Back at work, at Chester call center

William Adolph Jr., chair of the state Higher Education Assistance Agency, and otherscut the ribbon during a call center's grand opening on the Chester waterfront. PHEAA, a quasi-public state agency, provides financial aid services to students and colleges. The project is part of an initiative that will bring 150 jobs to the area.
William Adolph Jr., chair of the state Higher Education Assistance Agency, and otherscut the ribbon during a call center's grand opening on the Chester waterfront. PHEAA, a quasi-public state agency, provides financial aid services to students and colleges. The project is part of an initiative that will bring 150 jobs to the area. (RON TARVER / Staff Photograher)
Posted: October 27, 2012

Cory Hambrick knows about tough times in a rough economy.

Two years ago, the 33-year-old Chester resident and father of a teenager got laid off from his job doing collections for a time-share company.

He went on unemployment and moved in with his mother. When the benefits ran out, he got part-time work at a Wendy's to try to make ends meet. He looked for work, even went on a few interviews.

"Not everyone calls you back," the soft-spoken Hambrick noted.

But Thursday, he was back on the phone and pleased to be back at work.

His new job: counseling former college students on how to manage and repay their federal school loans. Some of them are having a hard time, too.

"I like to think of them almost as my family," he said.

Hambrick is one of the first beneficiaries of an initiative that will provide up to new 150 jobs in the Chester area.

Thursday was the official opening of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency's fourth and newest customer service center. The agency's first office in Southeastern Pennsylvania, the new call center is located in the Wharf at Rivertown, on the Chester waterfront. PHEAA, a quasi-public state agency, provides financial aid services to students and colleges.

Numerous elected officials and others turned out Thursday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, but the center actually went into operation last month, training the first cohort of what will eventually be 150 counselors. A second group was at their computers this week, busy learning new jobs.

"I'm happy to be here and celebrate this occasion," said State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, who represents Chester, a city much in need of employment opportunities.

State Rep. William Adolph Jr. (R., Delaware), chairman of the PHEAA, said the center would be fully operational by June. He said the center was funded by PHEAA's earnings. Those earnings also provided $75 million this year to the Pennsylvania State Grant program, which aids students, according to agency officials.

The next recruitment sessions for jobs at the center will be Nov. 6 and Dec. 4 at the Pennsylvania CareerLink Delaware County, in Chester. The jobs start at $11.50 an hour, and candidates are paid throughout their five weeks of training.

Tom Nee, 23, of Springfield was glad to be one of them. A business-management major, he graduated from West Chester University in May and has to start paying back his own student loans in November.

Once upon a time, Bernicea Jackson, 30, of Chester thought she was bound for college; she said she was accepted by the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and other schools. But she didn't have the money.

After working in collections and customer service several years, she got laid off two years ago. Since then, she said, her jobs have been short term, mostly in retail.

Now, however, she is excited about her PHEAA job, which she started training for Oct. 9. It will help her contribute to an education savings account for daughter Paris, 8.

"I hope she would go to college," Jackson said.


 

Contact Rita Giordano at 610-627-2649, rgiordano@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @ritagiordano.

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