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Punxsy native takes second chance at American Ninja Warrior

PUNXSUTAWNEY — A familiar face from Punxsutawney will appear — again — on American Ninja Warrior this year.

Tawnee Leonardo, who grew up in Punxsutawney, will have a second try at the course this year.

She moved to San Antonio, Texas one month ago because her husband is in the Army. Before that, they spent two years in El Paso, Texas, where she taught health and physical education to elementary school aged kids and coached a competitive gymnastics team.

“I’ve wanted to do American Ninja Warrior since I saw it on TV when I was 15. I always watched it with my dad and would constantly say, ‘when I’m old enough, I’m gonna do this!’ Once I was old enough I always wanted to apply but I knew that it would take training obstacles and specifically for the sport to do well in it. So I decided I would do whatever it would take to get experience, so I would drive four hours to Albuquerque, N.M. from El Paso to train at a ninja gym,” Leonardo said of her goal.

Last year, she got the call to compete in San Antonio for Season 9 of ANW.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was so shocked, so excited, and also so nervous. Last year I fell on the obstacle called tick tock that took out over 40 other ninjas too. But from the moment I left the course last year, I knew I’d train the whole next year in hopes of another chance,” Leonardo said.

She applied for Season 10 and got the callback. She said in many ways it meant more to her because she had worked for the last year to get it.

“A lot of people think that once you get on for one season, you automatically get on the next one, which isn’t true. No matter how many times you’ve done it, you still have to apply, and hope they choose you again,” Leonardo said.

Season 10 will air starting May 30.

Leonardo says she will compete in Dallas, Texas on March 25 but her results will be a secret until the episode airs.

“That’s one of the hardest things — not being able to tell close family members and friends how I did, but it’s all part of doing the show,” the veteran says.

As for her favorite part, it’s the other athletes (and their support), as well as not knowing what she’ll face when she arrives. She added that, “The hardest part for me, by far, is handling my nerves in competition. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well which makes me anxious and sometimes not perform at my best.”

Leonardo participated in gymnastics and played volleyball growing up, but said those do not compare to the ninja competition.

Now in training she says the four-hour long drive to Albuquerque is not ideal, so she’s taken up power tools and learned to build her own obstacles in her backyard, saying it’s enabled her to build self-confidence and strength.

“I rock climb, do parkour, and do a lot of pull ups. We never know the obstacles in advance. We find out the day we compete, which keeps things very interesting. As ninja athletes, we train to try and be prepared for anything,” she added.

An added bonus, she said, is seeing family at the competition, “I have a very close knit family and living away from home is really hard sometimes. And doing ANW the past two years has allowed an opportunity for me to see them an extra time when they come down to watch me compete, which I’m so thankful for.”

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Pentz Run Youth Services is 'home' to area children

DuBOIS — Pentz Run Youth Services in DuBois is often called the “orphanage” or “the children’s home” by people in the community.

“We’re not an orphanage, per se. We’re a group home/shelter,” said Executive Director Deb Gregori. “But our kids, some of them have nowhere else to go. They all have some level of behavioral or emotional issues or they wouldn’t be here.”

Teenage girls and boys are not what foster parents are looking for, Care Coordinator Kathy Renne said. If they’re not already in a foster home once they hit their teens, there often is nowhere else for them to go.

The court-appointed kids staying at the shelter are between the ages of 10-18 and most are local, mainly from Clearfield and Jefferson counties, Gregori said.

Up to 18 children can stay at the home at any given time, with 14 there currently.

The time a child stays varies and is indefinite.

“We have two now who have been here over a year,” Gregori said. “That happens a lot. And that’s when there’s no family at all that they can go back to.”

While living at Pentz Run, the kids become involved with family therapy.

“The kids that come here, it isn’t just their behavior, it’s their parents unable to parent them or don’t want to,” Renne said.

“Or, their parents are in jail, on drugs, or dead,” Gregori said.

Renne said Pentz Run takes care of all the child’s needs — their physical, vision, dental, hearing, braces, surgeries.

“We are a prudent parent, which is what we do. Besides being a very structured environment, our structured environment is also nurturing at the same time, and they coincide with each other,” Renne said. “These kids have never been structured because nobody really parented them.”

Some of the young people at the facility are there because of behavioral issues.

“It’s everything. I can’t think of a situation, in the kids that we have now, that they don’t fall under different categories,” Renne said.

Primary case managers, like Shelby Volosky, work with the children in their living area day and night.

“We’re constantly helping them with their independent living skills,” Volosky said. “We’re teaching them how to cook, how to clean, how to make their beds, just daily activities that you would do if you were living in a normal home.”

“We’re there as main supports for them, also,” Volosky said. “Sometimes they come home from school and they’ve had a really bad day, so any primary or any staff that’s on meets with them and talks with them about their day. We check in with them daily and see how things are going. The primaries meet with them weekly to work on goals. They set goals for the week about maintaining positive behaviors and raising their grades.”

Pentz Run, to many of the children who live there, is “home,” Volosky said.

