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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Master Gardener Visits Little Sprouts Early Learning Center

Master Gardener April Fisher from Stillwater recently visited the preschool classroom at the Little Sprouts Early Learning Center to read books about gardening as part of Project Self-Sufficiency’s Celebrity Reader program.  “It's always amazing to see children step into the world of make-believe when you read to them.  Their eagerness to see and hear what is on the next page is such a joy to behold,” said Fisher.  “It is my pleasure and privilege to be a part of the Little Sprouts Reading program and the marvelous support that Project Self-Sufficiency offers to this community.

The Celebrity Reader program is a component of Project Self-Sufficiency’s Family Literacy Program, which exists primarily to assist parents with obtaining their GED or with passing the college placement exam. While in the program, parents also engage in a variety of activities designed to promote literacy within the entire family.  

Project Self-Sufficiency is a private non-profit community-based organization dedicated to improving the lives of low-income families residing in northwestern New Jersey. The agency’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of holistic, respectful, and comprehensive services enabling low-income single parents, teen parents, two-parent families, and displaced homemakers to improve their lives and the lives of their children through the achievement of personal and economic self-sufficiency and family stability. Since 1986 Project Self-Sufficiency has served more than 20,000 families, including over 30,000 children.  For information about the programs and services offered by Project Self-Sufficiency, visit or call 973-940-3500.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Breast Cancer Survivor Relies on Family and Friends for Support

“I’ve had a rough life,” admits Sussex County breast cancer survivor Rhonda Kays.  Diagnosed with polio at the age of two, sidelined by a heart attack at 45, and felled by a stroke at 67, the retired Sussex County preschool teacher was not prepared for a diagnosis of breast cancer at the age of 68.  Heart disease and cancer run in her family, but until Kays, no one had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Kays had always been diligent about getting annual mammograms, but in 2012, she delayed her testing for months due to a busy schedule of social and family obligations.  After noticing mysterious lumps in one of her breasts, she hurriedly made an appointment for a mammogram.  The ultimate diagnosis was Stage Three breast cancer.  “Don’t wait when a doctor tells you to go get a mammogram,” advises Kays.  “Don’t go next year.  Go right away.”

Breast cancer is often a silent disease, with virtually no symptoms, but it is often completely curable if diagnosed in its early stages.  In 1980, the five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer was about 74%; today that number is 99%.  There are currently more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. 

According to data compiled recently by the Komen for the Cure® North Jersey Affiliate, almost 33% of women over the age of 40 who reside in Sussex County have not had a mammogram in the past year, a percentage which is marginally better than some of the other counties in the agency’s 9-county service area in northern New Jersey.  However, Sussex County has the highest incidence of incurable breast cancer in the state, primarily because the cancer is not being detected at its earliest, most curable, stage.  The average 5-year mortality rate across all ethnic groups in Sussex County is 33.4%, almost 7 percentage points higher than the 9-county average of 26.5%. 

The majority of those diagnosed with breast cancer each year have no family history of the disease, making it all the more important for women to get an annual mammogram.   A mammogram is 85% - 90% effective at detecting breast cancer.  Mammograms may detect breast cancer up to two years before they can be felt through clinical or self-examinations.  Recent studies have shown that mammography can reduce the chances of death from breast cancer by 30%.  Early diagnosis is the key to a cure, and urging women to get a mammogram can be the difference between life and death. 

Kays admits that during the weeks and months following her diagnosis, “I was scared to death.”  She coped with her fear by leaning on her adult children, husband, parishioners at the First United Methodist Church in Newton, and friends.  “I have a good family and good friends.  It’s very important to talk to other breast cancer survivors.  Don’t keep it bottle up.  I was scared stiff and talking to other people helped me to relax.”

Due to the severity of her diagnosis, Kays immediately launched into surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.  “It was quite an ordeal,” recalls Kays, who suffered from nausea and a host of other side effects as a result.  “But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t go through all of that.”

Prior to her diagnosis, Kays had retired from her profession as a preschool teacher in order to supervise her five young grandchildren.  Despite nagging health problems which are by-products of her cancer treatments, she still finds the energy to watch several of her grandchildren on multiple days each week.  “I enjoy it.  Being with them helps to take my mind off of my health problems.”

