We are excited to present our first issue of the Transformational Times for 2023! Please click the link below to read about all the agency news for this month, as well as helpful tips and events around Pittsburgh!
This article was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
November 24, 2022
Yes, our four kids were growing up and the house was getting quieter, but it wasn’t a fear of being empty-nesters that led us to become foster parents and eventually adoptive parents. We were both on our second marriage and wanted to become parents together. We’d created a loving, safe, and supportive home life for our biological children, and believed we could provide the same to a child who really needed it.
After a lot of careful thought and discussion, my husband and I reached out to Wesley Family Services’ foster care and adoption program. They help find safe and loving homes for children of Allegheny, Westmoreland, and Washington Counties. To fulfill the requirements of becoming a foster parent, we took parenting classes, obtained a variety of clearances, and underwent home inspections. While lengthy, it was not difficult.
Society has a lot of misconceptions about why children are placed in foster care. They are never in foster care because of something they did.
Often, children placed in foster care are there temporarily, usually for one of the following reasons. First, the biological parent(s) has passed away and no one in the family is able to immediately take the child in. Second, a biological parent(s) is dealing with a mental health issue and/or a substance abuse disorder that prevents them from being able to provide adequate care. Third, the home environment is not safe.
The number that need homes is staggering. In 2021,14,070 children lived in foster care across Pennsylvania, with many of them waiting for an adoptive home, according to the Department of Human Services. In Allegheny County, at any one time, about 1,300 children live in foster care, according to the city’s Office of Children, Youth, and Families. And nationally, nearly a half-a-million children live in foster care, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.
During the past several years, we’ve taken in four foster children and adopted two of them, a biological sister and brother. Our daughter, Grace, is 16 years old, and our son, Kaydin, is four. While we could not imagine our lives without them, the process to get to this point has not always been easy.
As many foster and adoptive parents know, bringing an older child into your home as opposed to an infant presents unique challenges. When we first met Grace, she was 12 years old and had lived with her biological parents up until that point. Her personality and perspective on life and adults were shaped by what she had experienced. For example, our house rules were not the same as those she was used to. It took time for her to adjust to the way my husband and I parent our children. Additionally, our family had to learn, understand, and navigate through certain situations that she finds triggering.
We fostered Kaydin and Grace first before exploring how we could adopt them. We have always maintained a good relationship and open line of communication with their biological parents. Their biological parents love them deeply. They just weren’t in a position to provide the level of care and support they needed.
They became our children — officially and legally — not only during National Adoption Awareness Month, which is November, but on National Adoption Day, which is the third Saturday of the month. Our blended family just celebrated its two-year anniversary.
People have different experiences with fostering and adoption, of course. Some will face more challenges. But from our experience, I would encourage anyone contemplating becoming a foster parent or an adoptive parent, to take action. You could be the positive change that a child is so desperately waiting on.
April Rucker and her family live in the Pittsburgh area.
This article was published in the Pittsburgh Business Times
November 1, 2022
The “Great Resignation” has given way to a “Great Reassessment,” according to Carolyn Wood, vice president of employee benefits at UPMC.
After an onslaught of pandemic-related stress and upheaval and a shifting of barriers between work and life, employees are reexamining their expectations of their workplaces. Benefits departments should take note, said Wood, and shift to a model of “whole person care,” catering to the social, emotional and health needs of the workers they hope to retain in job market now ruled by demand for labor.
“This Great Reassessment has, in many ways, created new areas for organizations like all of ours, and an evolution of employee benefits and healthcare that is resulting in the highest levels of expanded and enhanced programs that we’ve seen in decades,” Wood told an audience at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh.
Wood was the title speaker at “The Post-Pandemic ‘Great Reassessment,’” a seminar that took place on Oct. 27 and delved into the new reality of work.
In her introduction, Amy Meister, associate chief medical officer at UPMC Health Plan, set the tone by noting every industry has been changed by the pandemic. She noted that quick pick-up parking spaces are still at supermarkets, a type of business that had changed little since the 1950’s.
