10/22/2013 03:13 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Simple Chemistry

The combination of Manchester Bidwell Corporation's (MBC) two programs -- youth arts education and adult career training -- has proven successful in addressing the need to redefine local communities, families and support networks. I would like to share the following story of triumph from one of our adult students.

Stephanie Wilkerson has never stopped trying to improve life for herself and her daughter. In 2012, Manchester Bidwell Corporation's Bidwell Training Center (BTC) gave her the means to secure not just a job, but a career -- and a lifeline.

Wilkerson grew up in Pittsburgh's Hill District and went to college directly after high school, but the tuition forced her to drop out after 18 months. She worked a series of jobs, including as a document specialist at a major law firm, but was forced to quit when her firm merged with another and the new health insurance didn't cover costs associated with her daughter's diabetes. After securing her welder's certification, Stephanie worked next for a structural steel fabrication company -- until it closed. She then began working as a waitress.

"It was rough," she recalls. "Each time a company changed hands, I lost my job and had to take a lesser-paying job. I applied for public assistance, but I really didn't want it," she says. Instead, the public-assistance office informed her about BTC and its success with career-training and job placement for local residents who are not being served through traditional trade schools and educational institutions.

Wilkerson entered BTC's Chemical Laboratory Technician program in 2011. She appreciated the manageable length of BTC majors and that tuition and supplies were available at no cost to eligible students.

"The training I received was impeccable," she says. Her externship at RJ Lee Group in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, immediately turned into a full-time chemical laboratory technician job. "Because of the hands-on training I received at Bidwell, I came to my job able to do the work rather easily," she says.

Today, at the age of 38, Stephanie and her daughter have full medical coverage through her job. "And," she says, "we are completely free of the welfare system."

Stephanie's story demonstrates how the Manchester Bidwell educational model has the power to change lives. By providing cost-effective opportunities to underemployed adults, our programs help permanently change lives through teaching the skills people need to secure sustainable careers. NCAT is committed to working to make this a reality for people in communities across the globe.

To support NCAT, visit to and Crowdrise.

Maria Anderson is vice president of the National Center for Arts & Technology, an affiliate of Manchester Bidwell Corporation, the parent company of Manchester Craftsmen's Guild and Bidwell Training Center.