Kays has lingering fears about cancer recurring.  “I am grateful for every day, but I keep watching and praying and hoping the cancer doesn’t develop someplace else.  That’s my fear.”  In the meantime, she tries to be supportive of others.  She volunteers at her church and speaks with fellow breast cancer survivors whenever possible.

Free mammograms will be offered at Project Self-Sufficiency on Friday, November 13th, with funding from the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection (NJ CEED) Program.  The NJCEED Program, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the State of New Jersey, provides funding to all twenty-one counties in the State for comprehensive breast, cervical, prostate, and colorectal cancer education, outreach, and screening. Men and women whose income is under 250% of the Federal poverty level and have no insurance are eligible for the program.

Free mammograms and pap tests are also available through the NJ CEED program; follow-up diagnostics, including additional mammography views, breast ultrasounds, and biopsies can also be provided.  Interested participants are encouraged to call 973-579-0750, ext. 1246.  In addition, Newton Medical Center will provide a free mammogram for women who qualify through the Newton Medical Center Foundation’s “Mammograms Save Lives” program.  Those without health insurance are encouraged to contact Newton Medical Center’s Education/Outreach office at 973-579-8340 for more information.

Project Self-Sufficiency is currently searching for Sussex County breast cancer survivors who would be willing to be profiled as part of the Mammograms Save Lives campaign.  Their story would appear in the New Jersey Herald and on the Project Self-Sufficiency website.  Interested participants are urged to call Project Self-Sufficiency at 973-940-3500.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Local Business Donates Vehicle to Family in Need

Project Self-Sufficiency participant Heather Draughon recently received a newly-refurbished automobile from Elite Automotive & Tire as part of the used vehicle donation program at Project Self-Sufficiency.  The mother of four had been struggling to get to work and transport her children with a vehicle that kept breaking down.  When she learned that she was going to receive a free car, she was very surprised.  “I had been having trouble with my old car.  It needed major repairs and it was unsafe for my children to be in it.  I am a very hard-working person and this saves me from having to look for another car or find the money to fix the car that I have.  I am very thankful.  This is going to help me a lot.”

Elite Automotive & Tire owner Dave Hergert coordinated the donation of a 2002 Chrysler Sebring LX to Draughon.  The local shop is a family-owned, full service auto repair center and New Jersey state inspection station.  This is the facility’s second annual automobile donation to a Project Self-Sufficiency participant.  Thanks to the financial support and the donation of parts from NAPA Auto Parts, we were able to make sure the vehicle, a 2002 Chrysler Sebring LX, was at its optimal running condition, with new front and rear brakes, belt, filters, tires and even body paint,” remarked Hergert.  “We once again decided to go through Project Self-Sufficiency because of their continued support of the local families of Sussex County.  We trust in the organization because they are working with local families in need on a daily basis.  A special ‘thank you’ to Alliance Paint & Body of Mine Hill, North Jersey Auto Wreckers, and American Tire Distributors for their donations to the betterment of this vehicle.  Thank you to our loyal customers, without their continued support of our local, family-owned auto repair center we would not be in a position to give back in such a huge way.”

“It is extremely difficult to function as a family in our area without access to a reliable vehicle,” commented Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self-Sufficiency.  “This working mother of four children desperately needed a car, and we are delighted to be able to pass this vehicle along to her.  We are tremendously grateful to Elite Automotive and Tire for their role in this effort.  Project Self-Sufficiency has been fortunate to be the recipient of several vehicles from individuals and area businesses, and we will continue to welcome the donation of good quality, pre-owned vehicles from our neighbors for families in need.” 

Project Self-Sufficiency is a private non-profit community-based organization dedicated to improving the lives of low-income families residing in northwestern New Jersey.  The agency’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of holistic, respectful, and comprehensive services enabling low-income single parents, teen parents, two-parent families, and displaced homemakers to improve their lives and the lives of their children while achieving personal and economic self-sufficiency and family stability.  Since 1986 Project Self-Sufficiency has served more than 20,000 families, including more than 30,000 children. 

To donate a car to Project Self-Sufficiency, or to find out more about the programs and services available at the agency, call 973-940-3500, or visit