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Written by Ray Horton, Central Information and Referral Outreach, GECAC

GECAC Offers Post-Secondary Opportunity Programs
If no-one in your family has gone beyond a high school education, you may not recognize the value of post-secondary education; or you may not have the hope that a higher education is possible for your child. But it is – help is available – and it can make all the difference in your child’s future.

Indeed, education is the pathway out of poverty toward opportunity. The truth is, it is becoming increasingly difficult to earn a livable wage without higher education. People without a post-secondary degree are falling behind. During the past ten years, employment for those with bachelor’s degrees grew by 1.8 million, compared to a loss of nearly 700,000 jobs for those with just a high school diploma, the U.S. Department of Labor reports.

Young adults with a bachelor’s degree earned 53 percent more than those who only completed high school, and 96 percent more than young adults who did not earn a high school diploma, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

So why not encourage your child by kindling in him or her a dream of success – a dream of going farther in life than you were able? Does the expense of college seem impossible? It’s not! There are a multitude of scholarships, grants and low-interest loans available to not only the very good students, but even more so for the economically disadvantaged.

Free programs right here in Erie
It may seem overwhelming to attempt such a goal. But it needn’t be, because there are free programs right here in the Erie area to help low-income students succeed academically, while mapping out the path needed to prepare for college and find the necessary finances.

The Greater Erie Community Action Committee (GECAC) offers three federally-funded and private post-secondary opportunity programs, motivating and supporting each year over 1,200 local students from disadvantaged backgrounds in their pursuit of higher education.

These programs give first priority to first-generation students from low-income families, whose parents never attended or completed college, as well as students with disabilities – from sixth through 12th grade. In addition, this service is available to adults up to the age of 27.

Offered by the GECAC Education, Training and Community Services division are the national, federally-funded TRIO programs: Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound. GECAC offers them in a number of schools in Erie City and Erie and Crawford Counties. Additionally, they sponsor the College Access program at East High School, funded by the General Electric Company.

These programs provide academic tutoring, personal counseling, mentoring, financial guidance, and other supports necessary for educational access and retention.

While these GECAC programs share a common goal, there are some differences:

Educational Talent Search

Free services provided year-round include:

  • Academic counseling,
  • Career exploration and research,
  • Field trips to campuses and career sites,
  • Financial aid application assistance,
  • Scholarship information
  • Fee waivers for SAT and ACT tests for students to qualify
  • Fee waivers for up to six college applications

Target schools for ETS are East, Central Tech and Strong Vincent High Schools; Roosevelt and Wilson Middle Schools; Emerson Gridley, JoAnna Connell, Wayne and Harding Elementary Schools; Iroquois Junior and Senior High Schools; Northwestern Middle and High Schools in Albion, and Meadville Area Middle and Senior High Schools.

While the ETS program covers the basics to prepare for any post-secondary education, for the new academic year, a small percentage of students will be supported in more rigorous schedules in preparation for attending a four-year college, notes Michael Simon, director of the programs.

Upward Bound

  • Free room and board at Edinboro University during the summer session,
  • Field trips to colleges in nearby states,
  • Fee waivers for SAT and ACT tests for students who qualify,
  • Fee waivers for up to six college applications,
  • Stipend checks for successful completion of Saturday and summer sessions.

GECAC’s Upward Bound is offered at the following six high schools: East, Central, Strong Vincent in the city, as well as Linesville, Northwestern (Albion) and Union City.

College Access
Interested students or parents should contact their school guidance counselor, or contact GECAC at the telephone number below. Adults 27 or younger, or veterans of any age, may also call GECAC for information on participating in a College Bound program.

“And once earned, a college degree is forever, as the payoff from higher education can never be erased, broken or laid off.” – Salary.com

Helping People, Changing Lives
Established in 1965, GECAC is the official, comprehensive Community Action agency for the Erie area. The College Bound programs are just three among the 46 programs currently offered by GECAC through four operating divisions in order to provide opportunities for local families to rise out of poverty or near poverty to self-sufficiency. The four divisions are, Area Agency on Aging, Child Development, Education, Training and Community Services and Workforce Development Services.

Celebrating their 45th year of service to the community, the non-profit organization currently has more than 400 employees and is headed by Ronald A. Steele, CEO. Homer Smith is Board Chairman.

Following the slogan Helping People, Changing Lives, GECAC subscribes to the nation-wide Community Action promise shared by similar organizations in more than a thousand communities throughout the United States.

The Promise of Community Action
Community Action changes peoples’ lives, embodies the spirit of hope, improves communities, and makes America a better place to live. We care about the entire community and are dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other as they move from poverty to self-sufficiency.

For more information on GECAC’s programs, stop by our downtown offices at 18 West 9th Street, call 459-4581, or go to their website at www.gecac.org. For College Bound questions, call Michael Simon, director, at ext. 584.