It has been 90 years of promoting education and equity for women and girls.
The Johnstown branch of the American Association of University Women has been celebrating the milestone throughout the year, and is continuing to work toward bringing like-mined women together who want to see positive societal changes.
“Any woman in Cambria County who has an issue, regardless of what it is, can come to us, because this is the group to make ideas a reality,” said Barbara Zaborowski, president of the Johnstown AAUW branch.
The local branch was founded in October 1923 when the Johnstown College Club affiliated with the national AAUW, which was formed in 1881.
Through book and candy sales the newly formed branch provided college scholarships for women. It awarded the first one in 1926.
As the group continued to grow, the Johnstown branch, which currently has 60 members, began to delve into more causes such as supporting the war effort and women in politics, offering assistance after the 1936 and 1977 floods, introducing reading tutorial programs into local schools and offering cultural and historical workshops.
Zaborowski said the group focuses a lot on current social issues affecting those in the community.
“Whether it’s violence against women, human trafficking, Marcellus Shale or Obamacare, we try to provide a program for the public on that topic,” she said.
The Write, Read, Write program continues to generate interest, and pupils in a chosen fourth-grade class each write a letter to one of the AAUW members. Members purchase a book and send it along with a reply to their pupils. The pupils get a book especially chosen for them and have the opportunity to write a thank you letter. The goal is to promote reading and writing skills.
In 2011, the introduction of STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – initiatives were developed to encourage girls to look into these types of professions.
One of the driving forces behind AAUW is providing college scholarships, and money brought in from the annual used-book sale goes toward helping further education.
The first book sale was held in 1937 and brought in $17.08. This year the sale grossed in excess of $12,000.
The sale is always held in June at The Galleria mall in Richland Township.
“This year we had 870 boxes of books and thousands of books,” said Leora Rager, used-book sale coordinater and a past president of the Johnstown branch. “We had 120 boxes left and took them to Goodwill.”
The funds create two scholarships for Pitt-Johnstown students, two for Pennsylvania Highlands Community College students and three to area high school students.
“We also give money to other education programs and community projects,” Rager said.
The awards are presented at the annual scholarship dinner that is held in April. The Gateway to Equity Award also is presented to a woman who supports the AAUW mission and is working toward the advancement of women in Cambria County.
The Johnstown branch is working on setting up a nontraditional career fair that would introduce women to professions that are predominantly thought of as male, such as plumbing or funeral directors, and they’re planning a panel discussion on how to get more women active in politics.
“The challenge is getting younger women to join and making the institution viable to current women, so we’re in the process of reinventing ourselves,” Zaborowski said.
Membership is $60 per year and $17 for college students.
The group typically meets at 6 p.m. the last Monday of the month at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College in Richland Township, and anyone interested in joining is welcome to attend a meeting.
“There’s a lot of opportunity in this group at the local and national level,” Zaborowski said.
For more information, visit www.johnstownpa.com/aauw.
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