honorees were addressed by Sussex County Freeholder Sylvia Petillo and Sussex County Community College President Dr. Jon Connelly.
The men and women who were acknowledged at the event included community college graduates, medical assistants, nursing students, and students at business colleges. Several of the evening’s awardees are graduates of the sixteen-week Higher Opportunities for Women or the New Jersey Youth Corps programs. Others have completed courses at the non-profit agency in QuickBooks or Microsoft applications. A group of young mothers were congratulated for graduating from one of the agency’s three home visitation programs, while several other young parents were honored for their long-term participation. Additionally, several agency participants were honored for obtaining employment leading to economic self-sufficiency.
“Wow...wow,” Project Self-Sufficiency's Executive Director, Deborah Berry-Toon, addressed the honorees. “Each and every one of you should be so proud of how far you've come and how far you really, really can go.”
Berry-Toon added, “The Celebration of Literacy is intended to honor those Project Self-Sufficiency participants who have successfully worked towards academic achievement or economic self-sufficiency during the past year. We are very proud of the goals achieved by these men and women. These milestones are vital steps on the path to economic self-sufficiency for these participants and for their families.”
Seven agency participants were singled out for special recognition during the event. Sonia Encarnacion was chosen to receive the Ruth Ann Duffy Williams Scholarship, named in honor of the esteemed Sussex County educator who spent her career as a teacher and principal at the Branchville and Frankford Elementary Schools. The scholarship is bestowed upon an individual or individuals under the age of 25 who have demonstrated exceptional drive and academic potential during the previous academic year.
Agency participant Amber Abdo received the Connie Koeppel Award, given in honor of the late Sussex County educator and spiritual leader who, along with her husband Keith, founded the Loving Arms crisis shelter for pregnant girls and women, and who worked tirelessly on behalf of hungry children and families. The award is bestowed annually to a young woman who is newly parenting and who is actively striving to provide a stable, loving and economically self-sufficient home for her family.
The Dot Dedrick Award was given to Melissa Fernandez in memory of the ardent Project Self-Sufficiency supporter who spearheaded fund-raising projects on behalf of the agency’s food pantry, Back-to-School Fair, and Season of Hope Toy Drive, both as an individual and through her membership in the Sparta Women’s Club. The award is given to an agency participant who is actively engaged in giving back to the community through acts of volunteerism.
Project Self-Sufficiency participant Brenda Vergara was selected to receive the Richard Illingworth Scholarship, in honor of the former Leadership Council member and Human Resources professional who devoted countless hours to assisting participants in the agency’s Career Center. The scholarship is given to an agency participant who has tenaciously pursued education and employment during the past year.
Agency participant Doyle received the Jessica Heaney Brown award in recognition of the young aspiring student whose dream of attending college was tragically cut short.The award is bestowed annually upon someone who has overcome substance abuse or is actively in recovery and wants to further their education.
The inaugural Anna Murphey award was given to Rachel Coffman in memory of the longtime New Jersey Herald photographer and agency supporter. The recognition is awarded to a Sussex County resident who contributes to the community through service or the arts.
Finally, the new Margery Inkeles award for displaced homemakers was given to Nahquita Butler in recognition of her diligence in pursuing her educational and professional goals despite extraordinary obstacles. The honorarium reflected the passionate support of the agency’s Capital Campaign and other initiatives by Dr. David and Margery Inkeles.
In additon to Doyle, Jennifer Lawson inspired the gathering by sharing stories about the obstacles they had overcome along their respective paths to academic success.
In reviewing this year’s group of award recipients, Beverly Gordon, president of Project Self-Sufficiency’s Board of Directors, commented, “Each step these men and women take brings them closer to their personal goal of financial self-sufficiency. We are proud to have been able to help them to determine their career paths, and more importantly, to give them the tools to start the process with a solid education in their chosen field.”
Kirsten Gieger, director of employment and career services at Project Self-Sufficiency, summed up the celebration with her words to the honorees.
“All of you have overcome barriers to get where you are and you have each done it by marching to the beat of your own drum. March on.”
Project Self-Sufficiency is celebrating its thirtieth year of providing services to individuals and families in the New Jersey counties of Sussex, Hunterdon and northern portions of Morris and Warren. For more information, visit <URL destination="http://www.projectselfsufficiency.org. ">www.projectselfsufficiency.org.