When Kelly Hansen began working at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) in 2000, the adult education program mainly taught people to read. There were no life-skill prep courses; work readiness training did not exist and determining a student’s academic grade level with a computerized assessment tool was unheard of.
Times have changed.
Today the program, now known as Adult Education and Workforce Preparedness (AEWP), offers an array of academic and employment resources designed to meet individual needs, including assessments that can help students garner everything from a diploma to a job.
It’s an evolution, Hansen, the program’s coordinator, has proudly been a part of for 19 years; but come July 31“Miss Kelly” as she is affectionately nicknamed by patrons and staff, will retire from TASK, ending her three-decade career in education and community service.
“My years here have given me so much joy,” Hansen wrote in her retirement letter to TASK Executive Director Joyce E. Campbell. “There has been heartbreak, but in the vast sea of humanity that we serve, I have witnessed the most incredible examples of faith and determination…I am honored to have been part of such a fine organization.”
Mia Hart, the program’s assistant for the last five years, has been diligently working with Hansen and will step into the coordinator position this summer. Hansen said the program is in good hands with Hart who intends to carry on Hansen’s philosophy of treating patrons with “concern, compassion and humanity,” while pursuing fresh and modern opportunities.
“I truly believe in her way of doing things,” Hart said as she and Hansen exchanged comforting smiles. “There is an emotional, human interaction that is needed here. That along with this culture where we give respect and we get respect is something Kelly has nurtured for years. It’s one of the reasons why our students know we are sincerely on their side and will continue to be for years to come.”
Hart added that Hansen’s method of delivering education while meeting students where they are, in a non-threatening caring environment is why students stay with AEWP and refer others. The 25-year-old program was in its seventh year when Hansen joined TASK. With a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and a Master’s in education, Hansen was a perfect fit for TASK as it had just begun to expand into the multi-faceted organization it is today. That includes reshaping an adult education program that was in the early stages of cultivating a full-blown High School Equivalency (HSE) center. As one of the few free programs in the city, it became well known and one of Mercer County’s state-approved trainers for the HSE at Hansen’s hand. This expansion made the program more accessible to the unemployed and those on general assistance. Hansen also ushered in the computerized Test for Adult Basic Education, known as TABE. This state-sanctioned assessment measures a student’s baseline grade level in reading and math and then uses that information to determine their readiness for the HSE exams, jobs, college entrance exams and training opportunities. Made possible through a generous grant from the investment firm BlackRock to improve educational outcomes through technology, TABE is administered in TASK’s new computer lab – a part of the soup kitchen’s recently completed $2 million renovation. The lab was specially built for the AEWP program and is strictly for educational purposes
“I’m thrilled about the TABE test,” Hansen said. “For years we talked about measurable outcomes, but we didn’t have the resources to obtain them. This test will tell us whether someone is at a 2nd or 8th grade level and better shows us their progress so we can help them get to their next goal.”
In addition to these and other formal platforms, Hansen also instituted workshops in advanced math, writing and science. Most recently AEWP added the national program, People and Stories/Gentes y Cuentos where students in underserved populations discuss the works of everyone from Shakespeare to Alice Walker. She is also responsible for incorporating the very popular field trips into the program. Known for her ginger-red hair and love for a good April Fool’s Day prank, Hansen said she wanted to make education fun and exciting – something traditional education lacked for many AEWP students.
“When students have positive experiences together it fosters a sense of community,” she said. “Because when it is all said and done, that’s what TASK is all about – a community seeking to find something for everybody.”