Category Archives: community

May 2017 Edition – “May Flowers”

The May 2017 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges“May Flowers” – is now available online & in print.coverproof

April 2017 – Spring Cleaning

april2017-coverThe April 2017 edition of Pennsylvania BridgesSpring Cleaning – is now available online & in print.

March 2017 – “Helping Hearts”

march2017-coverThe March 2017 Edition of Pennsylvania Bridges – “Helping Hearts” – is now available online & in print.

February 2017 Edition: Moments & Milestones

february2017 cover.qxdThe February 2017 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges is now available online & in print.

January 2017: New Beginnings

january2017 cover.qxdThe January 2017 edition of Pennsylvania BridgesNew Beginnings – is now available online & in print.

Westmoreland College dedicates new lab

ribbon-cutting-not-cutWestmoreland College held a ribbon cutting ceremony to dedicate its new Instructional Design Lab which provides college faculty with the tools to create content engaging course content.

The lab is equipped with six smart podium computers that provide the tools for faculty to imbed video, PowerPoint presentations and other digital content into their online courses delivered in a web conferencing format. These online classes are delivered synchronously allowing instructors and students to interact in real time. Students can access the courses via any mobile device, including smartphones, tablets or computers.

“It’s the closest you can get to being in class without being in an actual classroom, “said Associate Professor John Shelapinsky who teaches Paralegal classes online.

This fall, 47% of Westmoreland students are taking at least one online class and their grade point averages are slightly higher than those enrolled solely in on-ground courses.

“One of our goals is to grow online programs and services to engage students where they are and that’s online, said Westmoreland President Tuesday Stanley. “The Instructional Design Lab will help us to do that.”

Funding for the creation of the Instructional Design Lab was provided by a gift from an anonymous donor.

“We are very grateful to the donor for the gift that enabled us to equip the lab and hire an instructional designer who assists faculty in transitioning their on-ground courses to an online format and developing engaging digital content,” said Stanley.

Funds from a $2.25 million Title III Strengthening Institutions Grant received from the U.S. Department of Education will allow the college to expand the Instructional Design Lab with additional equipment and professional development.

“The lab is the college’s first step in achieving its long-term goal of creating a Learning Commons as part of the Founders Hall renovation project, currently in the planning stage,” said Stanley.

Once completed, the instructional design lab will move to the Learning Commons which will also contain spaces for tutoring and academic support, mentoring and counseling services, career services and an IT help desk.

Westmoreland offers 11 associate degree, diploma and certificate programs that are available 100 percent online. Among those offerings is the Associate of Arts degree, which is transferrable to bachelor’s degree programs at four-year universities. Other programs available completely online are some of Westmoreland’s most popular majors such as business, accounting, criminal justice and psychology.

This fall, Westmoreland was ranked first in Pennsylvania for 2016 online colleges by OnlineColleges.com.

Photo: Delivering remarks at the dedication ceremony were Stanley; Tara Zirkel, dean, Distance Education and Education Centers; Dick Dickert, chairman, Westmoreland board of trustees; Philip McCalister, president, Educational Foundation board; Annette Boyer, director, Distance Education and Learning Resources; John Shelapinsky, associate professor of Paralegal, Business and Real Estate; Ted Kopas, Westmoreland County commissioner; and Chad Amond, president, Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce.

180 Degrees Empowerment Center offers opportunities for area youth

13502588_659102580913805_4113438828867297511_oDepressed areas create despair for residents and youth alike, and a sense that opportunity exists elsewhere. But Terry Vassar of Brownsville, Pennsylvania, decided that he could make it where he lives, and raise others up in the process, through his 180° Empowerment Center, a 501.3c organization headquartered in Brownsville.

Vassar, proud father of five children and a Windows R Us franchise owner, explains the inspiration for the Center’s name: “180 is about making a complete turn-around. Anytime anyone came to Jesus, they would have their life turned around 180 degrees.”

From high school graduation until about age 28, Vassar said that while he had a good family, “…some of us find love in different places, and I found mine in drugs and street life. But at 28, I realized I had no life, and went back to school,” adding that once he rededicated his life to Christ, he didn’t need to go to rehab to quit his habits.

After completing a degree in Ministerial Studies from Shiloh Bible Institute, Vassar worked as a telemarketer where he “ . . . learned how to be a communicator and have people skills,” which benefitted him though managerial and mortgage broker jobs, and would later help bring the Center to the Brownsville community.

