LUNCH: New Choices

LUNCH: New Choices

From the pages of FLL Issue #38 • Photo by Will Marks

— Pictured: Renee D’Ariano, Paulina Rodriguez & Tricia Nabors

“Excuse me. If I help you with your son, will you stay in school?”

When Paulina Rodriguez, a business administration student at Thaddeus Stevens Trade School, angrily shared with a friend that she was going to have to quit school because she was unable to go to class and get her son to the doctor appointments he needed. Tricia Nabors, who was there at Stevens to visit with another student, stepped in and confronted Paulina, telling her that she could help both her son and Paulina herself. Tricia recognized the cry for help and did not walk away or think to herself, “That’s none of my business.” She stepped in and connected Paulina with the professionals she needed, so that Rodriguez could help herself and her children. She helped her to find self-sufficiency as well as emotional, physical, and financial health.

I knew Tricia was special when I first spoke with her at the FLL Issue 37 release party this past winter, where she was honored for winning Fiscal Thinking’s Innovator Award. Immediately, I was struck by her energy and strength. “Force of being” is the best way to describe the it factor evident in Tricia. When I asked her about the New Choices Program, she spoke quickly, as if she had experienced this act of courtesy before. She spoke almost as if she was expecting a nod and a quick glaze over from her audience, not because she isn’t magnetic, but simply because—how do you elevator pitch a program that is headed by just one woman, located in the building of another non-profit, that gives out nothing but advice, and has no name recognition? Ready? Go.

She did a nice job. Nice enough to make me want to hear more and not just from her, but also from women who had experienced the program. On a cold winter evening, the four of us (Tricia, graduates Paulina Rodriguez and Renee D’Ariano, and myself) sat down to talk about life—its obstacles and boundaries, its hardships and successes, and how Tricia Nabors and her one-woman program, New Choices, helped these two women become independent and selfsufficient citizens.

Ten days. In just ten program days, from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., you transform into a new person. So much so that Paulina leaves just one personal memento on her desk as the Intake Coordinator of the Lancaster Council of the Churches: a picture of herself on the first day of the New Choices program. She keeps that one photograph there to remind herself how far she has come and to also, as she says, “Keep me humble.” Paulina goes on to say, “Strangers come to me and want something, and because of Tricia I am able to be at the table to help them make that change.”

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]IF ONLY PEOPLE UNDERSTOOD THE MAGIC THAT HAPPENS IN THOSE TEN DAYS.[/pullquote]

60 hours. In those 60 program hours, Tricia, a trained therapist and executive coach, sets boundaries like the importance of arriving on time. In fact, in 2013, Renee (then a recently separated mom in need of a career change that would enable her to support herself and her children) arrived late to the New Choices orientation. Tricia told Renee to go home. She told her that she was not going to admit someone who did not take her program or herself seriously. Of the incident, Tricia now says, “I am giving something away for free, so I have to have them immediately see the value—my time, their time. It is all about respect and boundaries and keeping my word.” Renee begged and promised she would follow all of Tricia’s rules, and used her two weeks of vacation from her job to work through the program. She admits that when she walked through the New Choices door, she was wary, but Tricia broke the ice and the room gave her “unconditional acceptance.” And over the next ten days, Tricia helped each of those women set goals, recognize obstacles to fulfilling those goals, and honestly discuss relationships, emotions, and habits that might prevent them from moving forward. “Understanding when things don’t work out, you don’t throw in the towel and you figure out how to not make the same mistake again,” Paulina says of what she learned.

As Tricia explains, “So many of these women, from all walks of life, arrive on the New Choices doorstep with so much shame—vulnerability, with no idea where to turn.” Tricia and her program enable these women to begin strategically and successfully navigating situations that they never had to before (getting a job, resume writing, negotiating a salary, successfully working with people you may not like, etcetera) and do it all with the knowledge that once through the program, Tricia remains a resource and mentor for life.

Students like Paulina who have been out of the program for a number of years have now become mentors to other women in New Choices. She says she will often talk to women she meets through her job and tell them, “You need a little Tricia in your life.” Tricia, the New Choices program, and the resulting healthy connections and relationships enable these women to support themselves, act as advocates for themselves and their children, and simply (but never easily) as Tricia says, “Help people get to a place they never thought they could be.”

Ms. Nabors shares, “Three to six months after completing the New Choices program, 98 percent of the women are either in an educational program or an employment position.” As a result of this phenomenal success rate, there is a long waiting list for the program.

There is also a Harrisburg budget fiasco. The New Choices program has always had bipartisan support. In fact, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s wife successfully worked through the program many years ago, as she was trying to enter the work force after some time as a stay-at-home wife and mother. But today, as of this date, Governor Tom Wolfe has lineitem vetoed the program. The reality is that without funding, this program that helps women from all walks of life become productive citizens, healthy mothers, and major change makers is going to disappear. You can only imagine the ripple effects this closure would have. Because if you cannot help people help themselves, the reality is that often they inadvertently and unwillingly become locked in a cycle of generational burden upon society.

Paulina dreams of opening a Susquehanna Valley Urban League. She will, as she proudly shares, see all of her children into college or successful employment, including her son who had been struggling and needed counseling—which Tricia helped provide with a connection to get the needed help, thus allowing Paulina to stay in school and earn her degree. Now, Renee is excitedly starting her new job as an esthetician, dreams of earning her Master’s Certificate in sugaring (a new hair removal technique that dates back to the Ancient Egyptians, but is popular now in California and New York), and is getting married to a new love in her life.

Tricia has given each of these women the strength and resources to imagine and achieve… but Tricia also has dreams of her own. Trish dreams of expanding the New Choices program to having a space of their own and not hidden away within a building with another non-profit, but with a resource library and full technology reserves. She wants to expand the mentorship component of the program and once and for all learn how to compel the folks—politicians and business people alike—who can help. As Tricia says, “If only people understood the magic that happens in those ten days…”

Ten days of magic with a 98 percent success rate.

New Choices Lancaster
Located at YWCA
110 North Lime Street
Lancaster, PA 17602
(717) 393-1735 ext. 235

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