“And I started thinking to myself, ‘Wow, they have changed their entire structure and model of service,’” said Meister. “It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. It doesn’t matter how big of an employer you are or how small. We’ve all been impacted.”
She added, “There hasn’t been a day, probably in years, that I haven’t heard from somebody: These are unprecedented times, and that phrase applied to us all both personally and professionally, and that’s something we’re going to hear about today.”
In 2021, more than 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs, more than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded in any other year. Even those who haven’t jumped ship are keeping an eye on want ads; Gallup analysis found that 48 percent of the American working population is actively job-searching or just watching for opportunities.
Low pay, lack of opportunity for advancement, feelings of disrespect, childcare issues, and inflexibility of hours were top reasons given in a Pew Research survey from March.
Pundits dubbed the trend the “Great Resignation.” Like many observers, Wood, who has managed pensions and benefits at various companies for 30 years, senses an overarching sense of ennui and shifting of priorities due to the pandemic.
She defined the “Great Reassessment as “this volatile period where workers are rethinking everything, work, working conditions, careers, life goals, and some are even disengaging at work. Hence, the new terms we are seeing, like ‘quiet quitting,” the much-written-about phenomenon of employees doing the bare minimum because of lack of long term investment in their current job.
While it may seem “daunting,” she admits, employers need to redefine their entire relationship with their workforce if they hope to retain people. “In the face of the new reality, we’re beginning to examine every aspect, because clearly the workforce has changed,” she said. “Employees have new expectations, and we as employers need to redefine the employee value proposition.” Particularly, employers should be proactive in fighting stress, burnout and mental health challenges.
Wood said that tried and true engagement assessment tools, like focus groups and employee resource groups, are “now more important than ever.”
But she emphasized the importance of “innovation, like never before, in areas like behavioral mental health services.” These include “digital apps that might simply offer connections to other individuals that are dealing with the same issues” and phone lines for “frontline employees who are going to need someone to talk to you on the way home to enable them.”
Luckily, during the pandemic, people became used to virtual appointments and tele-health. These can be valuable resources for employers trying to increase access to services. “Digital healthcare delivery has created new opportunities to connect with patients and deliver physical [and] behavioral health services,” said Wood. “Seen as a necessity during the pandemic, it’s actually become the channel of choice today. Access to high-value therapies can facilitate access to specialty medications, how can we manage costs, and provide access in a socially conscious way. These are huge challenges that require innovations.”
Benefits professionals also have a variety at data-analytical tools that can improve and personalize care, Wood said.
“When we talk about whole person care and hyper-personalization, the data at the pump is critical,” she said. “When you can begin to leverage technology, for example, to bring health, financial and access data together, you’ll begin to see trends in the data and identify potential opportunities to develop a person-centered approach and identify your organization’s highest- priority issues. At a time, when many of us are seeing record levels of turnover, with no signs of slowing down, we’re all looking for ways to strengthen the employer employee relationship and impact our retention efforts.”
She added that UPMC is training its leaders and mangers in “mental health first aid training” that will allow them to see the first signs “that a team member needs extra support.”
It’s a new paradigm, Wood said, but one that many companies are embracing. A survey released in June by the insurance advisory company Willis Towers Watson, found that 86 percent of employers planned to put a focus on mental health needs (but only about half had laid out a formal plan).
“All of these things were not on our priority list five years ago,” said Wood. “Emotional wellbeing is now the pillar of many total wellbeing programs. Employers are developing new and unique programs to help employees with stress reduction, mindfulness and coping skills.”
Some have embraced a concept of “whole person care,” she said. “Employers are now focused on total wellbeing that often includes physical health, financial support, emotional health, career in belonging, and connection at work, bring it full circle and bringing it all together.”
