For 14 years Susan Bennett has been empowering students in need.
By Melissa Simpson
Susan Bennett, the director of Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) at DCCC, recalled a time when she was attending a meeting at a welfare office and in walked one of her previous mentees who participated in KEYS, and was now working in the office.
“She is now off of public assistance and is helping other people,” Bennett said. “That was pretty great when I walked in the room and she was. She continued on and she is giving back and that is amazing.”
The former client of Bennett’s is one of more than 2000 individuals at the college that was helped by the KEYS program, a Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare program that was created to help TANF and SNAP recipients make the most of their community college experience by providing them with books, school supplies, home goods, transportation needs and much more.
The main eligibility requirement for the program is that each candidate must already be receiving SNAP and TANF benefits.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), often referred to as food stamps or EBT, provides lowincome citizens with money to purchase food. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, as of Sept. 9, more than 45 million Americans are currently receiving SNAP benefits. Nearly 2 million of these participants reside in Pennsylvania.
TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), provides extremely low-income families with limited cash assistance. According to the federal Office of Family Assistance, during the 2016 fiscal year, an average of 1.2 million families received TANF benefits. In Pennsylvania, the number totals 60,000.
Bennett has worked at DCCC since 1975 as a graduate assistant and became Director of KEYS in 2004 when the program was first implemented 14 community colleges across Pennsylvania. A total of 77 DCCC students participate in the KEYS program today.
Research has shown that individuals who obtain a career specific certificate or an associate’s degree have better opportunities for advancement, which is why the KEYS program was created.
Over the past 12 years, Bennett and the KEYS program have helped more than 2,000 DCCC students receive benefits. Although the KEYS operates mainly out of the Marple Campus, staff can be found at both the Upper Darby and Southeast campuses one day out of the week, but are looking to expand to two.
In the near future, KEYS will be returning to the Chester campus after an absence due to lack of funding. Once the money is released from the state, the new plans will be implemented.
To apply for KEYS, all participants must be referred to the program by the state. Students can apply by contacting their public assistance caseworker, and requesting confirmation of their revival of TANF or SNAP benefits be sent to the KEYS program.
From there, participants meet with their caseworker and sign an AMR (Agreement of Mutual Responsibility), a document that states each party’s duties in regards to the KEYS program. Once that it is done the participant can be enrolled in the program.
Participation in the program is completely anonymous. Yet, students are made aware that KEYS facilitators do reserve the right to get in contact with a student’s teacher if necessary.
“You are not walking around in some big hat that says ‘I am in the KEYS program,’” Bennett said. “It is very confidential.”
Bennett encourages all eligible DCCC students to take advantage of the KEYS program.
“Free transportation, child care, and money for books is nothing to sneeze at, not to mention the other things,” Bennett said. “We are also a shoulder to cry on, someone to scream at.”
Due to funding, there is an extensive waiting list to become a part of the KEYS program. According to Bennett, the current enrollment cap will be removed in the near future once more funding is funneled into the program.
Although the cap has the potential to deter people from signing up for the KEYS, Bennett is excited about the future of the program. Branching out to more campuses and impacting the lives of more DCCC students appears to be on the horizon, she added.
Bennett knows that this additional funding means that more students will receive assistance with parenting, education, transportation — all of which help guide needy students to the path of graduation.
“Everyday there are small rewards and big rewards,” Bennett said. “The biggest is when I go to graduation every year and I see people who thought they would never be able to get through and get an associate’s degree.
For more information about the KEYS program at the college please call 610-359-5231, stop by room 2170, or visit http://www.dccc.edu/KEYS
Contact Melissa Simpson at firstname.lastname@example.org