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Editorial: Investing in education: United Way plays pivotal role in child development

Source: The Tribune-Democrat

A community-based initiative focused on early childhood education was recently launched in the Greater Johnstown School District.

The program, Early Learning Pathway for Cambria County, is a partnership between the district and United Way of the Laurel Highlands. Its aim is to help get youngsters ready for their initial introduction to schooling.

“People understand the importance of early learning,” Mike Vuckovich, Greater Johnstown interim superintendent, said, “and the hope is to have children in this entire community and county ready for kindergarten.”

Also playing pivotal roles in the partnership are Home Nursing Agency, Beginnings Inc., Pa. Pre-K Counts, Professional Family Care Services, Cambria County Child Care Information Services and Community Action Partnership of Cambria County.

Each group will provide services to families free of charge.

“This is a step-by-step pathway to help parents understand what’s available the whole way from prenatal to kindergarten readiness,” Vuckovich said. “We want people to know what’s available and what the benefit of this is.”

Every eligible family should avail itself of the service, considering the fantastic advantages it will provide for youngsters.

Travis Hutzell, resource development director with United Way, said the program helps both pupils and parents.

“We’re looking at focusing on core outcomes and preparing all children socially, emotionally and academically to enter kindergarten,” Hutzell said, “and increasing parental knowledge of child development and care.”

Children who are taught a basic understanding of letters and numbers will have a solid learning foundation on which to grow. And learning social skills and how to interact with others is invaluable as boys and girls get ready to blend with larger groups in elementary schools.

The initiative, however, would not be possible without funding from the United Way.

About two months ago, the agency launched its annual fund drive, with a goal of $1.5 million. So far, $460,000, or about 30 percent of the goal, has been received, said Bill McKinney, president and CEO of the association.

“Basically the same level we were last year at this time,” he said. “I feel good about where we are, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

McKinney is optimistic that donations will begin to increase as the fundraising efforts intensify.

“United Way is leading our community and social-change initiatives focused on early child development, parental engagement, and youth drug and alcohol prevention,” he said.

“We’re beginning to see significant improvement in these areas in our community, and any investment in United Way is an investment in making positive change in our community.”

United Way supports more than 30 programs in Cambria and Somerset counties.

Another child-development course supported by United Way is Parents as Teachers.

Offered through Beginnings Inc. of Johnstown and The Family Center in Salisbury, Somerset County, the program provides parents with small children the resources and activities to help the youngsters develop.

Martha Faust, program director for Parents as Teachers, said funds help her group provide home visits by caseworkers.

“I went to see one mom who was concerned because her daughter had special needs,” Faust said. The mother worried that the local intermediate unit was not providing enough attention to her daughter.

Faust said she helped ease those fears.

“Now she’s having a second child and she feels more ready for whatever’s coming.”

Faust and Vuckovich can attest to the value of United Way of the Laurel Highlands. 

But the agency needs donations from individuals, organizations and businesses to help it achieve its goal.

Any amount you could give would be greatly appreciated.

You can give

Anyone interested in donating to United Way can do so:

• online at www.uwlaurel.org.

• call 535-2563.

• download and print a form that can be submitted through the mail.