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Bourger Women with Children Program collaborates with Aetna Better Health to bring inaugural 'Pathways Out of Poverty' Conference
Posted 04/25/2019 03:16PM
Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller

The Ruth Matthews Bourger Women with Children Program at Misericordia University, in partnership with Aetna Better Health, will host the inaugural one-day conference, "Pathways Out of Poverty," on Wednesday, May 22 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Sandy and Marlene Insalaco Hall.

The conference will bring together nationally recognized researchers and government officials with social service providers to discuss the impact of poverty and what can be done to end the intergenerational cycle of poverty in the region and across the state. Staff and administrators of social service agencies are encouraged to attend.

The conference is $25 and includes a continental breakfast and networking lunch. Due to limited seating, registration is required and can be made online by going to For more information, please call Katherine Pohlidal, director of the Bourger Women with Children Program at Misericordia University, at 570-674-6728 or email at

Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera

Guest speakers include Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera and Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, as well as social research and public policy experts Luisa S. Deprez, Ph.D., professor emerita of sociology, University of Southern Maine, and Lisa Dodson, Ph.D., retired research professor of sociology, Boston College.

Drs. Deprez and Dodson have co-authored the briefs, "Helping Parents Get a College Education Helps Children Succeed" (2018) and "Why Higher Education is a Must for Low-Income Mothers" (2019), published by Scholars Strategy Network (SSN). They also co-wrote the article, "Keeping Us in Our Place: Low-Income Moms Barred from College Success," which was published in CONTEXTS (2019). CONTEXTS is the American Sociological Association's quarterly magazine that makes sociology available to general readers.

"It is our goal to bring together nationally recognized sociology experts and thought leaders from across Pennsylvania with stakeholders from our region to raise awareness of the impact of poverty – especially on women,'' said Katherine Pohlidal, director of the Bourger program. "Our goal is to create new collaborations among community service providers, educators and legislators by highlighting best-practice programs, such as the Women with Children Program at Misericordia, that are working to end the cycle of poverty.

Katherine Pohlidal, director, Bourger Women with Children Program

"Together, by building new pathways out of poverty, we can make a difference for families for generations to come," Pohlidal added.

State secretaries Rivera and Miller will headline a presentation on state programs – including Gov. Tom Wolf's new education initiative, "Parents Pathways," that he launched during a visit to Misericordia University in February.

Gov. Wolf recently highlighted the Bourger Women with Children Program at Misericordia as a model program the state would like to replicate. Misericordia's novel program was founded in 2000 and provides free housing for up to 16 academically qualified, single mothers at or near the poverty level, with up to three children each, at three houses on campus. It provides a wide range of social services, nutritional training, and support as the mothers earn a degree in four years. So far, 30 women have graduated from the program and have gone on to successful careers and graduate school.

Bourger Women with Children program alumna Felicia Glover will present, "Truth on Poverty: A Single-Mother Family and the Pursuit of a College Degree," a first-person report on the impact the program has had on her life and on her two young sons. A 2017 graduate, Glover is a public relations manager for a tri-county initiative in Georgia.

Fellow 2017 graduate Asia Thompson, who at times lived in her car with her two small children prior to enrolling at Misericordia, is currently pursuing a law degree at New York Law School. In her presentation, "I Am the Outcome, My Children are the Future," she will discuss the outcomes on single mothers of educational efforts such as the Bourger program.

Dr. Deprez, the opening keynote speaker, will present, "A Pathway to the Future: How a College Degree Can Change a Life and a State." Well known for her study of social justice, equality and equity focus on welfare policy, she will examine the power of higher education in sustaining privilege and the resultant impact on low-income parents. After a 40-year career in academia, Dr. Deprez continues to be an active contributor to state and national policy discussions that focus on vulnerable populations. Among hundreds of articles and presentations, she is the author of the books "SHUT OUT: Low-Income Women and Higher Education in Post Welfare America" (2004), and "The Family Support Act of 1988: A Case Study of Welfare Reform in the 1980s" (2002). She holds a doctorate in social policy from the Heller School, Brandeis University, and a Master of Social Work from Rutgers University.

Dr. Dodson will take the discussion forward with the presentation, "Where Do We Go from Here." She currently is the co-chair of SSN Oregon. Her most recent book, "The Moral Underground: How Ordinary People Subvert an Unfair Economy" (2010), was called a "must-read" by Time Magazine. In a 2016 research report, "Mothers Know Best: At the Intersection of Low-Wage Work, Public Assistance and Childcare," she addressed the multiple obstacles that low-income mothers face seeking social mobility. Professor Dodson's research has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Chronicle of Higher Education, and presented at numerous U.S. Congressional hearings and to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She holds a doctorate in social research and public policy from the Heller School, Brandeis University, and a Master of Public Health from Boston University.

Following her talk, Dr. Dodson also will moderate a panel discussion featuring state secretaries Miller and Rivera; Dr. Deprez, Stephanie Ledesma, chief operating officer, Aetna, and Pohlidal. The group will answer questions submitted by guests during the morning sessions.

During the luncheon session, Aetna CEO Jason Rotman and Misericordia University President Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., will also discuss how collaborative efforts are needed to provide long-term solutions to provide education to single parents.

In addition, participants will have the opportunity to tour Corazon, Aetna's mobile health and wellness recreational vehicle, where they will be able enjoy a healthy smoothie bar, participate in Body Mass Index and other health screenings, and gather information on healthy living and how to eat healthy on a limited budget.

Guests will also be able to examine the art installation, "PostSecretsX" in the Pauly Friedman Art Gallery, adjacent to the conference. It is on display through June 9. The installation features anonymous postcards submitted globally and locally that explore the impact of secrets, secret-sharing, and artistic expression of secrets on mental health. The installation consists of postcards submitted to Frank Warren since he established PostSecret in 2004. The postcards highlight poverty, food insecurity, and mental health, and issues particular to college students.

The program will conclude with the introduction of the Pathways Advisory Panel, involving representatives from various sectors across the community who have committed to continuing the work and discussions initiated at the conference.

Students walking from the Mary Kintz Bevevino Library

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