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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Training Program Helps Graduates Gain New Skills and Confidence along Path to Self-Sufficiency



The most recent graduating class from Project Self-Sufficiency’s employment skills training program, “Higher Opportunities for Women,” have gained far more than just marketable office skills.  The group has gained confidence, a sense of professionalism and the support of a peer group as they continue on the road to self-sufficiency.  The sixteen-week “HOW” program combines intensive computer skills training with classroom instruction and off-site internships to prepare women who have been out of the work force or underemployed to seek entry-level office administrative positions.   Computer training and classroom instruction takes place at the agency’s campus which is located at 127 Mill Street in Newton. 

“Project Self-Sufficiency’s HOW program is a pre-employment training program designed to help women who have been out of the workforce for a long period of time or those who may be entering the workforce for the first time,” explains Cora Chandler, Coordinator of the agency’s Higher Opportunities for Women program.  “In addition to computer training, the curriculum gives women the professionalism and confidence to contribute to the workforce in a meaningful way.”

The free program is offered three times a year, and involves extensive computer training, along with classes in life skills and workplace etiquette.  Eligibility is based on a variety of factors, such as experience, education, income-level, family situation and other issues.  The program culminates with an externship at a local workplace.  Participants graduate with the skills they need to venture into the job market as an administrative assistant.  Graduates from the agency’s most recent “Higher Opportunities for Women” program included Stephanie Breur, Elizabeth Connolly, Barbara Flowers, Gilda Henderson, Jennifer Morrow, Kacey O'Dell, Linda Osmani, Tara Pierce, Catherine Sigelakis, Joan Towle, and Jane Wells. 


Program participant Linda Osmani worked at the Sussex County Surrogate’s office during her externship, under the tutelage of Special Probate Clerk Laura Camp and Sussex County Surrogate Gary Chiusano, both of whom attended the recent HOW graduation ceremony along with representatives from other local employers involved in the program.  Gary Chiusano voiced his enthusiastic support of the training program, as well as the other initiatives offered by Project Self-Sufficiency.  “I have been involved with Project Self-Sufficiency for many years, beginning with my years as a Sussex County Freeholder.  I can empathize with women who find themselves in a situation where they need some support.”  The Surrogate’s office has employed four HOW program participants during Chiusano’s tenure, and even hired one following her stint as an extern.  “All of them have done a very good job.”

Special Probate Clerk Laura Camp noted that an employee at the Surrogate’s office needs more than just office skills in order to succeed.  “We probate wills and we deal with a lot of people who are grieving and upset.  It takes a natural skill to handle the telephone.  We keep records from the early 1800’s so filing is also important.  This program is wonderful and it’s very rewarding for us.”

After several years as an administrative assistant, HOW graduate Linda Osmani had stepped out of the workforce in order to raise her children.  “I realized that I needed to upgrade my skills if I was going to find a job,” she noted.  “I would definitely recommend this program.  I have a lot more confidence and it gave me the skills I needed to find a better job.  This economic situation can make you start to feel down about yourself.  Through this program, we covered a lot of issues, and you learn that you are not alone.  All of us are friends.  We are a family.”

The next session of Project Self-Sufficiency’s “Higher Opportunities for Women” program launches on February 3rd.  To enroll, or to find out more information about the program, call Project Self-Sufficiency at 973-940-3500.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Breast Cancer Survivor Urges Women to Get Mammograms



Despite being diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago at the age of 57, Deb Green considers herself fortunate. “I was lucky because it was caught extremely early,” explains Deb.  A routine mammogram spotted a suspicious mass which a follow-up biopsy revealed was actually cancerous breast tissue.  To Deb’s relief, surgery was scheduled within weeks.  However, her treatment and recovery were slightly complicated by the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  Deb was forced to recover from surgery in a hotel, since her Hopatcong home was without power for two weeks.  Because the routine mammogram detected her cancer at such an early stage, Deb was not required to undergo chemotherapy treatment.  Still, Deb notes that the 32 radiation treatments she received “were not fun.”  Her hair thinned, she was extremely fatigued, and she experienced burns from the radiation.  She turned to her family for support, and she now claims that her husband, Rich, to whom she has been married for 30 years, “was the best spouse ever.”

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. 

Deb continued working as an administrative assistant in the pharmacy at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Wayne throughout her diagnosis, treatment and recovery.  “I continued to work because I felt that if I went to work, it would keep my mind off of the fact that I had cancer,” recalls Deb.  However, her regimen was exhausting.  Her typical work day entails supporting several pharmacists by completing clerical tasks, making numerous phone calls, interfacing with colleagues, and performing other administrative functions which require that she stay focused and energetic.  “I would get a radiation treatment every day at 6:30 in the morning, and then work from 7:00 in the morning until 3:30,” she explains.  At the insistence of her husband, she would rest in the afternoon and evening.  Since her diagnosis, her compromised immune system has proven to be a challenge in a hospital environment.  “I must be very vigilant about washing my hands.  I’ve already had two MRSA infections,” notes Deb, who has even figured out how to punch the hospital’s elevator buttons with her elbows to avoid contracting infections.

Deb is so frustrated by women who avoid getting a screening mammogram, that she contacted Project Self-Sufficiency to help spread the word about the importance of an early diagnosis in the cure for breast cancer.  “I welcome the chance to tell more women ‘please don’t wait, get a mammogram now.’ This the voice of experience talking to you.  Don’t be foolish.  It’s uncomfortable to get a mammogram, but that little bit of discomfort is nothing compared to the pain of a lumpectomy, radiation or chemotherapy.  The longer you wait, the greater the chance of a worse diagnosis.”

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. 

Deb notes that having cancer has changed her outlook on life.  “I used to let little things really bother me.  I was a perfectionist about my family and my house.  I’m different now.  Now, I end the day by being grateful that I made it through another day.  I definitely take each day as it comes.”

Free mammograms and pap tests are available through the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection (NJCEED) program administered by the Sussex County Health Department.  Follow-up diagnostics, including additional mammography views, breast ultrasounds, and biopsies are also available.  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.

Free Legal Advice about Divorce, Bankruptcy



Private meetings with an attorney are available at Project Self-Sufficiency to those who may need advice about divorce, bankruptcy or other topics.  Individual consultations will be offered at 45-minute intervals on Thursdays, February 5th – 26th, between the hours of 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.  The sessions are free and open to Sussex County residents who meet income eligibility requirements; consultations are by appointment only.    To make an appointment for a legal consultation or to find out more about the other services available at Project Self-Sufficiency, call 973-940-3500.  Information about Project Self-Sufficiency is also available at www.projectselfsufficiency.org.