recognized for welfare reform work
John Reed, Media Relations
Extension professor and specialist Suzann Knight received the
Maynard and Audrey Heckel Fellowship for outstanding Cooperative
Extension educators for her work in founding the N.H.
Lifeskills for Employment, Achievement, and Purpose (LEAP) program.
Knight developed the LEAP curriculum in 1997 as an answer to welfare
reform legislation. LEAP has helped 40 percent of its participants
land jobs and get off public assistance. Since 1997 LEAP has grown
from two full-time instructors to 15, and has enrolled nearly 2,000
“There was a lot of talk about welfare reform in Washington,
D.C., prior to 1996 and I felt that Cooperative Extension had a
role to play,” Knight said.
LEAP works with the New Hampshire Employment Program (NHEP) to develop
life skills for individuals on public assistance with the goal of
helping them make the transition into the workforce. “Many
people on public assistance have serious issues in their personal
lives, and it can be incredibly difficult to make the transition
to work. LEAP teaches them how to manage the problems and issues
in their lives,” Knight said.
The program immerses participants in a 12-day, six-hour per day
course that teaches interpersonal skills such as conflict, anger
and stress management. It also covers developing life skills such
as time management, decision making and problem solving techniques
necessary for participants to put their lives in order.
The emotional support provided by fellow participants and instructors
is crucial to helping participants turn their lives around, Knight
This support group becomes so tight so fast that, “by the
end of the program students don’t want it to end,” Knight
LEAP places the same demands of punctuality and self-reliance that
are found in the workplace. “Participants need to be on time.
They need to arrange for childcare on their own, and they also need
to take care of their own transportation. They need to learn to
live in a routine,” she said.
In addition to the standard curriculum, coordinators work with each
participant on a specific area where they need to improve such as
housing or time management.
Once participants have completed the program, their instructor makes
a recommendation to NHEP on whether each participant is ready to
enter the workforce or should participate in other NHEP programs
such as counseling or furthering their education.
Knight gives credit for the award to everyone involved with LEAP
in Cooperative Extension and NHEP. “I feel strongly that this
is a programmatic award. If all of us weren’t working together,
the program wouldn’t have gone anywhere,” she said.
The impact LEAP has had on the lives of its participants has been
“I found I could get organized with my life. I have a great
job and my son is doing well. Together we’re terrific. We
now own our own home and have a new vehicle. LEAP got me to see
I could make good decisions for me and my son,” one LEAP alumnus
According to another alumnus, “My last hope was LEAP and it
lead to a whole new life. I don’t even remember who I used
Knight is sharing the fellowship money with the program coordinators
to pay for a curriculum retreat focused on improving the program.