Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is here, and we at Vita want to express how thankful we are for all of you who contribute to our work and form our community. Our dedicated teachers, staff, and volunteers provide the instruction and support our students need to thrive, and our donors’ support helps keep the agency staffed and our programs running.

Of course, our efforts are ultimately about our students, who make the time to educate themselves while working hard at jobs and caring for their children and inspire the rest of us with their determination. As ESL teacher Jose Garcia said, “I think that if I am able to have an impact…and make that little bit of a difference in their lives…that’s what keeps on bringing me back.”

That spirit has sustained Vita and fueled its growth over the years, and we believe it will continue to do so for years to come. Your contributions and commitment to our mission are what make this community great, and we are truly grateful to all of you.

In the meantime, we at Vita wish everyone a joyous holiday with your families and friends. You make Vita and our community great!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thank you, Peggy

The Vita community is saddened by the recent passing of Peggy Blanco. Peggy brought her skills as an English teacher to Vita, teaching students in both our English as a Second Language and GED Preparation programs. More recently, she served as a member of Vita’s Board of Directors, continuing to support our mission.

In lieu of flowers, Peggy’s family has kindly asked that donations be made in her memory to support Vita’s programs and further her legacy of giving back to the community. To read more about Peggy and her memorial arrangements, you can view her obituary in the Bucks County Courier Times here.

We thank Peggy for her friendship and her years of work on Vita’s behalf, and offer our condolences to her family. Peggy, you will be missed.

Vita Partners with United Way to Help Ukrainian refugees

 

Vita Education Services is partnering with the United Way of Bucks County to offer English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to Ukrainian refugees who have recently resettled in Bucks County. The United Way has found that many struggle to gain employment due to lack of English proficiency.

With one class for beginners and one for those with some prior knowledge, these classes will provide language skills to help refugees adapt to life in the United States. These classes are being hosted by Regeneration Church in Fairless Hills, which includes many Ukrainian-Americans and has become a hub of support for refugees.

“Vita Education Services is honored to work alongside the United Way of Bucks County and the Regeneration Church to help recently arrived Ukrainian refugees get settled in our community,” says Vita Executive Director Mercedes Anderson. “Not knowing the language of one’s new home can be an enormous barrier to starting a new life. Vita’s ESL programs help adults learn English they can use right away in daily life.”

Family Literacy Week

The Week of September 19th was Family Literacy and Adult Education week, highlighting this important but often-overlooked facet of education. While educating children is critical, providing education to adults can also have powerful effects on families.

The National Institutes of Health found that educating parents, as well as children, has a stronger effect than only working with children. In fact, a mother’s literacy is the best indicator of her child’s future academic success. Education also helps adults secure jobs that pay family-sustaining wages.

This is why Vita’s Family Literacy program, which is beginning a new year of classes, is so important. People come to Bucks County from all over the world, and our teachers are working with parents from Afghanistan, China, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Turkey, El Salvador, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Tatarstan.

This semester’s parents have 69 children, whose lives will be touched by the program. They speak languages including Cantonese, Farsi, Turkish, and Ukrainian, but want to learn English in order to build new lives here.

Vita Awarded Grant by Foundations Community Partnership

Foundations Community Partnership has awarded Vita a $3,000 Partnership in Youth Services Grant to fund a field trip for our Family Literacy classes, which will make it possible for them to visit the Bucks County Children’s Museum. We are grateful for FCP’s support, and excited for the opportunity this presents to the children in our program.

 

Foundations Community Partnership (FCP) is a non-profit, private grant-making foundation established in 2007 to support the behavioral health and human service needs of children, young adults, and families in Bucks County, Pa. In response, the organization provides grants and technical assistance, scholarships, and professional development as well as service-learning opportunities through collaborative partnerships.

Goodbye, Dottie

This Summer, Vita said a fond and grateful farewell to Dottie Hence, who has been part of our team since November 2000. As Vita’s Data Manager (AKA “Data Diva”) for two decades, Dottie has been vitally important, and we will miss her welcoming attitude, hard work, and sense of humor.

Friend and former colleague Judy Schaeffer describes Dottie as Vita’s unsung hero for her role in tracking data on our students, classes, tutors, and teachers, and providing reports on demand to meet Vita’s needs. Her work has been vital to maintaining compliance with government rules, to keeping the decision-makers informed about what we’re actually accomplishing, and to securing funding. More recently, she and some friends also devised the specialty cocktails that were served at Vita’s 50th Anniversary celebration. Since this is not technically part of her job, we can only see it as proof of her commitment to Vita.

