Connections Work is proud to recognize these individuals who have demonstrated a significant dedication and commitment to our organization, and who have championed our cause and furthered our mission of inspiring hope and supporting second chances.
LIFE IMPROVEMENT AMBASSADORS
2023 Life Improvement Ambassador
Connections Work is proud to recognize Michelle Tomczak as the 2023 Life Improvement Ambassador.
In her 32 years working at BCPS, now Connections Work, Michelle has worn many hats, always rising to the occasion to meet the needs of our clients and our organization. She played a key role in our many successes.
Most knew her as either the Director of Volunteer Programming or Development Director. In these roles, Michelle cultivated relationships throughout the community, leading people to volunteer with us, some for many years, even decades. Those volunteers have been the lifeblood of our organization.
Through her leadership, Michelle expanded Connections Work volunteer programs, many of which positively impacted children and families of incarcerated individuals, including the Mother’s / Father’s Voice program at the Berks County Jail, where volunteers record incarcerated mothers and fathers reading a story to their child. This not only provides a sense of closeness between the parent and the child that would otherwise not be possible, but also promotes the importance of reading.
Michelle coordinated the Holiday Gift Project, where she worked closely with Alice Moyer and the West Lawn United Methodist Church to expand the project from serving a few hundred children a year and grew it to serve almost 1,000 annually.
In 2020, Michelle stepped into the role of Specialized Case Manager to help develop and launch a new program at Connections Work: WIP (Work In Progress). WIP is a comprehensive program for justice-involved individuals who also have a serious mental illness and are currently receiving case management services with a mental health provider. Through her diligence, WIP has become a successful program at Connections Work, impacting some of our most marginalized clients.
Those who know Michelle know she is kind, selfless, and devoted to our mission. As Connections Work grew, Michelle rose to meet new challenges, never hesitating to jump in to fill a role or take on a project whenever and wherever needed. We would not be where we are today without her energy, expertise, and commitment.
2022 Life Improvement Ambassador
Connections Work recognized Ruby Martin as the 2022 Life Improvement Ambassador. For over 30 years, Ruby has been improving the lives of individuals with justice involvement though her volunteer efforts.
In 1989, Ruby’s daughter was working for Connections Work (BCPS at that time), and she invited her mother to our annual banquet. Ruby and her friends from work and church reserved several tables for the event. She was inspired and became a member of the Berks County Prison Society.
In 1992, Ruby helped organize the Alliance of Black Lucent Employees (ABLE) at AT&T (currently known as Lucent Technologies). ABLE connected with Connections Work to provide outreach services within the Berks County Jail. Some of her fondest volunteer memories were bingo nights with the female inmates. Ruby’s involvement with Connections Work expanded to include Mother’s Voice, Family Connections Picnics and Holiday Parties, and the Returning Citizen Career Fairs.
Ruby has demonstrated a significant dedication and commitment to our organization, and has championed our cause and furthered our mission of inspiring hope and supporting second chances.
2020 Life Improvement Ambassador
Connections Work recognized Dr. Ann T. Gundry as the 2020 Life Improvement Ambassador. Since our organization was founded, in 1975, Ann had been dedicated to improving the lives of incarcerated women.
In the early 1970’s Ann and Connie, Ann’s wife of many years, learned of the need for programming and support for women incarcerated at the Berks County Jail. They enlisted the help of their Women’s Action group at Kutztown University to visit the Women’s quarters at the Jail every Monday night for Volleyball and punch and cookies. The Women’s Action group later became FMLA – Feminists Majority Leadership Alliance which focuses on issues such as self-empowerment. At its conclusion, Ann began volunteering as a mentor for women at the Jail.
Ann demonstrated a significant dedication and commitment to our organization, and championed our cause and furthered our mission of inspiring hope and supporting second chances.
2019 Life Improvement Ambassador
Megan Huesgen, Pastor at Immanuel United Church of Christ, served on the Board of Directors of Connections Work from 2016-2018. In addition to being an active, dedicated board member, Megan has been an amazing advocate for our Life Improvement Business. She has helped to further our mission by connecting Connections Work with the faith- based community, increasing her congregation’s level of involvement and support, and by being a great spokesperson for Connections Work. Megan promotes the importance of the community’s role in providing hope and second chances; her passion for improving lives inspires others to get involved. In addition to supporting Connections Work personally and through her ministry at Immanuel UCC, Megan has been involved with numerous other organizations in our community.
2018 Life Improvement Ambassador
Scott L. Rehr served as Executive Director of Connections Work from 2002-2012. Under Scott’s leadership, Connections Work increased its impact on the community, doubled its revenue and earned the “Seal of Excellence” from the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations. Scott’s integrity and engaging personality greatly increased and improved the organization’s relationships with shareholders in the community, setting the stage for future opportunities. Scott has remained an advocate for Connections Work programs and services and has been a faithful United Way volunteer for more than a decade. Scott currently chairs the Community Impact Cabinet; his efforts support many United Way volunteers, including those dedicated to Ready.Set.READ! along with Focus Area Panel volunteers who determine how United Way dollars are best invested in programs to help improve the lives of local children, families and older adults. Additionally, he serves on United Way’s Executive Committee and the Board of Directors and is a member of the organization’s Strategic Planning Committee. Scott’s passion to improve lives is evident and his continued support of our mission is greatly appreciated!
