Paxinos man honored for overcoming obstacles
As featured in the MIlton Standard-Journal / News-Item
MILTON — Growing up one of 12 children to parents who were on the run from a religious sect, Tucson Barlow once believed his chances of finding success in the future were dim.
Barlow, who now lives in Paxinos, on Monday was presented with a Governor’s Achievement Youth Award for his success in YES to the Future, a Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU) program funded by the Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. The program is also operated in partnership with Pennsylvania CareerLink.
Alexa Hann, Youth Programs manager with Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation, said the corporation oversees the implementation of the YES to the Future program.
She noted that Governor’s Achievement Awards are presented to “outstanding participants in workforce development who have overcome obstacles and achieved success.”
Tim Musselman, a career counselor with YES to the Future, introduced Barlow by reading his award nomination.
“Growing up... Tucson lived in a communal setting until the age of 8,” Musselman said. “His family belonged to a religious sect until their father was excommunicated and his mother was left to care for 12 children on her own.”
Out of fear she may be forced to marry someone else within the sect, Barlow’s mother fled the area where they lived with her children.
“After joining their father in another state, Tucson’s family lived with the nagging fear that the sect would interfere with their new life,” Musselman said. “His parents decided to avoid any chance of confrontation with sect members, making the choice to homeschool their children. Tucson had no formal education beyond the third grade.”
Now 25, Barlow moved to Pennsylvania three years ago from the western portion of the United States.
Barlow describes his life growing up as being “very terrifying.”
“When I was younger, I thought there was nothing for me,” he said. “I thought I would be a hermit forever. I thought I would be overweight forever.”
Barlow enrolled in adult education classes in order to earn his GED. Through those classes, he was referred to the YES to the Future program.
Working with Musselman, Barlow obtained a driver’s license, earned a GED, polished his career-readiness skills and was hired to a full-time position at Geisinger Medical Center.
“As Tucson was gaining self confidence, he began taking care of himself,” Musselman said. “Utilizing benefits available through his employer, he started counseling to overcome the life trauma he experienced.
“Not only did he take care of his mental health, but he addressed his physical health by changing his diet and beginning to exercise.”
Barlow said his weight has dropped from 350 pounds to 225.
“I have gone through the largest transition of my life,” he said.
“Tucson went from barely motivated to making and meeting goal after goal,” Musselman said. “In just over one year, Tucson earned his GED, obtained his license, gained employment, received a promotion with a salary increase, purchased his first car and lost over 100 pounds.”
Barlow said he has learned the importance of persistence. At Geisinger, he cleans surgical equipment utilized in the operating room.
He is making plans to further his education. While continuing to work full time, he hopes to enroll in a surgical technology program.
Barlow said he is the sixth of 12 children. Some of his siblings are doing fine, with one brother working as a welder in the Lehigh Valley and another designing apps.
Once he becomes more established, Barlow hopes to help three younger siblings who are still struggling.
After once seeing no chance at a future, Barlow said he now feels “amazing.”
“The biggest thing I’ve seen is him blossom,” Musselman said. “He was very resistant and hesitant to talk (when he entered the program). He’s the perfect example of what we’re trying to advance with this program.”
Katherine Vastine, CSIU’s WATCH Program manager and CARES Leadership coordinator, said the YES to the Future program is open to individuals age 16 to 24 who lives in one of nine counties served by the program. Those counties are Northumberland, Union, Lycoming, Snyder, Montour, Columbia, Mifflin, Centre and Clinton.
Vastine said program participants must have a qualifying characteristic, such as being out of work or looking to earn a GED.
“It’s very individualized,” Vastine said, of the program. “It’s to help individuals find their careers... It’s an opportunity for a career path.”
She said the program employs seven counselors, who work with the participants to find out what their career interests are. There is no cost to participate.
“There’s the opportunity for a paid internship,” Vastine said. “We are able to set them up with local employers. They are making $10.35 per hour.
“That’s a really critical piece to finding out ‘is this the career for me?’”
Dr. Bernadette Boerckel, CSIU’s chief outreach officer, congratulated Barlow on his achievements through participating in the YES to the Future program.
“We are so proud of you and the fact the you’re persistent,” she said. “You are a model for others who find themselves in these situations.”