Several women gather around a digital camera. They smile at the photos of each other they see on the screen. In their blue scrubs, they could be health care providers, but they are not. The room where they are happily taking pictures is located off the third-floor gym in Lancaster County Prison (LCP), and the women are part of a group preparing to graduate from a program called New Beginnings taught by Tricia Nabors, program director of New Choices Career Development Program.
New Choices was founded with the purpose of assisting Lancaster County women in transition, including single mothers, those who have recently lost a job, and dislocated homemakers, among others, to become economically self-sufficient.
Nabors began the graduation ceremony, which was held on Sept. 25, by talking a little bit about New Choices and its role at LCP. "(New Choices) has been in practice for 30 years, and we were invited (to LCP) last year by deputy warden Joe Shiffer," she said. "New Beginnings is available for women who are transitioning out (of the prison) in 30 to 90 days."
Nabors introduced guest speaker Jennifer Wynn, who completed the New Choices program in 2005 after having three children at a young age. Wynn described her struggles with self-esteem and how difficult it was to hold a job with three young children to care for. She chose to attend nursing school at Lancaster County Career and Technology Center because of the income stability the career offered. She became a licensed practical nurse, and she has worked at LCP in this capacity for a number of years. She is now attending school to further her nursing career. Wynn noted that she still utilizes the positive communication techniques she learned from New Choices.
Lancaster County Commissioner Craig Lehman attended the ceremony and congratulated each woman as she received her diploma. Lehman spoke about the universal truths that each person must face. "Everybody gets to a point (in life) where they realize they have to make choices to improve the quality of their life ... everybody has challenges," Lehman said. "You ... start to look at yourself and say, 'All right, how can I make better choices?'"
Several of the graduating students requested an opportunity to speak. Jessica Kauffman said that the program taught her a great deal about herself, and she read a poem she wrote describing her past.
Jamie Metzler, who had been released that morning, returned to attend the ceremony. She said that the class was what she needed and offered her more than she expected. "Before this class, I didn't put much thought into my future because I didn't think I had one," she noted, adding that she learned to structure her time and began to understand about being accountable for her actions.
Kristy Hotchkiss said that before taking the New Beginnings class she felt defeated and lost. She explained that what she learned gave her a foundation from which to launch her hopes and dreams. "Most importantly, I have self-confidence," she said. "I like the person who looks back at me in the mirror today."
Trisha Wiggins also said that the program had greatly impacted her life. "I no longer need to feel helpless, hopeless ... worthless," she said. "Today I have goals ... I can reach and achieve."
Sandra Lindsey read a poem she had written called "Choices," part of which read, "We all have a choice ... We all have a say ... The choices are ours ... No one else is to blame."
Nicole Rineer also shared a poem written by Dale Wimbrow in 1934 called "The Guy in the Glass." "I have newfound hope and motivation," she said. "I now have a new beginning and a second chance."
Additional graduates included Kimberly Gibson, Shawna Hahn, Toryn Herr, and Teresa Miller.
Readers who would like to learn more about New Choices may visit http://newchoiceslancaster.org.