Dr. April Torrence honored as a voice for children for work at Zion

Apr. 28—FARRELL — When she first started Zion Education Center in 1995 out of her own home, Dr. April Torrence sometimes had as many as three children sitting on her lap.

At the time, Torrence was pregnant with her second child — Temarah Harrison — but she still able to apply a "motherly touch" when it came to caring for the community's children while the parents worked.

Zion Education Center has since moved to its current location at 602 Roemer Blvd., Farrell, and as CEO, Torrence finds herself overseeing multiple teachers instead of working hands-on with the children as much as she used to, although the response from parents is still the same after all these years.

"We always hear the parents say, 'I trust y'all,'" Torrence said. "These people trust us with their kids, and we have those kids who have grown up and know us, and now they trust us with their own kids."

That service to the community's children has not gone unnoticed, and Torrence was recently recognized with the Voice for Children Award by the Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children.

Torrence was nominated for the award by former state Rep. Mark Longietti, who now serves as the Hermitage director of business and community development.

"When I opened the email about the award, I just stared at the email and shed tears of gratitude," Torrence said.

The Voice for Children Award is the only statewide award in Pennsylvania that recognizes the grassroots leaders whose work affects the quality of care for young children in diverse settings, according to a press release.

"As the 'Voice' for early childhood care and learning, community advocates are an invaluable component to assuring all Pennsylvania's children get the start they deserve is school and life and that the professionals providing these services are appropriately compensated for the important work they do," PennAEYC Executive Director Jen DeBell said in the release.

Zion Education Center is a STAR 4 Keystone STARS designated site.

With a "remarkable" track record, Torrence has secured more than $4 million in funding, enabling top-tier educational and employment opportunities for socio-economically disadvantaged families in the Mercer County region, the release states.

Torrence gave a "special shout-out" to Zion's board members, teachers, aides, ambassadors, volunteers, students, parents and donors who help keep "Zion's mission alive and my leadership, purpose-driven."

Torrence has undergraduate degrees in business administration from Penn State University and a human resources management degree from Geneva College.

She also has a master of science in organizational leadership from Geneva College, and a doctorate in philosophy in instructional management and leadership from Robert Morris University in 2015, the release states.

Aside from her work with Zion Education Center, Torrence serves on the boards of the Primary Health Foundation, Butler County Community College, the Northwest Institute of Research, and the Board of Elders at New Life Family Worship Center.

She is also "deeply engaged" in social change initiatives, including the Children and Youth Prevention Empowerment Network, which addresses the negative effects of substance use and trauma in the homes of young children. She was also the concept developer of the Operation Lighthouse Project which addressed the same issues, the release states.

When it comes to juggling multiple responsibilities, Torrence said it helps when these different obligations are spread out through the week, although she still starts her day with "coffee and a prayer" and tries to keep smiling.

"I think it really helps having a good support system in place, and knowing that there's people that can continue carrying out the responsibilities of the day," Torrence said.

"Having great team members definitely helps me focus on my different roles throughout the week."

After years of working with young children, Torrence said the most rewarding part of her work is seeing the center's students — referred to as scholars — eventually graduate from high school, and even receive scholarships from the center for their college careers.

"In 2022, we had a class where two scholars came back to receive scholarships from Zion of $250 each, but they had already accumulated about $700,000 in scholarships on their own," Torrence said.

Torrence lives in Hermitage with her family. She has also received the NAACP's Frances Hooks Award and was named the 2021 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year by SCORE.

Longietti, who once served as the Democratic chairman of the state House Education Committee, said Torrence has been a "strong advocate for high-quality early childhood education initiatives and funding."

"In her entrepreneurial activities, she has served as an inspiration to her students, as well as to her three children while she has been working to bring high-quality early childhood care and learning opportunities to Mercer County since 1995," Longietti said in the release.

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