The response came from an group that was already working on the issue, so on Wednesday, the United Way presented $12,000 to Small Town Hope to expand its preschool program.

Small Town Hope was among more than two dozen organizations receiving more about $1.3 million in grants during Tuesday’s Community Impact Grant awards program at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. 

“We have children in the community who need preschool but cannot afford preschool,” Small Town Hope founder Mandi Paronish said Tuesday, following the United Way’s program.

Through the United Way grant, the Northern Cambria nonprofit will be able to hire another staff member and double the size of its preschool.

Many of the grants focused on the three priority areas identified in a community needs assessment examining issues and related programming in Cambria and Somerset counties, leader said. The three core initiatives for social change are preparing children for kindergarten, increasing parental knowledge of child development and care and substance abuse prevention among youth.

“Those are three areas where we bring a lot of people together to create change in the community,” United Way President and CEO Bill McKinney said. “We do that by implementing evidence-based programming, and we also track, measure and report the success.”

Volunteers reviewed 42 grant applications and made site visits before selecting the recipients and amounts, said Paula Gomjerac, community impact manager.

Home Nursing Agency topped the list, receiving two grants totaling $316,000 for its Nurse Family Partnership and Healing Patch Program.

The Nurse Family Partnership’s $291,000 grant will allow the established program to continue helping first-time parents, said Natalie Depto-Vesey of the Home Nursing Agency.

“These are moms that need some help to figure out what it takes to be a mom,” Depto-Vesey said.

By connecting the parents with a registered nurse during pregnancy, the program helps families prepare for success. The nurse continues to work with parents until the child is two years old.

“They may come from households that are not supportive, necessarily,” Depto-Vesey said. “They may be kids who don’t have parents to help them through it, or single moms.”

Nurses can help parents establish a safe environment for the new baby and understand why it’s important to read to a baby, use baby gates and have proper child car seats.

The Nurse Family Partnership is meant to help the parents, as well as the child, Depto-Vesey said, noting that many clients are in environments where there are no role models.

“That nurse is there to be that, if nothing else, the only positive role model,” she said. “The confidence helps them move on with their lives, and maybe get their GED. Education is key to success of the mom and the family.”

The Healing Patch works with children and families who have experienced a death, said Allison Stockley, bereavement manager. With the United Way’s $25,000 grant the Home Nursing Agency can expand its focus in southern Cambria County and Somerset County.

Besides peer counseling, The Healing Patch offers grief education support in schools, Stockley said. 

“We go in and have a very informative, candid conversation about: What is grief? What does it look like? What does if feel like? What are the resources in your school if you would need it?” Stockley said, adding that grief is not limited to loss of life.

“More importantly, we show how to support a peer who is grieving,” she said. “Whether it be a loved one who is deployed, someone who has died, incarceration or foster placement, there are so many different types of loss that our children are faced with.”

The single-largest program to receive funding was the Parents as Teacher program, with $340,000 shared by Beginnings Inc. and Family Center.

Numerous studies have shown the program’s proven results, nationally, Gomjerac said, listing higher numbers for parents who read to children,

parents who enroll children in preschool, children who are ready for kindergarten and children who have reached performance benchmarks by third grade.

Among the other top grants were Twin Lakes Center, $35,0000, and Cambria County Drug Coalition, $50,000, both for youth drug and alcohol prevention work. The Johnstown Free Medical Clinic received $36,000 for its care of those who don’t have adequate health insurance.

The record-setting total of $1,335,857 in grants was made possible through growing collaborations with the 1889 Foundation, Community Foundation for the Alleghenies and Lee Initiatives, McKinney said.

Together the philanthropic groups provided major support for the Cambria County Drug Coalition and an expanded 211 information and referral program, McKinney said. The local 211 program now offers 24-hour telephone assistance in finding health and human service assistance. 

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.


Parent support programs receive boost from United Way

Two area nonprofits offering education and emotional support for the young child-parent relationship received Somerset County’s largest distribution of funds at the United Way of the Laurel Highlands’ annual meeting Wednesday at the Living-Learning Center at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

A record-setting $1.34 million was distributed to more than 26 agencies in Cambria and Somerset counties from a total of $1.46 million pledged during the United Way’s 2016 fundraising campaign, which took place from September through February.

Mike Artim, chairman of the board of directors, said the total is the result of a collective effort by United Way volunteers, partnering organizations and the 1889 Foundation, which contributed $500,000 toward this year’s goal. Grant-writing efforts by United Way staff brought in more than $500,000 in grants that were distributed to partnering agencies, he said.

“All those people working together (contributed to) our very best campaign, and I feel strongly that we will do even better next year,” Artim said. “The community is moving in the right direction; we’re seeing support and collaboration and connection of a lot of people, and we’re putting the resources behind the areas we need to work on. I’m very, very positive for our future.”

In Somerset County, the largest allocation was given to the Family Center, which received $116,000 for its Parents as Teachers program. The Parents as Teachers program works with parents and children from before birth to age 5, teaching parents skills in early childhood development, identifying developmental delays or health problems, and preparing children for school.

The Family Center serves 162 children from 116 Somerset County families in this program, and has plans to increase that number to 130 families in the next year.

The Home Nursing Agency, which operates a Nurse-Family Partnership program in Cambria and five other Pennsylvania counties, received a $100,000 grant — awarded to the United Way by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency — to bring the Nurse-Family Partnership to Somerset County.

The program is a national initiative that provides guidance and support from a registered nurse to low-income, first-time mothers, fathers and babies, starting before the child is born until their second birthday.

The two-year grant will cover costs to launch the program in Somerset County, including the hiring and training of a registered nurse to work with the new parents.

“It was the thought process of the United Way that there was a need (for the Nurse-Family Partnership) in Somerset County, and they came up with the funding sources,” said Natalie Depto-Vesey, grants and community outreach specialist for the Home Nursing Agency. “The need’s been there, so (we can start) as soon as we can get people hired to serve the people of Somerset County.”

Paula Gojmerac, the United Way’s community impact manager, said the goal is to serve 25 first-time mothers in Somerset County in the program’s first year.