Stand Out Truck® Stores: The Care Center: Removing Barriers to Education

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Holyoke, Mass. – Pregnant teens, young parents and young women from low-income backgrounds don’t have to feel that their future is limited. The Care Center’s free education options give these women the opportunity to reach for the stars without barriers getting in the way.

There are other programs in western Massachusetts that offer education for pregnant and parenting youth, but The Care Center goes beyond providing instruction. Students can pursue the high-school equivalency diploma HiSET while also exploring a college associate degree. While they are enrolled in either program, the Care Center provides meals, childcare and transportation all for free.

“We provide all of the support that a young parent could need,” said Allison Castillo Rosenblatt, student support/outreach counselor for The Care Center.

The Care Center has its own college, Bard Microcollege Holyoke, available to any woman from a low-income background to pursue an advanced college degree. Through the bridge to college program, students taking HiSET courses can also take college classes while finishing their high school degree.

“We find that it’s so inspiring for our HiSET students,” Castillo Rosenblatt said. “Not only can they hear about college, but they can see it modeled for them in the classroom right next door.”

“It really helps them expand their view and really think about what’s possible for them,” she said.

For most of these women, they are the first in their families to continue education past high school.

Opening Doors

With these resources, Castillo Rosenblatt said women have the opportunity for a wider variety of job prospects, can earn more money and ultimately are able to create a better life for themselves and their family.

“Having a higher education degree is really what opens doors for these young women,” Castillo Rosenblatt said, adding that the amount of education is directly correlated with the amount of money they’re able to earn in their life.

“We want to be on the forefront of a team of people telling them, not only can you go to college, you can thrive in college,” she added.

Graduates from Bard Microcollege Holyoke receive a two-year associate degree. Many are inspired to pursue their four-year degree elsewhere or continue to graduate school.

“We want them to reach for the stars and not just get a high school diploma and start working,” Castillo Rosenblatt said.

Beyond an Education

Classroom courses are only one part of what The Care Center provides. They also offer educational counseling so students can learn how to pay for college, how to find scholarships, how to select the right program and how to speak with family members about the importance of a continued education.

Breakfast and lunch are offered to students on campus along with door-to-door transportation from areas like Holyoke, Chicopee and Springfield.

“We really want to eliminate all of the barriers they would have to pursuing their education,” Castillo Rosenblatt said.

Part of helping them prepare for college are extracurricular activities, creating a sense of teamwork and providing students a release away from studies and parenting. The Care Center includes programs like poetry, a rowing team, cardio classes, sports and dance.

The Care Center has a nurse practitioner available several days a week for both the young women and their children. The daycare is conveniently located near the classrooms so even breastfeeding mothers can easily slip in to feed their infants and then join their class.

Virtual courses and materials are provided for Spanish-speaking students so even more young mothers can receive an education.

Spreading the Word

The pandemic negatively impacted enrollment of students, but Castillo Rosenblatt hopes that increased awareness will remind everyone in the area that The Care Center and Bard Microcollege Holyoke are available.

The organization is using the Standout Truck to build awareness and reach more people.

“It’s a smart, innovative idea that will directly catch the attention of the people we want to recruit,” said Care Center Director Anne Teschner.

Castillo Rosenblatt hopes that the campaign will keep The Care Center top of mind as a resource and option for young women, in particular young parents. She said their biggest source of referral is word of mouth.

“There are so many people that could benefit from our services, and we just want them to know who we are,” she said. “We don’t want them to fall through the cracks, so the truck is a great way to get our name out there.”

“It’s on the cutting edge,” said Castillo Rosenblatt. “No one’s doing what we do in the way that we do it.”

A Confident Future

When she sees young mothers come through the door for the first time, and they’re scared and uncertain of their future, Rosenblatt sees potential.

“Their future is such a question mark, but we know that they can achieve so much,” she said. “We’re here to help them realize that too. It’s a pretty inspiring place to be.”

Over the last twenty years The Care Center and Bard Microcollege Holyoke have directly impacted thousands of women in the community, but the true impact likely reaches farther. Even students who take only one class at The Care Center may be inspired to pursue their education elsewhere and eventually help others.

“Maybe we weren’t involved with her journey from that point forward, but she started it with us,” she said.

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