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Youngwood single mom receives laptop for schooling

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Annette Gold, an organizational development officials for Excela Health System, (left) and Kathleen Romano, coordinator of Westmoreland Community Action's 'Moms Making More' program, with the laptops donated by Excela to support program members in a photograph taken in October. Submitted
Youngwood's Cathey Cassa, a rehabilitation technician for the Excela Health System, is among 12 single mothers belonging to the 'Moms Making More' program to recently receive a laptop computer to help her complete her college coursework in a photograph taken in October. Submitted

Cathey Cassa knows going back to school can be very intimidating, particularly for a single mother.

“I'm taking advantage of tutors and other help available because I have a goal and I want to succeed,” said Cassa, 50, a lifetime Youngwood resident who is enrolled at Westmoreland County Community College.

When she's not completing prerequisite classes in her quest to become a physical therapy assistant, Cassa works as rehabilitation technician for Excela Health System.

When she's not doing that, she is guiding her 14-year-old daughter, Gabby, through her freshman year at Hempfield Area High School.

“I want to be an inspiration to my daughter and give her the opportunities I had growing up,” said Cassa.

So Cassa said she was thrilled when Excela's information technology department recently donated laptop computers to her and 11 other single mothers who each are members of the “Moms Making More” (M3) program — a partnership of the college, the United Way of Westmoreland County and Westmoreland Community Action (WCA).

“I was definitely really excited because I had a laptop that wasn't really working,” said Cassa, one of five Excela employees who are members of the M3 program.

The program is designed to help single mothers like Cassa, with at least one child younger than age 18, to return to school, advance their education and realize vocational advancement and sustainable wages.

“Most of them do not have computers,” said Kate Romano, WCA project coordinator for M3 program. “The gift of the laptops has helped all the women who needed them to do what they need to do to be successful students.”

Forty-six percent of Westmoreland County households led by single mothers are surviving off an income of $17,000, Romano said.

The self-sustaining wage is $36,000,” she said. “Based on that, the creators of the M3 program held a summit to determine ways to improve opportunities for single mothers.”

The Excela Health System expressed interest in providing its part-time employees who are single moms with a career ladder, Romano said.

Cassa — who previously earned an associate's degree in early childhood education from WCCC — said she sees her prior experience in daycare as complementary to her career objectives.

“I want to work in the pediatric rehab, so it really ties in to all my experience,” said Cassa, who added that she worked as an employee at Mt. Pleasant's Harmon House Care Center in the rehab department for more than a decade.

She currently divides her time between Excela's adult and pediatric outpatient rehabilitation programs but she said she hopes to one day concentrate on child therapies.

Through funding and support, many of the obstacles typically encountered by single mothers returning to school are minimized or eliminated, according to Excela spokeswoman Robin Jennings.

One of the obstacles encountered is the lack of technology accessible to participants for use in their homes, according to Jennings.

That includes computers, printers and an Internet connection required to complete homework assignments, write documents and access school blackboards.

Such technology is typically expensive for the participants and it extends outside the budget parameters of the M3 program. That's why Excela stepped in to donate the laptops, Jennings said.

Annette Gold — Excela Health's director of organizational development — took on a role as Excela's representative on the M3 program's board of directors.

“I think all of the employees we recruited from our population for the program are happy with how it's progressing,” Gold said. “It's tough to go back to school, especially when you're a single parent ... all those obstacles. That's what the M3 program is all about: helping to remove those obstacles. They're working toward something that's going to help them increase their earning power in the future.”

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or at