DuBois resident Toni Prescott Flanders knows the value of hard work. As a teenager she worked alongside her mom, who owned a restaurant. But Toni wanted more than a job.
I wanted to do something that I knew would sustain me—Toni states—not just working at JCPenney’s or being a waitress. I wanted something I could build a lifetime on.
The daughter of a single mom, Toni didn’t have a lot of money for higher education. “I’ve dealt with food stamps and Medicaid, all of that. I’ve walked in those shoes,” she explains.
Even so, Toni found a way to attend Clarion University fresh out of high school. But living an hour away from her mom was too much. After one semester, Toni transferred to DuBois Business College and continued working on her degree.
Then she heard about Brockway Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT), a training center offering a nine-month tuition-free Medical Assistant Program. Toni was sold.
BCAT is doing the same thing [as college] for a lot less money and time, she says, and I knew I always wanted to be in healthcare. Anyone in this region interested in healthcare would be dumb not to take this opportunity.
A few months after graduation Toni landed a position at DuBois Regional Cardiology Associates. A year ago, she was promoted. Toni now runs the pacemaker and defibrillator clinic, where she monitors remote patients and changes device settings, troubleshoots problems, and conducts other diagnostic work for on-site patients.
Toni is just one of more than a hundred BCAT graduates filling a critical need in rural Pennsylvania. “I owe that place [BCAT] my everything,” she stresses.
We should push people to do better, I don’t want to judge people on assistance. I’ve seen people getting food stamps that are heartbroken. No one wants to depend on it.
Toni is thankful for the opportunity to land a good-paying job, but it wasn’t easy. While she loved chemistry and biology, math was a weakness she had to overcome. What’s more, Toni didn’t have a driver’s license when she started the program and had to rely on her mom.
Still, Toni believes healthy adults who are capable of working should work, and she believes this is a reasonable and fair requirement when it comes to public assistance.
We should push people to do better—she emphasizes, while quickly noting—I don’t want to judge people on assistance. I’ve seen people getting food stamps that are heartbroken. No one wants to depend on it.
Toni cautions against misusing assistance programs, but is optimistic about the benefits of work.
We shouldn’t take these programs for granted—she contends—I think people will surprise themselves with how much they enjoy work. I picked up holiday hours at Bon Ton and kept the temporary job because I enjoyed the people I worked with.
Toni’s journey is proof of the difference a caring community and hard work can make, taking individuals from living paycheck to paycheck to financial stability and a fulfilling career.
The state Senate is now considering reforms to reinstate work or job-training requirements for SNAP (food stamps) and establish the same for Medicaid. These efforts would help more people like Toni land a rewarding career and fill critical labor shortages throughout Pennsylvania.
As BCAT Executive Director Deb Heigel likes to say, the program is, “putting rural Pennsylvania back to work on job at a time.”
That’s a powerful vision all our assistance programs, rural and urban, can share.