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Guardian Angel Center helps children, parents prepare for school year

KERSEY — A Kersey organization dedicated to making children and families complete will reopen soon for the upcoming school year.

The Guardian Angel Center on Main Street is known for providing brand-new items for families and youth in need in a judgement-free place.

Cly Hornung and Marion Johnson said GAC closed May 21 and will reopen July 30, offering items like clothing, shoes and backpacks for youth in need each Tuesday until school starts.

Around 33 center volunteers help organize, sort and prepare for families and children to return. Many GAS volunteers are retired educators still wanting to contribute to area students, Hornung said.

GAC was started in 1995 in a different location, with the current building constructed in 2005. It serves eight counties, with most clients from Elk County, Hornung said. Once a week, clients line up hours ahead of time, eager to go in and look around.

Items the GAC is unable to use go to Goodwill, Hornung said, or are donated to places like an Erie homeless shelter, CAPSEA (Citizens Against Physical, Sexual and Emotional Abuse) and the St. Marys Resale Shop.

Walmart donates many items to the center, the women said. Volunteers help distribute nearly 300 backpacks to school-age children, and children leave with $100-$150 worth of new clothing.

Through grants and donations from community organizations, businesses and churches, two GAC volunteers are able to shop and pick out new shoes for the children, the women said, which are kept in a “shoe room” for youth to try on.

The center also offers bins of socks and underwear, two cupboards full of diaper bags and baby supplies and hygiene boxes for families. A certain item is also highlighted each month, such as a new set of sheets given away in April.

Every child is guaranteed a new coat, hat, gloves and scarf for winter, the women said.

The surrounding community very much comes together to help the center serve. It once received a donation of 150 handmade pillowcases. Local churches provide pajamas or other items, and a senior center makes hats. A local woman also cooks GAC volunteers a lunch each day it’s open.

“Once people learn about us, and what we do, they want to help,” Johnson said.

Financially-qualified clients can visit GAC five times per year, and once per month, a shopping experience that children enjoy, since they are able to pick out the clothes they like. One of GAC’s goals is to make sure the children never feel judged, helping them be accepted by their peers.

GAC volunteers share great fellowship with one another, too, Hornung said, adding they see each other as family.

By the year 2020, the GAC will be implementing a 900-foot expansion, which will provide a staircase and upstairs area to store items that are currently housed in a storage shed, the women said.

Volunteer Sandy Jaconski said she often sees children get so excited, and in disbelief, that everything they pick out is free.

Over the years, Hornung and Johnson have heard some sad stories, some of which assure them GAC is making a difference.

“A mother sent us a picture of her three kids on the first day of school, and said, ‘This is what my kids look like today, thanks to you,’” Johnson said.

Children have also been heard telling friends “We went shopping at Guardian Angel.”

Johnson recalls being approached by a woman who said, “I couldn’t raise my kids without you guys.”

The center is currently in need of gently-used children’s books and children’s clothing, particularly clothing for active young boys.

For more information, visit GAC on Facebook or call 814-885-6192.


Local
Calliari brings expertise to Moshannon Valley YMCA

PHILIPSBURG — A new program director has been at the Moshannon Valley YMCA for almost a month now. Brockway native Chris Calliari’s first day on the job was June 10 and he’s excited about what he can offer to his job and to the community.

Calliari said he attended the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sports science/exercise science. He did strength and conditioning and then went back for cardiovascular studies. After holding a couple jobs — including interning at Penn Highlands DuBois in the cardiac department and working in Pittsburgh — the opportunity to work at the Mo Valley YMCA presented itself.

Calliari also played baseball at IUP and said he has known Branch Manager Mel Curtis since he was about 12 years old — once playing baseball with Curtis’ son.

“I very much enjoy it so far,” Calliari said. “I’m trying to meet as many people as I can.”

Calliari said he’d like to do programs on the fitness/sports side, but also is very open to doing new programs. He said he’s thankful that Curtis lets him be himself.

“He’s not restricting me,” Calliari said. “He lets me have my opinion and answers all of my questions and he’s someone that I can learn a lot from. And he wants me to take this position and mesh it with my persona, which I think will be very good here in the long run.”

