NANTICOKE — Two different families. Two different fathers. One conclusion: It was time for a change.
Eddie Nieves and Cameron Pottage both have young children. Both live in Nanticoke. Both had abandoned their formal education years ago. And both realized within the past year that the paths they had chosen were not going to provide the material support they believed their families needed.
“I’ve got two kids and no money,” said Pottage, 23, who dropped out of high school his junior year and went on to work in a chain restaurant, then a convenience store.
“With the price of formula and everything, fast-food is just not going to cut it.”
Thanks to a program designed to aid parents of young children with parenting and life skills, both men are on track to resuming their education and working toward new careers. Even with much work ahead of them, participating in Luzerne County Community College’s family literacy program already has broadened their outlook on fatherhood, the men said.
“It has helped to focus me on my family and raising my children,” Pottage said.
Pottage and his wife, Heather, 21, have two daughters, ages 4 and 2. Nieves, 32, is a father to three: a stepson with wife Alexandra Freitas, 31, and two daughters, ages 4 and 8. Pottage’s wife is a stay-at-home mom, while Nieves’ wife works outside the home.
Nieves, who dreams of becoming a social worker, earned his General Educational Development diploma earlier this month. Pottage, who aims to become a corrections officer, expects to complete his GED this month.
Like Pottage, Nieves said he realized education was the first step toward a better life.
“I never even went to high school,” said Nieves, a New Jersey native who moved first from Newark to Hazleton and then Nanticoke in search of a better life. He works long hours in a warehouse environment.
“I don’t want to be in a factory all my life,” he said.
Pottage and Nieves are hardly alone. Many participants come to the program looking to prepare for the General Educational Development exam, said family literacy instructor Debra Trulock.
Others may wish to boost the skills they will need for post-secondary education or training or for better career opportunities. Some come in search of improved reading, writing or math skills. Still others come to enhance their English skills or to prepare for the U.S. citizenship test.
“It is rewarding, seeing people reach their goals,” Trulock said.
The program now serves 48 families in Luzerne County and 13 families in Schuylkill County and has a waiting list of about 25 families, Trulock said.
The common thread is parenthood. While parents come to learn, the program also is designed to help them do a better job helping their children learn.
Family literacy services are offered free to parents of children between birth and third grade, Trulock said. They are primarily aimed at families with children participating in Head Start preschool programs for ages birth through 5.
According to a brochure provided to participants, the program also is designed to give families a nurturing place to learn and play together at its sites in Wilkes-Barre, Nanticoke and Hazleton.
During an interview last week, Nieves and Pottage sat around a table chatting with a reporter while working on arts-and-crafts projects with their daughters. The two fathers fielded serious questions about their lives while offering advice and encouragement on cutting and pasting and paint colors.
The girls might have been bashful about talking with a reporter, but their dads said better communication has been one of the benefits of the quality time they have spent together since joining the program.
“She vocalizes more,” Pottage said of 4-year-old Jennifer.
“I would take them to Dorney Park, Hersheypark, and that would be it. There wouldn’t be much interaction at all,” Nieves said of 4-year-old Arabella and 8-year-old Ariana.
“Now they’ll pick up a book and say, ‘Hey, dad, you want to read this with me?’ ”
That doesn’t always come easily, Nieves admitted, especially after a long day of work. “Sometimes I’m not in the mood, but I’ll do it,” he said with a smile.
Studies haven’t always come easily for either man — both admitted math was a bit more of a challenge than other subjects, for example.
“I was a little skeptical of where I was going to go with it,” Nieves said. Program instructor Stacey Hinkley was not only a good motivator, he found, but sensitive to finding study methods that worked best with his learning style after so many years away from school.
Pottage, who has the math component left to finish, knows further study will be required once he completes his GED and sees corrections work as a stable field that fills an important social need while offering good pay and benefits.
Nieves, who speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese, expects his next step is an associate’s degree, followed by a bachelor’s degree, and eventually a new vocation as a social worker.
“I see things now, in my community, that could get better,” he said.
For more information on the LCCC program, contact Trulock at 740-0777.