“As I think about the mission of our benefit strategy, you will see that my goal is to deliver diverse programs and services that allow our employees, to find support in just about every area of work and to create their ideal work-life balance,” she said. As employers are becoming more and more of a trusted source of information, and trusted sources of support, the lines between work and life have blurred. I want our employees to feel like no matter where they are in their employment journey with us or stage of life, that we’re there, with programs and services to support them all.”
The message, conveyed by the totality of this effort, should be that employers care. “We’re here for you and your families,” said Wood, summarizing the message. “We’re going to provide resources for you to achieve your best health, and we’re going to support you on your wellbeing journey, with integrated and personalized approach — I can’t say that enough personalized, personalized, personalized — and we’re going to help you manage your healthcare in this period of the Great Reassessment. This employer-employee relationship, and the employee value proposition has become more important than ever.”
A panel discussion also included Chronis Manolis, chief pharmacy officer, UPMC Insurance Division Services, and Doug Mueztel, chief executive office of Wesley Family Services, which provides in-home counseling for children.
Manolis said that pharmacists can play a role in personalized care and UPMC has created a texting program to remind people of refills. “That’s really a chat bot that engages employees.”
He also expressed concern that rising costs of medications would frustrate employees. The pricing structure, by which common and older medications pay for newer and more obscure ones for pharmaceutical companies is not always clear to the public and pharmacy benefit programs have a role to play in reducing costs for employees. “It’s our job to make sure that medicines and science doesn’t outpace the cost,” said Manolis.
Mueztel said Wesley has prioritized training managers to consider employees’ emotional wellness. “The supervisor is the number-one reason someone stays with us or leaves with us. Shouldn’t we put that in our thought process?” he said.
He said, overall, employers need to create a culture of value and responsibility for employee wellbeing. “We create a culture where there is actually ownership of wellness by the staff members, Mueztel said. “That needs to be a value proposition, that a staff member feels empowered and has the resources.”
September 15, 2022
Editor’s Note: September is National Suicide Prevention Month.
The topic of suicide, by nature, is hard for many people to discuss.
However, Michele Kelly-Thompson, executive director of the Human Services Center, in New Castle, said national statistics show that whenever a suicide occurs, that usually affects, on average, 115 people in a community.
This includes the individual’s family, friends, coworkers and other acquaintances they may have.
“It’s much more of an impact on the community than a lot of people think,” Kelly-Thompson said. “The community doesn’t necessarily have an awareness of the number of people who die by suicide, and that they may not be sensitive to the issue.”
Scott Baldwin, director for Lawrence County Mental Health and Developmental Services (MH/DS), said recently suicides in the county this year are increasing compared to 2021, with 11 suicides in 2021 and 11 so far this year.
“What the reason is, we don’t know,” he said. “There’s a variety of reasons behind it, and it does affect our county when we lose one person.”
In comparison, for Beaver County, there were 19 in 2019, 25 in 2020, 18 in 2021, and the number so far in 2022 has not been released, according to Gerard Mike, the administrator for Beaver County Behavioral Health and director for the newly-formed county Human Services Department.
Kelly-Thompson, Baldwin, and Mike all spoke about the importance of mental health care/suicide prevention care, and noted the different programs in each county to help with that endeavor.
Discussing suicide prevention early
Kelly-Thompson believes that when it comes to the topic of suicide, the conversation around it needs to happen to people at a young age, in which the subject must include mental health and overall body wellness.
“Sometimes, it’s much easier for people to understand that someone is having a mental health problem if they are able to see if it’s something relatable to what they may experience, or they may have a family member that has experience,” she said.
Added Kelly-Thompson: “Suicidal thoughts can be a part of depression, it can be part of different mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, some of the more serious mental health issues.”
She said there have been many studies, conducted by groups all across the country, which state there are often many factors contributing to an individual feeling suicidal or contemplating suicide, rather than just one incident or factor.
“It’s usually many, many stressors that sort of converge on the individual, and they’re not able, in that particular moment, to see any solutions or hope, and they’re not viewing that they can reach out for help,” Kelly-Thompson said.