To coincide with Calliari’s background, programs that have been implemented include a Happy Hearts on Tuesdays and Thursdays for those that currently have/had any cardiac and pulmonary diseases and baseball/softball hitting camps. Another thing that the YMCA will do is a “Toilet Paper Bowl” on Aug. 1 that’s a hygiene drive that collects items that children/teenagers may not have access to.

Calliari said he’s looking forward to making an impact in the Philipsburg community and its surrounding areas, referencing a mentor of his from his hometown in Peter Varischetti.

“He had a big impact on my life and I worked for him for about four years while I was in college,” Calliari said of Varischetti. “That’s how I want to be — I want to be a positive influence on the community.”

In less than a month’s time, Calliari said he’s enjoyed working under Curtis and learning all that he can.

“Everybody has been very nice and open to listening to my ideas and in helping me whenever I need it,” Calliari said. “Not just here (at the YMCA), but everyone in the community. I feel very welcomed here. It’s a nice family-based place to be.”


Local
AAA working to protect Jefferson County's most vulnerable citizens

BROOKVILLE — Extra precautions to protect Jefferson County’s most vulnerable citizens are being implemented by the Jefferson County Area Agency on Aging.

Molly McNutt, executive director, described two new programs the JCAAA is providing to the elderly.

Grab and Go emergency kits were distributed in June to about 160 residents who are currently receiving home-delivered meals through the agency.

“These are what we consider summer emergency kits,” McNutt said. “A severe thunderstorm, where the power might go down, could be an emergency because there is nothing warm.”

Each of the kits, packed in a small bucket, contains essential emergency items, such as a blanket, a whistle, dust masks, a flashlight with batteries, a note pad and pen, an overnight hygiene kit, towelettes, water and food bars, a first aid kit and even duct tape. “The duct tape is there in case someone needs to tape something over a window,” she said.

The compact emergency kits can be placed on a kitchen counter, in a closet or other easily-accessible place in the home. “In an emergency you don’t have time to run to multiple places to get these items. Having everything in one kit provides added safety, an extra layer of preparedness,” she said. “We haven’t had anyone actually have to use their kits yet, but people are very appreciative to have them, because they are easy to grab and use what you need.”

She said, “Talking about emergency preparedness is something all of our care managers do when they talk to our consumers.”

McNutt said, “This is something we have been wanting to do for a while. We considered putting these packs together ourselves,” but found “we were able to purchase these through our food provider, Nutrition Group.”

She said although the kits were “kind of pricy,” they were delivered “free of charge to everyone receiving the home-delivered meals in June. We consider this part of our meal program, because we targeted those we feel are already dependent on us to receive those meals on a consistent basis. There is water and a ready-to-eat meal in the kit, and that is why we felt they should be the first to receive these.”

The emergency kits “were paid through our federal funds for meals,” she said. “Our home-delivered meals are always free, but we do send out letters monthly to ask for a donation. People can choose to donate or not, but it doesn’t affect the delivery of their meals.”

McNutt said she is looking into the possibility of having a Blizzard Box later this year. “It would include more winter type items, such as warmers for the hands and feet, a blanket and some additional things that would help in the event it was cold outside.”

She said the Blizzard Boxes will “depend on funding. It might be something a local business would want to help sponsor.”

A new service for seniors just became available last week. “We just got official word from the Department of Aging that an emergency consumer map is now available to all Agencies on Aging,” she said. “When our care managers do an assessment, there are some additional critical questions they ask. We are asking them if they are meal dependent, medication dependent, electricity dependent, oxygen dependent. These individuals would be in a real tough situation if we were to have an emergency like a power outage for a long period of time.”

She said “by collecting this information, we can now look them up on a map. Say, if we ran a report and had consumers who are oxygen dependent, if the power was going to be out for a period of time, we would be able to quickly see who those individuals are and contact them or their emergency contact. We could then determine if they needed additional assistance at that time, if they needed additional oxygen tanks or a safe place to go.”

McNutt said “this is something the Department of Aging has been working on for a while, so we are just now able to utilize it. Our consumers are the most socially and economically vulnerable seniors in our area, and this is just another layer of protection for them, to allow us to get in touch with them and make sure they are safe.”

