To provide services that help participants build self-esteem and achieve economic self-sufficiency.
The vision of PROBE is to empower individuals to participate fully in planning and achieving their career, financial, and personal goals in a setting that preserves dignity and personal choice.
PROBE (Potential Reentry Opportunities in Business and Education) was founded in 1978 by Kathryn Towns, a professor at the Middletown Penn State campus. Towns played an essential role in founding the Community Psychology and the Women’s Studies programs at the Middletown campus. She founded PROBE as a nonprofit, career counseling service for single parents, displaced homemakers, and pregnant teens. Towns’ work in developing PROBE served as the basis for a network of programs in Pennsylvania.
Today, PROBE has two offices, one on Chestnut Street in Lebanon which serves Lebanon and Western Berks Counties, and one in Steelton, which serves Cumberland, Dauphin, and Perry Counties. Through its grant-funded New Choices program, PROBE continues Towns’ mission of providing free career counseling to those in need of guidance. There are currently eight New Choices Career Development Programs located across Pennsylvania and offered through various agencies.
The purpose of the New Choices Career Development Program is to deliver specialized career development services that result in family-sustaining wages for displaced homemakers and individuals in career transition. The primary goal of the program is to empower individuals to enter and remain in the workforce. New Choices offers career counseling, career development classes, and skills training in order to help individuals find a job and become economically independent. Through skills training, individuals can strengthen skills they already have, or discover skills they never before considered applying to the workforce.
Kathy Verna, the executive director of PROBE, said that her organization works with people in a wide range of situations. The New Choices program requires individuals to attend classes three days a week for four weeks. Verna described how the classes range from helping individuals conduct career assessments, to teaching basic computer skills and online job searching and application methods, to simply building individuals’ confidence and self-esteem. Participants also learn the proper way to interview for a job and how to compose a resume so that they have a finished, professional resume by the time they complete the program. The next round of career development classes began at the end of January 2016.
“Our classes usually draw between ten to 15 people,” Verna explained. “Several years ago we had younger people with kids in the classes. That was when we had childcare funds. Now we have individuals who are 40 plus and who are looking at the next step of their work life, or who may be looking to shift to a new career after the economic downturn.”
Another program offered through PROBE is its Financial Literacy Project. The program began in 2006 through the Lebanon County Commission for Women and its purpose is to promote sound financial literacy practices through education, individual counseling, and referral. These individualized sessions focus on basic financial life skills, creating a spending plan, etc. In addition to these one-on-one sessions, monthly financial literacy workshops are also offered covering money management, building and repairing personal credit, and a number of other topics. PROBE’s financial classes and workshops are ongoing throughout the year, and the organization just received a Community Development Block Grant to help fund the program.
A 501(c)(3) organization, PROBE is governed by a board of directors. Verna, who has been with PROBE for 18 years, is one of only four employees at the Lebanon office. As a nonprofit organization, PROBE relies heavily on outside sources of funding. They have been a member of the United Way of Lebanon County for over 20 years. PROBE also holds its own events, including its Annual Breakfast, which will be held on April 1, 2016. The organization will also be taking part in Highmark’s Walk for a Healthy Community taking place on May 21, 2016, at HACC Central Pennsylvania’s Community College’s Harrisburg Campus. The nonprofit is in need of walkers and committee members for this event.
In addition to monetary contributions, PROBE is always looking for volunteers willing to work with their clients, talk to classes, help individuals practice interviewing or write their resumes, or aid in fundraising.
Anyone interested in participating in any of the New Choices or the Financial Literacy Project classes can contact PROBE to speak with a counselor and sign up. There is no fee for these programs. Verna noted that a number of PROBE’s clients are referrals from the Lebanon County Redevelopment Program, Habitat for Humanity, and other community organizations.
“This is a great community for nonprofits referring back and forth,” Verna said.
It is this close-knit network which allows Verna and the staff at PROBE to more easily and efficiently help the clients which PROBE serves.
“My favorite part of my job is working with participants who come in. There are times when you can see people change throughout the class. We give them hope. You can see their personality change as they see things from a new perspective.”
Verna effectively summarized this in her favorite quote by George Eliot: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
PROBE’s Lebanon office, located at 303 Chestnut St., Suite 1, can be reached by phone at (717) 273-2090. Additional information is available online at www.probepa.org . Anyone with questions for Kathy Verna can also reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.