BY RICK KAZMER
United Way of the Laurel Highlands
There's a tribe in another part of the world that has a unique greeting.
According to Greater Johnstown Superintendent Amy Arcurio, they don't say "hello," "what's up" or "how are you?" Instead, she said they ask, "how are your children?"
Arcurio was the keynote speaker Wednesday at the United Way of the Laurel Highlands 2021 Campaign Kickoff Breakfast in Johnstown. As an educator, she said that she has direct experience with the United Way's impact on children in the community.
"The United Way is able to create ... and excellerate social change in our community," said Arcurio, a former United Way board member and founding member of Women United.
She mentioned examples of children who are sometimes referenced as "linoleum children," because they have nothing but the flooring underneath them.
It's a tough start, but Arcurio said programs the United Way supports are there to help, citing an example of a child who later developed a career in the medical field.
During the breakfast, the United Way announced at $1.15 million fundraising goal for the year, building on last season's delivery of $859,000 to 24 Partner Agencies that implement programming geared to tackle the region's most pressing needs.
It's an ambitious goal coming out of a global pandemic, which was a constant factor during the last campaign season. United Way Board Chairman Jeff Wood, general manager of Kongsberg, in Johnstown, said the board is proud of last year's results. He is excited about the new goal.
"The board was very pleased in May to be able to deliver to our Partner Agencies funds nearly equivalent to what we did before the pandemic," he said to a crowd of about 100 people.
United Way President and CEO Karen Struble Myers has led the way since taking the helm shortly before the pandemic. She came from the Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. Rogers's vision for children and family has given her a unique guiding light for the United Way.
"Everything can be done at a grassroots level," she said, paraphrasing Rogers.
She noted the hundreds of mask stitchers who stepped up to make face coverings for the community during the pandemic's worst moments, the volunteers at local food banks and other people who helped the United Way during the year.
The organization added new Partner Agencies this year, including the Somerset County Mobile Food Bank and the Flood City Youth Academy, both are part of the vision of building a stronger, healthier community.
Also added to the work is a diaper bank. This fall, the United Way will be sorting and packaging hundreds of packages of donated diapers that will be used to help families in both counties.
Struble Myers thanked the committee members for their support: 2021 Campaign Chair, Jim Huerth, president and CEO of AmeriServ Trust & Financial Services; Tocqueville Society Chair, Ed Sheehan, president and CEO of Concurrent Technologies Corporation; and campaign committee members Sue Mann of the 1889 Foundation; Karen Azer, Community Advocate; Deb Barron, NFP Group; Kayln Everett, AmeriServ Trust & Financial Services; Lisa Shirt, InFirst Bank; and Pam Tokar Ickes, Somerset County Commissioner.
"People just like you decide where the money is most needed," she said to the crowd. "Each one of us has something ... to bring to this world."