BY RICK KAZMER
United Way of the Laurel Highlands
If you have visited the United Way of the Laurel Highlands's Johnstown office sometime during the last year, you might have noticed growing piles of diapers and purses.
The collection is evidence of the unique work and community generosity happening in Cambria and Somerset Counties.
The United Way works to identify community needs and to find the right mix of programs -- we fund 24 -- that address those needs. We then work to fund those programs, analyze results and ensure their long-term sustainability.
The goal is to build strong families through our three core initiatives, early childhood development and education, parental engagement and youth drug and alcohol prevention.
The work starts early with the Nurse-Family Partnership program, which provides a registered nurse to visit regularly with first-time, income-eligible moms. About 60 mothers are in the program. The nurse works with mom and baby from 28 weeks before birth up to age 2. From there the parental engagement program, Parents as Teachers, works with families to ensure their children are emotionally, socially and academically ready for kindergarten.
Later, we fund the evidence-based Botvin LifeSkills youth drug and alcohol prevention programs in school districts that identifies the peer and social pressures children face that lead to bad decisions with alcohol and other substances.
We are also growing.
Late last year we moved down the hall in our Johnstown building to a larger office space to make room for our growing organization. We also have a Somerset office, where our community relationship manager and community resource director are based.
New programs, a result of emerging needs in food security and early childhood education, include the sustainable produce program, operated by the Somerset County Mobile Food Bank. The Flood City Youth Academy's Youth Tutoring program is a vital service helping city youth.
Travis Hutzell, our grant writer, continues to be a valuable resource to the community, writing grants for local police forces, schools, our Partner Agencies and other nonprofits and projects. He has brought in more than $9.6 million to the Laurel Highlands through six years. This is money that otherwise may not have arrived to help local families, provide infrastructure, assist law enforcement and support economic development.
So, about those diapers and purses.
On average, about one-in-three families struggle to afford enough diapers to last a month.
The average shortfall is 25 diapers. As a result, we started a regional diaper bank, which is opening this spring at distribution points across both counties. We collected more than 22,000 diapers during drives this summer and fall, culminating with a giant diaper collection during our Power of the Purse event in October.
Teams of volunteers have been repackaging the diapers in bundles of 25, sorted by size.
Keep an eye on our Facebook page for details on distribution.
As for the purses, we were able to hold the Women United of the Laurel Highlands signature event, Power of the Purse, in the fall. It raised more than $45,000 for our early childhood development and parental engagement work. The event, attended by about 600 people, is supported by a great group of business sponsors.
We are already gathering designer bags in our Johnstown office that will be part of our next event on Sept. 8. The pandemic forced us to cancel the 2020 event, but the 2021 Power of the Purse exceeded expectations. We are excited to continue to grow this much-anticipated fundraiser in 2022.
If you haven't heard from us in a while, you likely will this year. We are making a point of reaching out to as many business and community leaders in both counties as possible to share an update on our work.
For more information on Power of the Purse, our diaper bank or any other programs we support, contact Community Impact Manager Paula Gojmerac by email at email@example.com.
To talk more about our growing organization, and our vision and mission, contact President and CEO Karen Struble Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on workplace campaigns, sponsorship opportunities and other United Way news, contact Community Relationship and Marketing Manager Rick Kazmer at email@example.com.