“So, one of the really important things that I would like to stress to people is we all have an opportunity to reach out to everyone, and have discussion about mental health and wellness, and that there is always hope, that people are experiencing stress, and we as a community can be the support system that offers them encouragement and support to get help,” she said.
Kelly-Thompson said it is important for everyone to try and help those in need, whether it be as a family member, a friend, a community member or a professional.
Ending the stigma of mental health
Kelly-Thompson said one of the biggest barriers for people to get the mental health treatment that they need is the stigma surrounding mental health issues and treatment as a whole.
She said we, as a society, need to understand that everyone has their own life stressors, and that everyone needs to feel comfortable talking about their mental health, and make it as big of a priority as their physical health.
“We try to have conservations that make people understand that our brain and our head are part of what’s going on with our overall well-being,” Kelly-Thompson said. “That’s where we start a lot of our conversations, making it less of a stigma to be able to talk about that.”
She said over the years, as mental health agencies appeared at different community events and stress the importance of mental health, people have come up to them and shared their stories.
“People are beginning to have more of a comfort level in having that discussion, and we’re seeing more and more that mental health is definitely getting more accepted by the general public, and some recognition that there is a need that everyone needs to work towards their mental health and wellness,” Kelly-Thompson said.
She said when it comes to suicide, any person can be depressed or suicidal, stating it affects people from all walks of life, even those, who, on the outside, feel “happy” or “great.”
Therefore, Kelly-Thompson encourages anyone who is concerned about someone, whether it be a change in their behavior, mood, or daily routine, to not be afraid to ask them how they are and to offer any help they may need.
Residential treatment centers
There are individuals that attend residential treatment centers for a variety of mental health matters, including suicidal thoughts.
Mike said there are times when these individuals can stay in these centers for long periods of time, especially if they are in the criminal justice system.
While Mike said residential treatment centers are a great resource to help people in need, he said he doesn’t want to see people, especially minors, stay there longer than they need to.
He said he has heard of examples where children have been placed in these facilities, which are usually designed for a max of 90 days, being held longer, with some staying until they turn 18.
Different county programs
Allegheny, Beaver, and Lawrence County, in addition to their general mental health/behavioral health programs, have different programs and providers that provide additional mental health/suicide prevention to residents.
Allegheny County has different providers that provide mental health services, including, but not limited to: Chartiers Center, Milestone Centers Inc., Pittsburgh Mercy, Staunton Clinic, TVC Community Services, UPMC Western Behavioral at Mon Yough, UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital and Wesley Family Services.
In Beaver County, Mike said there is a program, through the Beaver County System of Care, called Zero Suicide, which is a system-wide organizational commitment toward safer suicide care in health and behavioral health systems.
The program has seven different elements, which are:
- Lead system-wide culture change committed to reducing suicides;
- Train a competent, confident, and caring workforce;
- Identify individuals with suicide risk via comprehensive screening and assessment;
- Engage all individuals at-risk of suicide using a suicide care management plan;
- Treat suicidal thoughts and behaviors using evidence-based treatments;
- Transition individuals through care with warm hand-offs and supportive contacts;
- Improve policies and procedures through continuous quality improvement.
“It’s been, in my mind, successful, in keeping the number of suicide deaths to a minimum, even though one death is too many,” Mike said.
He said as part of the Zero Suicide initiative, there is a Youth Ambassador Program, which is run through Beaver County Behavioral Health, Beaver County System of Care and the Beaver County Rehabilitation Center (BCRC), which he said is making a big difference.
Mike said in the program, which involves every school district in the county, students mentor one another, look out for each other, and discuss their mental health issues with each other in a supportive way.
He said the students in the program are all welcoming and nonjudgmental, stating in his 36 years of mental health experience, this program represents the biggest difference he has seen in ending the stigma of mental health and mental health treatment, particularly for minors.
