The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 11, 2012

United Way funds aid variety of programs

— When a mother takes her hungry baby to a food pantry for milk, or a high school student participates in a drug prevention program or an adult with a mental illness seeks peer counseling, the individual might not realize how, in a behind-the-scenes way, the United Way of the Laurel Highlands is helping.

However, without assistance from the United Way, many organizations would not be able to provide the services they do to the community. The local United Way offers financial aid and volunteer man-hours to more than two dozen partner agencies throughout Cambria and Somerset counties. In order to help those groups, the chapter holds an annual end-of-the-year fund drive. The agency has, so far, raised about $170,000 toward its 2012 goal of $1.2 million.

“From our perspective, the support we receive from the United Way is invaluable,” said Peer Empowerment Network board President Tracy Selak.

The network, located in downtown Johnstown, provides assistance to individuals living with mental illness. It offers activities, educational opportunities and counseling.

Another partner, Miners Community Food Pantry in Nanty Glo, receives help in filling out U.S. Department of Agriculture grant requests and other forms.

“Without their help we wouldn’t be able to exist at all,” said Janet Reese, the pantry’s director. “They do all the paperwork for us. ... I think you’d have to be a CPA. They want it down to the exact cent. I know I could never do what they do.”

One of the biggest projects the United Way recently undertook was to support the Twin Lakes Center for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Last year, the center started a Botvin LifeSkills Training-based substance abuse prevention program in two school districts, North Star and Salisbury-Elk Lick. Interest has rapidly grown. Soon the program will be in every Somerset County school district except one.

“With that agreement level and that much interest, United Way then offered to increase our funding to the tune of about $20,000,” said Ronna Yablonski, the center’s prevention coordinator. “It enabled me to get trained and then I will use that information and that training to train trainers. ... There’s an interest, there’s a definite void or a need, and United Way is helping fill that void by providing the funding that, in turn, allows us to offer these programs. We’re very excited about it.”

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