She stressed that while there are 12,000 seniors over the age of 60 in Jefferson County, “we can only do the search based on the individuals we’ve had contact with. There are other vulnerable people out there, and we encourage families, neighbors and friends to check on older adults. But this will allow us to check on the persons who are receiving services from us, to target if they might need additional assistance in the event of an emergency.”

McNutt said she is excited about the new programs. “We are trying to do some new, creative things to help older adults. Our mission statement is to maximize the life, independence and safety of older adults, and we are taking that very seriously.”

Anyone who wants more information about the services available to senior citizens can contact the JCAAA at 849-3096.


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New Bethlehem
Fundraising continues for NB Victory Garden project

NEW BETHLEHEM — Fundraising efforts continue as one area Girl Scout works to make her vision of constructing a Victory Garden along New Bethlehem’s main drag comes to life.

Last fall, Emily Truitt, of New Bethlehem – a member of Redbank Valley Girl Scout Troop 26805 – announced plans to construct a Victory Garden honoring veterans from all branches of the United States military. Designed as a relaxing space for veterans and community members, the garden will serve as Truitt’s Silver Award project for Girl Scouts.

As the second award earned by Girl Scout cadets on their journey to the highest ranking Gold Award, Silver Award projects utilize a cadet’s leadership to implement a change in the community. Projects must be completed individually or in a small group between sixth and eighth grades, and require cadets to log at least 50 hours of individual leadership.

When the time came to select her own project, Truitt said it didn’t take her long to notice that the local community was lacking a veterans’ memorial, and she decided the empty lot next to the Moose Lodge along Broad Street in New Bethlehem would be the perfect location to host her Victory Garden.

Although its theme will be military based, Truitt said she wants the garden to be a positive, uplifting space. It will feature a 32-foot-by-20-foot cement patio with an eight-foot-by-20-foot raised flower garden in the center, containing three flags – the United States Flag, the Pennsylvania State Flag and the POW/MIA Flag. Five benches, honoring the five military branches, surround the flower garden, and three of the garden’s four corners will be adorned with pedestals hosting military-related statues.

Since the Girl Scouts will provide no monetary help toward the project, Truitt is responsible for raising the necessary funds. She began fundraising this past September, and to date, has raised approximately 20 percent of her $30,000 goal.

“I think the fundraising is going well, especially since there’s a 13-year-old girl at the helm,” said Girl Scout troop leader and Truitt’s mother Jessie Truitt. She noted that after eight months of fundraising, she believes the project is “on track” to be completed by the September 2020 deadline.

While various donations from several community members and a surprise fundraiser sponsored by Tom’s Riverside in New Bethlehem have helped the project’s progress, Truitt said the most successful fundraiser to date was a spaghetti dinner that she hosted in March.

“We had a good turnout that day,” Truitt said. “That’s where we raised a good chunk of our money.”

Along with the ongoing sale of personalized bricks that will cover the ground of the Victory Garden, Truitt said she also recently started selling T-shirts and bracelets as a more affordable way to support her project.

“I wanted to try a fundraiser that was more affordable for people,” Truitt said, noting that that she is focusing more on T-shirt and bracelet sales this summer, while planning larger fundraisers for later in the year. “I’m honored and impressed by the support the community has shown for my project so far.”

Even though there is still a lot of fundraising to be done, Jessie Truitt said her daughter is optimistic and plans to break ground at the project site when she reaches 50 percent of her total goal.

“I think we’re still in the awareness phase of the project,” she said, explaining that Emily has been spreading the word about her Victory Garden by setting up booths at community events and festivals – such as Customer Appreciation Day and, most recently, the annual Independence Day fireworks event, both in New Bethlehem. “We’re trying to raise awareness and let people know that we’re here.”

For more information on the Victory Garden or to make a donation, call Jessie Truitt at (814) 229-6652, or visit www.gsvictorygarden.com.


Joy Norwood 

Ford Model T vehicles drive across the bridge at Foxburg, Clarion County, as they arrive and depart the quaint town along the Allegheny River.