ProJeCt of Easton

ProJeCt of Easton

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”      

For nearly 50 years, ProJeCt of Easton has been fighting poverty by helping people learn to help themselves, vibrantly bringing the old proverb to life.

“The goal has always been to provide a real coordinated effort to solving poverty,” says Alison O’Connell, ProJeCt’s development manager. “You can give somebody food, but that’s not their only issue.”

Founded by local clergy and community leaders to advocate for and provide services to an underserved and underprivileged population in Easton, ProJeCt, whose name reflects the Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic interfaith roots of its early leaders, has grown from an agency focused primarily on providing emergency assistance into a comprehensive system of services, with education at its center.

“Our original programs were the emergency shelter and food pantry,” Alison says. In 1979, the agency offered its first literacy program, a volunteer tutoring program for adults; today, it offers professional programs for every level of learner. “That’s probably been our biggest area of expansion, literacy,” she says. “Literacy is a big issue that many people don’t think of when they think of poverty.”

Between June 2015 and June 2016, ProJeCt served 233 adults and 36 children from 31 families in its literacy programs. Literacy programs for adults include Adult Basic Education, which offers instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, and practical life skills; General Educational Development (GED) classes, which prepare the students to master the subjects on the GED test; and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, which provide instruction in English language skills for non-native speakers, including assistance with preparation for the U.S. citizenship test. More than 40 adults got their GEDs or became U.S. citizens last June.


Diana Pina is a member of the class of 2017, the organization’s largest-ever graduating class. She became a U.S. citizen on June 17. A native of Ecuador, she arrived in the United States in 2011, knowing very little English. When she registered her children for classes in the Easton Area School District, district officials referred her to ProJeCt, where she enrolled in the ESL program.

Diana is now enrolled in the GED program. Although she has a high school diploma from Ecuador, she needs her GED to get into a U.S. college. She hopes to graduate from the GED program in June and join her oldest son at Northampton Community College, where he will begin studying in the spring. Her ultimate goal is a career in pediatric nursing.

“ProJeCt changed my life,” she says.    

It has also helped her children, who are now fluent in both Spanish and English. While Diana attends ProJeCt’s adult literacy classes, her daughter attends the early childhood program, part of the agency’s family literacy program. And this summer, her younger son participated in the Sizzle program, a summer day camp focusing on reading skills aimed at Easton Area School District students from kindergarten to fourth grade.

ProJeCt also works closely with the School District on the Student Success Program (SSP), a one-year program for district middle school students that addresses attendance, behavior, and classroom performance. The program teaches self-awareness and self-management life skills, enabling children to take personal responsibility and make good decisions. The program, which offers one-on-one case management for students who demonstrate risk for failure in attendance, behavior, and grades, served 375 students in 2016.

This year, the program, which had been available to children in grades 6 through 8, expanded to include fifth-graders. “The sooner you can start teaching students those kinds of skills, the better,” Alison says.

Also new is the Success Academy, which is focused on building a personalized case-management plan for each client ProJeCt serves. “If they’re coming in to get their GED, we’ll look at things like their housing situation and food insecurity, building a comprehensive plan for each client, so that we can address any barriers to learning,” she says. “Once they’ve graduated from the program, if they’re looking to apply to college or go into the work force, we can keep supporting them, helping them with college applications or resumes.”

The Success Academy also applies to the agency’s social services clients, she says, adding that when they seek emergency shelter or come to the food pantry, staff can find out what their issues are and learn how they can help, whether it is through one of its programs or by connecting them to other community organizations.

The program fits in with the agency’s desire to bring all of its programs—literacy and social services—under one umbrella, Alison says.

ProJeCt assumed operation of Easton’s Interfaith Food Pantry in the early 1990s, and many faith groups continue to donate to the program, which offers qualified Northampton County residents a three- to four-day supply of fresh, quality food each month and allows senior citizens to visit the pantry up to twice a month. Clients are able to select their own items from the shelves, assisted by volunteers.

“Our food pantry is teaching clients how to use food they receive, how to incorporate healthy food in their diets,” Alison says. “Everything we do is about education.”

As ProJeCt approaches its 50th anniversary next year, social services are still a major part of its mission. Between June 2015 and 2016, the organization provided 4,129 people with food, offered 35 nights of emergency shelter, provided emergency fuel assistance to 59 senior citizen households, provided rental assistance to 31 households, and offered information and referrals to 1,290 households.    

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