In Lawrence County, Kelly-Thompson said, since 2014, there has been a Lawrence County Suicide Prevention Coalition.
In the coalition, mental health and social service representatives have spoken to the community through different educational programs, with support from the county board of commissioners, coroner’s office and representatives from different county school districts.
There is an annual “Out of the Darkness Walk,” which is described as a journey of remembrance, hope, and support, and unites communities in acknowledging how suicide and mental health conditions affect our daily lives, and remembering the lives that were lost.
The next walk is scheduled for 11 a.m. Sept. 17, at Riverwalk Community Park at 250 E. Washington St. in New Castle. To register, go to afsp.org/NewCastle.
Kelly-Thompson said agencies, like MH/DS and the Human Services Center, go to schools and different community events, in order to offer guidance and resources that are available to residents.
They have conducted community presentations on “Talk Saves Lives,” which is an education program/video, from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), on suicide, suicide prevention, and what communities can do to help save lives.
“We also have other folks that have been trained through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, to do some of their educational programs,” Kelly-Thompson said.
She said they work to help veterans, as statistics show the nation loses 22 veterans a day to suicide.
The county is also looking to restart its suicide survivor group for adults over 18 who have lost someone to suicide, which had been on hold since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Baldwin said the county will continue to emphasize mental health treatment for individuals at the Lawrence County Jail, and is looking to start a “Batterers” program for mental health treatment for incarcerated people charged with domestic violence.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
All three counties offer both in-person and Telehealth (virtual) counseling, with UPMC offering a 24-hour crisis helpline at 1-888-796-8226.
There are also the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
This article was published in PublicSource
August 12, 2022
When it comes to getting to know people, 17-year-old Sammi Cooper has learned to stop thinking that someone won’t like her because she has Tourette syndrome.
“In the past, Tourette was always present in my mind when I was talking to someone new,” the Verona teen said. “I would be anxious that someone would not like me because of it. I think I’ve become a lot more confident in myself and not think about my Tourette until we’re closer and I feel comfortable disclosing it.”
Cooper isn’t alone in her disability or her journey of self-discovery and building confidence around exactly who she is.
Roughly 145,000 Pennsylvanians 17 and younger (or nearly 8%) identify as having a disability, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
On the heels of the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and July’s Disability Pride Month celebrations, young people with disabilities and their caregivers have shared glimpses into their lives — how they navigate friendships, school and obstacles, activities or therapies that help them, and how they think about their futures — with the hope of growing awareness and a sense of belonging.
Sammi’s surging confidence
One way Sammi Cooper has managed the symptoms she experiences from Tourette syndrome is through artistic expression.
“I really love drawing and art in every form,” she said. “I like making things with my hands a lot. I go through phases of different things. I love making miniatures, origami, clay and creating. Doing things you enjoy takes your mind off things and helps me with my Tourette’s.
According to the Pennsylvania Tourette Syndrome Alliance, Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder where one’s body produces ‘tics’ — involuntary or rapid movements.
She was diagnosed at 8-years-old. “I used to have a lot of pain. I would have tics where I’d roll my ankle or my wrists and that could cause a lot of soreness especially at the end of the day,” Cooper said. “More recently, a lot of issues I’ve had have been more OCD related, like intrusive thoughts.”
Other OCD tendencies include redoing her routines and tapping on things a certain number of times. Cooper said stress can exacerbate her symptoms. Sometimes listening to music for just five minutes can help relax her.
“I think if I’m feeling very big emotions, I tend to have very big tics,” she said. “It also depends on who I’m around. If I’m around someone else that has Tourette’s, I tend to tic way more. It’s also just random — it ebbs and flows. Any one week I can have a tic but I don’t have that next week. And it could just be gone just as fast.”
Cooper also engages in cognitive visual integration therapy.
“I get a premature urge to do [the tics], which most people do, but not everyone … [the therapy] kind of taught me how to redirect the urge to something else that was less painful,” she said. “I think it’s helped get my tics under control more as opposed to when I was first diagnosed.”