2017 Life Improvement Ambassadors
Eric Savage, or Mr. Freedom as he was known by many, is the former President and Owner of Freedom Auto Group. For several years, Eric has supported Connections Work through his time, treasure and talent, never lacking in enthusiasm or creativity. Eric exemplified a Life Improvement philosophy both personally and as a business leader. His enthusiasm for improving others’ lives is both inspiring and contagious. In fact, Eric is responsible for tagging Connections Work, then known as Berks Connections / Pretrial Services, as a Life Improvement Business and we are fortunate to have his guidance in helping our team define what the Life Improvement Business means for Connections Work!
Mark Stone, President of Stone Financial, served Connections Work for many years as a board member, serving as President from 2013-2014. Mark’s contributions to our Life Improvement Business are significant. Mark successfully guided the organization through a leadership transition and as President, guided Connections Work through the agency’s first extensive strategic planning process. This plan has resulted in unprecedented growth in agency programming and development and has greatly enhanced opportunities for board engagement. Through his leadership, guidance and support, Mark has allowed Connections Work to improve countless lives in our community.
2016 Life Improvement Ambassadors
Craig Poole is the general manager of the beautiful DoubleTree by Hilton Reading. Craig has always reached out to those in need and his passion for improving people's lives is clear to anyone who meets him. Craig has been involved with Connections Work for the past four years as an avid advocate of second chances and routinely hires returning citizens. He not only provides employment, but also the opportunity to work in a nurturing environment and one that inspires positive change. Craig embraces a Life Improvement philosophy and has been an ambassador of hope and change for the city of Reading.
Althea Harmon began volunteering with Connections Work in 1985, visiting Berks County Jail weekly as a mentor and tutor. In 1996, she founded Mothers Voice, one of Connections Work's most impactful programs. Mother's Voice, which is offered weekly at the Main Jail and monthly at the Community Reentry Center, provides the opportunity for mothers and fathers to be videoed while reading a story to their young children. The children receive the book and DVD in the mail. Althea was instrumental in gaining funding for this program through United Methodist Women's groups. Under her guidance and leadership this program has flourished.
Inaugural Class 2015
Paul Hoh was the founder of the Berks County Prison Society and the man responsible for bringing the cause of serving the incarcerated to Berks County. In the early 1970's, he gathered individuals from all faiths and walks of life. Under Paul's leadership, this group of grassroots volunteers began working as mentors in the Jail to provide support and advocacy for the incarcerated. In 1975, he oversaw the incorporation of the agency as an official nonprofit and became its first President of the Board of Directors. Paul remained an active supporter of Connections Work programs until his passing in January, 2023.
Kate Hoh has been involved with Connections Work since its early days. She is a former board member whose interests focused on ensuring that Connections Work volunteers from the community were appropriately recognized for their contributions in the lives of others. Kate is a former teacher who shared her skills with inmates in the Educational Program at the Jail. Kate remains an active supporter of Connections Work programs.
Dr. Constance Dent was a founder of the Berks County Prison Society, alongside Paul Hoh. She attended early meetings with others in the community who prioritized the needs of those incarcerated at the Berks County Jail. Dr. Dent had been very active in women's issues on college campuses. She brought her experience of leading the way on women's issues to the table and was instrumental in formulating programs for the women held at the Jail. She and her wife, Dr. Ann Gundry co-led a women's action group from Kutztown University. This group visited female inmates at the Jail on a weekly basis for many years. Dr. Dent remained an active supporter of Connections Work programs until her passing in June, 2018..
Linda Faye Epes, ESQ. served on the Connections Work board from 1997-2003 and from 2011-2013. Linda was instrumental in providing leadership to the agency during the Executive Director transition several years ago. Following the transition she did extensive work on upgrading agency governance and personnel policies. As Executive Director of the Domestic Relations Section she works very closely with Connections Work on employment initiatives.
Hamid Chaudhry is an active member of the Berks County Justice System Employment Council, which Connections Work leads. Hamid not only hires many returning citizens for his several businesses, he is a very vocal supporter of second chances. Hamid actively assists Connections Work in employer outreach efforts by reaching out to his many friends and business associated in the community. Hamid is a longtime supporter of the agency.
Elsayed Elmarzouky is an active member of the Berks County Justice System Employment Council led by Connections Work. He is instrumental in the success of this initiative by hiring returning citizens for his two restaurants and by generously hosting employer outreach breakfasts. In addition, he shares his passion for the cause of hiring returning citizens with fellow employers. Elsayed participated in our Family Connections events and remains a longtime supporter of the agency.