First, the academic training. Her undergrad studies in sociology at Bucknell University connected her with a professor who was big in the nonprofit arena. Intrigued by the field, she sought out volunteer opportunities and found one at a small at-risk youth program at a parsonage in Danville, not too far from the Lewisburg campus. “I really liked the work, giving attention to kids who didn’t receive great support at home,” she recalls.
Her next stop in academia was grad school at the University of Illinois where she studied human and community development. She leaned into the community development aspect, particularly rural communities. While at Illinois in between her grad studies, she took a position as a teaching assistant for an agriculture class. “I also did a lot of teaching directed toward other TAs,” she says. Today, that supervisory work experience is put to good use as she coordinates the workload of other PCLC tutors.
In between grad school and today, she and her mother owned and operated a goat dairy farm, Wayside Acres in Perry County. Despite the rigors of caring for 150 or so animals, Gwen applied her academic training in rural community development with a position at the Perry County Community Foundation. Fate continued to nudge her toward PCLC. She was approving grants for PCLC, which gave her a first-hand look not only of their public persona but a deeper look into their operating principles and philosophy, both of which held great appeal.
She literally got her foot in the door when PCLC offered a meeting room for the foundation. PCLC is headquartered in Newport, Gwen’s hometown. Could it get any more kismet-y? Well, yes, yes it can. “I like to joke that my mom manifested me getting this position,” she says with a laugh. “She used to say, ‘If only PCLC had a job opening for you,’ and turns out, they did.”
As the GED instructor, she has direct interactions with the students who come to PCLC to earn their high school equivalency. Although her position is narrowly defined, she’s proud of all the many services PCLC offers at no cost to county residents including GED prep, fingerprinting, and help with immigration to name a few. “I was so lucky to have been fully supported by my family growing up. The people PCLC serve didn’t necessarily have that same experience,” she notes. “But by turning to PCLC, they have the opportunity for a second chance.
“When I’m working with a student,” she says, “I tell them, ‘You can do this. I’m here to help you out as much as I can.’ All of us at PCLC believe in that and are committed to doing everything we can as an organization to serve the needs of everyone in the community in one way or another.”
All the flashing neon signs that pointed the Newport native to PCLC have quieted now. Gwen has found her way home, literally and figuratively. She’s where she was always meant to be.