For some, the future can be a scary thing to think about. Cooper is optimistic.
“I’m in a very good place with my Tourette, and I’m very thankful for that,” she said. “I know plenty of people that aren’t at my age. In the past, I worried a lot that it would affect me. As I’ve gotten older and as the years have gone by, I’ve become much more confident in myself and what I can do despite having Tourette syndrome.”
Billy and Chardae: blessed and lucky
For Chardae Seligsohn, navigating the day-to-day with her 13-year-old son Billy can be challenging.
“I had to quit my job because Billy was doing a lot of dangerous things, like running out of the house,” she said. “I had to get 350 linear feet of fencing, which costs almost as much as my house to put in.”
Seligsohn said she and her husband “knew right away,” that Billy was developmentally delayed. At 3, Billy was diagnosed with autism Level 2 meaning he needs a lot of support.
“He wasn’t hitting the milestones as a baby and, around 16 months, he started to lose eye contact,” she said. “If you called his name or tried to talk to him, he wouldn’t look.”
There were other behaviors such as hair pulling and being nonverbal that also made the case for an autism diagnosis. Billy relies on various therapies to help increase his communication and cognitive skills — including wraparound, a set of individualized mental health services that help children figure out new ways of dealing with their emotions and relationships. He also engages in applied behavior analysis therapy, which aims to decrease problematic behaviors and increase communication and social skills.
In being Billy’s mother, Seligsohn said she has learned so much about herself.
“I feel very blessed and lucky as a parent because I think that special needs children pick their parents,” she said. “I know I could never imagine myself being a parent like this in a million years. It’s hard, but it’s rewarding because I’ve been stretched and pushed to the limits I didn’t think I could ever handle. It teaches a different type of strength and selflessness.”
Jackson: ‘Don’t blame yourself’
Jackson Drake, an 11-year-old from Mt. Lebanon, has hearing loss as a result of enlarged vestibular aqueducts, also known as EVA.
He has profound severe hearing loss in his right ear, so he wears a cochlear implant. For his left ear, he has a hearing aid because he has residual hearing in that ear.
Due to his hearing loss, it’s difficult for him to understand what conversations are going on around him.
For example, Drake said, “when [the teacher] does the microphones, you see, I can only hear her. Mostly I can’t hear anybody else. So it’s really hard to hear my friends.”
Drake wishes that people he meets would not always ask him about his cochlear implant and hearing aid.
“Everybody would ask the question, ‘What is it?’” he said. “They just look at it and stare at it. It makes me feel like they are just focusing on this, instead of me.
“I wish they could stop asking about this and ask me about something else — what’s your name? Something other than my hearing loss.”
He has some advice for those his age who also have hearing loss.
“It’s a small world and a lot of people have problems with their body,” Drake said. “You’re not alone. There’s lots of other people that have problems. Don’t blame yourself, it’s a part of life. You have to deal with some challenges.”
Hannah and Taylor: breaking the ‘glorious silence’
Hannah Chicas, a 17-year-old from Bethel Park, is going to be a junior in high school this fall. She was diagnosed with cytomegalovirus [CMV], which caused her to have mild to moderate hearing loss as an infant. For the first three and a half years of her life, she had hearing aids. At age 4, she switched to cochlear implants when she lost all of her residual hearing.
Like many students with disabilities, Chicas finds that navigating school can be difficult. Sometimes teachers don’t remember that she is in need of accommodations.
“One of the things I absolutely have to have is captions on TV and on my phone,” Chicas said. “That is something I wish most people would understand and have in school because I have had some teachers forget about it. I would have to remind them. It can also be useful not just for me, so why not have it for everyone?”
Taylor Billet of Oakmont, who is also 17, has only known a life with bilateral cochlear implants.
In Billet’s case, her cochlea was destroyed by bacterial meningitis at 14 months old. She can only hear with her cochlear implants.
