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CORA’s success

Nora Cooper, (right) Director of CORA’s Early Years pre-school program, and Traci Nagele-Balco; Manager of Early Years. CORA Services is celebrating 40 years in September.

CORA Services, the Roman Catholic social-services agency on Verree Road in Fox Chase, will be 40 years old in November. In its four decades, CORA has grown in scope, but its mission has remained helping children and families cope with the complexities of modern life.

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CORA’s services take several forms, including day care, counseling, help with drug and alcohol addictions, career guidance and educational and speech assistance.

One of CORA’s key goals is helping young women deal with their unplanned pregnancies.

During a recent interview, Sister Nora Dennehy, who runs CORA’s Lifeline program, recalled talking with a young Vietnamese woman who was thinking of getting an abortion because she was afraid to tell her parents she was pregnant.

Sister Nora persuaded the woman to not only tell her parents, but to have her baby and finish her own education. The woman took part in CORA’s Lifeline program.

“She never missed any of her prenatal classes,” Sister Nora said.

Helped by CORA during her pregnancy, the woman went on to finish her schooling and got a full scholarship to college. She now is a teacher and lives in the Northeast, Sister Nora said.

There have been plenty of those success stories in the 28 years CORA has been aiding pregnant women in having their babies and improving their lives. It is women helping one another, Sister Nora said.

She estimated that 2,000 young women, most of them teenagers, have been helped. “There are two-hundred new cases a year” at Lifeline, she said. Some give their children up for adoption, but most keep their babies, she said.

One of the most important parts of the program, she said, is removing the feeling of being alone. The girls’ parents are involved.

“I have monthly meetings with parents,” Sister Nora said.

Karen Davis went through the Lifeline program when she was pregnant with her daughter in 1998.

“I got counseling and support,” she said, adding that she was shown how to draw on her courage and build her self-esteem,

“If not for the encouragement of Sister Norah, I probably would have given up,” she said.

The Good Shepherd Sisters, with the help of a small state grant, founded CORA Services as a community counseling center in 1971. Over the years, CORA, which stands for Counseling Or Referral Assistance, has grown to offer many services while maintaining a focus on helping children and families overcome problems at school, in their neighborhoods or in their homes.

“If we can’t help you, we will make sure you still get the help you need,” said CEO Jim Harron.

In its first year, CORA had a $135,000 budget, and the plan was to help 300 families. Instead, CORA’s counselors saw more than 600 families.

Today, the agency spends more than $11 million annually and has a staff of more than 200 counselors, educators and psychologists. More than 25,000 families participate in one or more of CORA’s programs.

One of those programs is the Equal Partnership in Change Stakeholders groups, one of which, the Northeast EPIC Stakeholders, operates in Frankford.

EPIC’s operating idea is to get people involved in neighborhood activities. Northeast EPIC meets monthly at Aria Health’s Frankford campus. Its coordinator is attorney Kimberly Washington, who is from Frankford. The monthly sessions often provide residents information about the services that are available to them.

“The most satisfying part of my job is being able to help people who live and work in the neighborhood where I grew up,” Washington said.

CORA provides families with safe and structured programs for their kids.

Things run smoothly at the preschool, but center manager Traci Nagele-Balco can recall a hectic time on her first day on the job.

It was Sept. 11, 2001.

“Parents were calling me to make sure their kids were OK,” she said. She had to call those who hadn’t called in, because CORA decided to close the center during the day of those terror attacks against the nation.

Mom Sharon Quinn knows all about CORA’s Early Years preschool program. Not only does she bring her 3-year-old son Cameron to CORA, but the East Torresdale resident went there when she was little, too.

She recalls herself as outgoing and active — and sometimes in trouble for acting out of line.

“I got put in time-out,” she said, adding with a smile that she doesn’t expect her boy to give anybody any trouble.

“He’s quieter than I was.” ••

Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215–354–3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

What CORA offers . . .

Organization type: Catholic, private, not-for-profit social services

Address: 8540 Verree Road

Phone: 215–342–7660

Web address: www.coraservices.com

Programs:

• Non-Public School Services provides counseling and guidance services, reading and math remediation, speech, and psychological services to children attending non-public schools in grades K to 12.

• Early Years Program provides nursery, preschool and day-care services to families with children between the ages of 2-? to 6 years.

• Community Services provide counseling and psychological services for individuals and families. Some areas of specialization include teen parenting, counseling, therapy, outpatient alcohol/substance abuse treatment, family intervention and teen pregnancy services.

• Neumann Center offers a complete reading and math remedial program, GED preparation, life skills, computer and clerical skills, customer service training, pre-employment skills and employment placement assistance.

• Out of School Services — the Beacon Center at Grover Washington Jr. Middle School, located at B and Olney Avenue in North Philadelphia, is a school-based community center that provides a safe haven for children and families in the community. The Out of School Services division now includes another Beacon Center at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School at 5120 N. Sixth St. In addition to the Beacon Centers, there are three After School sites located at Carnell Elementary School, 1100 Devereaux Ave.; Morrison Elementary School, 5100 N. Third St.; and the Neumann Center at 1000 Orthodox St. ••

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