Asked about her career, Dottie recalls that when she first joined Vita, it was a smaller organization, with everyone crammed into half the office space. A lot has changed over the years: the Literacy and English as a Second Language departments have expanded, the Family Literacy program went from an idea to a core part of Vita, and three women have occupied the position of Executive Director.

What Dottie considers most noteworthy is not Vita’s growth, however. “Vita is like a family,” she says. “It’s just in the atmosphere.” She is confident that Vita will go on because the people here care about each other and look after each other.

What she does not say is that she herself deserves a share of the credit for establishing and maintaining that atmosphere. While Dottie makes it clear that she is not professionally irreplaceable, she will still be missed by those of us who knew her, whether briefly or for decades.

Dottie thanks her colleagues for years of friendship and teamwork. To that, we can only say: thank you, Dottie. We wish you good health and every happiness.

Vita Receives Government Grants

Vita has been awarded a $725,406 Adult Basic Education Direct Service grant and a $218,400 Family Literacy Direct Service Grant by the PA Department of Education.
“We are grateful for this continued support from the state,” says Executive Director Mercedes Anderson. “This funding, along with generous gifts from our donors, allows Vita to keep providing free classes to those who seek our help to improve their lives and their families’.”

Celebrating Our Students

On August 20th, students in Vita’s Literacy program gathered with teachers, tutors, staff, board members, and their families to celebrate the hard work they have put in throughout the past year.

“It is never easy to be an adult student,” noted Program Director Kathy White. “You have jobs, families, stresses, responsibilities.” With these demands, adult students often struggle to find the time to study, let alone the energy. Kathy pointed out that Vita’s students are a powerful example of perseverance. Most are not native English speakers, and all of them face obstacles in their journey, but they don’t let that stop them. “This is what it’s all about,” said High School Equivalency teacher Paul Connolly, “…everyone here is persistent and motivated.”

That understanding was also found in the words of the students themselves. When asked what advice she would give to others in her position, student Dominique Collette wrote, “Do not feel discouraged, passing your GED will take time…Take the time to study and review, it really helps in the long run.”

A powerful example of perseverance came from Jessica Cagnetti, who shared her story. Her mother, anticipating her graduation from high school, had bought her a class ring to celebrate. However, Jessica dropped out before she finished. She put the ring away in her jewelry box, where it stayed as a symbol of a decision she would long regret. Now, however, that has changed. This year, after long effort and several attempts, Jessica passed all of her High School Equivalency tests. At the celebration, her mother and fiancée watched proudly as she stood in front of the group and finally put on the ring her mother had given her years ago, knowing that she had earned it.

It is these moments that make working at Vita special. What makes education so important is that it gives people like Jessica the power to transform their own lives, pursue their dreams, and become who and what they want to be.

To those who have not yet achieved their goals, whatever they may be, we say: persevere. We believe in you, and we will be here to help you learn.

Resilience in the Face of Adversity

Over 50 students, tutors, teachers, staff, and Board members attended Vita’s Adult Basic Education (ABE) program end-of-year celebration on July 22.  This year’s event, held via Zoom,  celebrated the accomplishments of students in reading, math and High School Equivalency (HSE)  preparation classes – supported by their teachers, and volunteer tutors and classroom aides.  The theme this year of the annual event was “Resilience in the Face of Adversity” in recognition of how students, teachers, tutors, and staff have risen to the challenges of working, sharing, and learning remotely during the COVID-19 crisis.

The program included video presentations, student speeches, and recognition of the accomplishments of students, including earning HSE diplomas, achieving U.S. citizenship, and making educational gains to move forward with their postsecondary and career goals. Tutors and classroom aides were recognized for their many hours of services, which this year included adapting to many new technologies and remote learning curriculum.

Following is a video presentation from the celebration, made by Vita’s teacher and students in a HSE for English Language Learners class.

 

Vita Receives Grant from Brook J. Lenfest Foundation

Vita has been awarded a $15,000 grant from the Brook J. Lenfest Foundation for general operating support.

The Brook J. Lenfest Foundation is a charitable foundation established by Brook J. Lenfest in 2000. It is dedicated to making people aware of positive life choices and providing support and opportunities for those motivated to pursue them. Its grants focus mainly on education, job training and mentoring programs. The Philadelphia Foundation provides administrative and management support services for the Brook J. Lenfest Doundation.

“We greatly appreciate the support of the Brook J. Lenfest Foundation in helping Bucks County residents improve literacy and life skills to achieve their goals, and helping Vita to continue to provide these kinds of transformative educational opportunities,” said Mercedes Anderson, Vita’s Executive Director.