“Whenever I don’t want to hear anymore, I can just take it off and enjoy glorious silence,” she said.
But it does present a challenge in the morning. Billet has to take off her implants at night to charge them, so she can’t hear when she wakes up.
The Sonic Bomb alarm clock gets her out of bed on time. The alarm clock comes with a shaker that attaches to her bed to physically shake her awake.
Chicas also uses a bed shaker to help her get out of bed in the morning. While technology can help assist people like Chicas and Billet, they also stress the importance of being advocates for themselves when out and about in the world.
Chicas said it’s important for kids with cochlear implants to be confident in themselves, no matter what life throws at them.
“Don’t be afraid to share and tell who you are with the cochlear implant,” she said. “It doesn’t make a big difference when you have the cochlear implants, you’re just you. It’s like the same thing as wearing glasses. It helps you see. Cochlear implants help you to hear.”
Billet added that there are strategies others should know for communicating with those who have hearing loss. “What works best for us is to be in an environment where there is little to no background noise. … Also to be able to see each other’s faces and for you to not cover your mouth,” she said. “Be patient with me as I try to understand what you are trying to say.”
Regardless of the kind of disability one has, it can be beneficial to find groups of people that understand the difficulties and challenges that one goes through, multiple kids said. Now that they know about Disability Pride Month, some are looking forward to joining in on the experience in the future.
Drake hopes to become an artist one day and said he would like to design a poster that has shells and rocks on it to represent his love for the beach, with a written letter that explains his condition, EVA.
Chicas didn’t know about Disability Pride celebrations. “But now that I know, I can always look forward to it every year.”
Emily Sauchelli is a PublicSource editorial intern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was fact-checked by Punya Bhasin.
This article was published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
August 8, 2022
Hempfield Area High School will soon be transformed into a venue highlighting local first responders as officials gear up to host their first Hempfield Night Out this week.
The event, scheduled for 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, will bring together local law enforcement agencies, first responders and community resources.
“We’re expecting a great turnout,” Superintendent Tammy Wolicki said during Monday’s school board meeting. “We have many first responders participating.“
Entities featured at the event will include the Hempfield Fire Department, Pennsylvania State Police Liquor Control Enforcement, Mutual Aid Ambulance Service, Westmoreland County Park Police, the Westmoreland County Sheriff, the county’s Department of Public Safety, the New Stanton Volunteer Fire Department, and state and school police.
Several vendors focused on drug prevention, domestic violence, community development and more will also set up.
Vendors will be set up inside Spartan Stadium along with a DJ and a kids corner featuring various games and activities. Basket raffles and 50/50 tickets will be available for purchase. Proceeds will benefit student activity clubs at the high schools.
Children can also participate in a bike raffle by talking with first responders to receive tickets. Fourteen bikes will be raffled during the event.
First responders will set up in the parking lot behind the stadium. There will also be food trucks.
The evening will end with fireworks , scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.
“It just sounds like a great evening for everyone,” Wolicki said. “We are very much looking forward to it and it appears the weather’s going to be cooperative at this point.”
Vendors featured at the event include:
Westmoreland County Juvenile Probation
Mt. Pleasant Sportzone
Clarion Psychiatric Center
Westmoreland Community Action
Early Learning Resource Center
Regional Integrated Human Services
Alepix Behavioral Clinic
Beacon Health Options
White Deer Run Treatment Network
VA Healthcare Clinic
PFLAG Greensburg and Westmoreland LGBTQ Interfaith Network
Sages Army, Inc.
Pinnacle — Charleroi Treatment Services
Ray of Hope
Westmoreland County Transit Authority
Westmoreland County Coroner’s Office
Westmoreland County Community Planning and Development — Let’s Save Westmoreland
Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission, Inc.
Wesley Family Services
Saint Vincent College Prevention Projects
Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Case Management
Private Industry Council
Axiom Family Counseling
Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Laurel Region
Veterans Leadership Program