Photo by Andy Stine 

Johnsonburg’s Ben Freeburg attempts a jumper during the District 9 Class A semifinals last week against North Clarion. The Rams will play Eden Christian on Friday evening at Clarion University in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.

'Sip & Snack' fundraiser for Pentz Run Youth Services

DuBOIS — Plans are underway for this weekend’s third annual Sip & Snack fundraiser for Pentz Run Youth Services Inc., DuBois, a non-profit group home for children.

“We are hopeful that it will be our best one yet,” said Executive Director Deb Gregori of Saturday’s event from 5-9 p.m. at the Lakeview Lodge, Treasure Lake.

Local wineries will offer samples and wines for sale and local restaurants and caterers will offer samples of their food. There will also be vendors selling meats, cheeses, sweets and other snacks, in addition to many direct sales and craft vendors.

“It is a great time to get out to mingle, ‘sip and snack’ and shop all while supporting a local home for disadvantaged youth,” said Gregori.

Pentz Run uses money from fundraisers, not for general day-to-day needs, but for the extras, said Gregori, noting that Pentz Run’s funding stream is on a per diem basis from Clearfield County.

“We get paid per day, per kid and it depends on how many kids we have,” she said. “Right now we have 14 kids. That’s great, we have money coming in. But if we have seven? Eight? We’re in trouble, because that’s not enough to run. And there is no other money coming in, except our fundraisers.”

“The money that we make from our fundraisers generally goes into either our building fund, so that we can hopefully expand someday, and be able to serve more kids. Or, it goes directly back to the kids for activities or things like that, because when you take 15 kids to the movie, it’s a lot of money,” Gregori said. “Our general day-to-day stuff doesn’t allow for a new roof when we need it. So we have to look elsewhere.”

“We’d like to see more people come,” Gregori said. “Many in the community don’t know we exist, and that’s what we’re trying to promote — is to get everybody to know that we do this, and that we are here, in DuBois.”

Gregori said she believes they do good work with the children at Pentz Run.

“I always look at it as, while the kids are here, they’re learning something,” she said. “They’re learning something that they wouldn’t have learned outside of here. They’re getting some positive influence, they’re meeting some positive role models. Whether that changes their life completely, doesn’t always happen, but at least there is something positive going on in their lives. They had some good medical care for a while. They ate properly for a few months. I mean, those things just don’t always happen for kids. Those are the basics. Until you’re here, you don’t really realize how much that doesn’t happen.”

Tickets to the Sip & Snack event are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Contact Pentz Run at 814-371-1522 or visit their Facebook page.

Early morning snow storm hassles commuters

DuBOIS — A brief-but-bold snow smattered streets yesterday morning, causing several minor accidents and obstructing traffic. Three inches of snow fell across the area in a matter of hours, according to the National Weather Service.

By mid-morning, DuBois City Police had been dispatched to the scenes of four different accidents, one of which resulted in minor injuries. Chief Blaine Clark said an additional officer was placed on duty to assist with the influx of weather-related calls.

In Sandy Township, a portion of Route 255 was temporarily closed after snow pulled down power lines. Township Police and members of North Point Fire Company responded to redirect traffic at the area, eventually reopening the road by mid-morning.

Township Police Chief Don Routch said workers from United Electric attended to the power lines after they were cleared off the street. Only one minor car accident was called into the department yesterday morning.

The streets were mostly clear by the early afternoon. NWS Forecaster Paul Head said that the morning’s storm was a byproduct of the nor’easter currently pummeling the Philadelphia and New England.

Ground temperatures, Head said, should be high enough at this time of year to prevent snow from accumulating, but enough fell this morning to overwhelm the odds.

Johnsonburg feral cat program refocuses on kittens

JOHNSONBURG — Volunteers striving to curb Johnsonburg’s feral feline population are turning their attention toward its youngest sect: kittens. Many adult cats were found to have been previously spayed or neutered.

The goal now is to catch their kittens, spay or neuter them and hopefully find them new homes. Veterinarian Jesse Shirey, who works for the Elk County Veterinary Clinic and volunteers with the program, said that the kittens can be easily caught and re-homed.

“We have the opportunity to catch a lot of those,” he said.

Borough officials, collaborating volunteers and members of the Ridgway Animal Haven first announced the program at a special meeting in December. Two sizable cat colonies were said to have settled into abandoned homes in the borough.

The focus at the time was on catching adult feral cats in box traps, spaying or neutering them, and then releasing them. Cats recovered from the traps were to be housed temporarily in a borough office outbuilding.

The borough had budgeted about $3,000 for the project, as previously reported. Since that meeting, Shirey said it was discovered that another individual caught some of the cats and had them “fixed” independently.

“We’re actually in a great position,” Shirey said. “It’s going to take a lot of pressure off the borough financially.”

With “kitten season” approaching, Shirey said many recently born cats will soon be seen outdoors. Residents and nearby farm owners, he said, have already expressed interest in adopting some of them.