14054553_683504928473570_3336914508211999575_oVassar’s experiences on the street, along with personal development through hard work, seeded the idea for 180° Empowerment Center in 2007. However, it took time to build connections with the school district, and create a location, at 165 Market Street in Brownsville. Once in place, he moved ahead with his vision, working with Brownsville Area School District Superintendent Dr. Philip Savini, Jr., Ph. D, to bring the Center’s outreach programs to the district, starting in December of this year.

The Center provides English, math, and Spanish tutoring for 7-12 grades, along with PSSA, SAT, and ACT preparation. In addition, grief counseling, career awareness, student aid workshops, and suicide awareness and prevention programs are available to the area students, or anyone in need.

On request, life development courses and credit counseling are also available.

California University interns from the Department of TRIO and the Hispanic Student Association have stepped in to volunteer their tutoring skills. Lisa Driscoll from the Department of TRIO and Academic Services facilitates the relationship between California University and the Center.

“She’s awesome and it’s been a great partnership. She was instrumental in getting everything in line to start in December,” Vassar said of Driscoll.

Furthering technical literacy skills for Brownsville school district students is Fab Lab, which as Vassar calls “A new, 21st century way of doing design.”

Fab Lab, instructed by Brandon Prentice from Intermediate Unit 1, features classes in Laser Cutting, 3D Printing for Beginners, and a Vinyl Sticker Tutorial. While working through these classes, students learn about design software and 3D modeling to produce projects for the individual class instructions. New Fab Lab classes will form in early 2017.

Vassar’s message for the area is a positive one: “I believe that people in the Mon Valley area, because of the depression, believe they can’t do it here. But by the grace of God, I am. I want kids to be able to duplicate what I’ve done. I want kids to find out what they love to do, and work on developing their strengths.”

Those wishing to donate and/or participate: 180degreesempowerment.com/about, and click on “Lend a Helping Hand.”

Photos: (top) Students show off self portraits made during Fab Lab (bottom) Students participated in a basketball clinic offered by the Center at Brownsville Area High School this past August. Future clinics are planned.

Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges

California Holly Days set for Dec. 4

xmas261California Borough families will have the opportunity to partake in a free holiday celebration on Sunday, December 4, 2016 at California University of Pennsylvania’s Natali Student Center from 4-5:30 p.m.

Activities Will Include:

A large inflatable snowman chair for fun photo opportunities

Photobooth Fun – Snap some holiday-themed selfies in the home-made photo booth!

Holiday Crafts

Cal U’s Theater Department will perform a portion of their upcoming musical, “The Happy Elf,” at 4:15 p.m.

Holiday Cookie Decorating

Balloon animals and face painting will be available

A family-friendly holiday movie will continuously be shown in the Vulcan Theater

A card-decorating station will be set-up to decorate cards to send to soldiers and hospitals

Santa will arrive at 4:30 p.m.

Don’t forget your list, and remember to smile for your printed photo with Santa for your decorated frame

Blaze and the DQ ice cream cone will be in attendance

PARKING WILL BE FREE. The best place to park will be behind the Student Union (coming down Hickory Street)

The Bookstore will be running a 20% discount. Plan to have dinner after the event in the Gold Rush, too.

Please invite your friends & spread the word! We hope to see you there!

Event Sponsored by California Borough Recreation Authority and California University of Pennsylvania

Youth reach out to Brownsville homeowners in need

The Brownsville, Pennsylvania area is living in hard times because of diminished industry, diminishing population, and diminished incomes. What follows is an increasing number of decaying homes, with residents wishing for help and hope.

And there is hope. Through the auspices of Reach Mission Trips of Colorado, working in conjunction with Reach Workcamps of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Uniontown, approximately 350-400 work campers will take up residence at Brownsville Area High School to serve 70 of Brownsville’s homeowners whose homes are in need of vital improvements.

Reach Mission Trips sponsors 6-8 work camps each year, involving church youth group students from 6th grade through high school and adults.

Judith Taylor, coordinator of Reach Workcamps of St. Peter’s Anglican Church, says of the program “It’s almost a rite of passage at church for kids to go to Reach. It’s a way to learn to serve,” which fulfills Reach’s goal of developing youth into “transformed servants of Jesus,” according to their web site.

Homeowners in need are pleased to discover there is no cost to them for the student teams who work to make their home “warmer, safer, and dryer” – the main goals of the home improvements according to Taylor.

“What’s the catch?” homeowners wonder, but there is no catch, as Taylor explains “funds come from youth group fundraisers. Each student usually pays $400 – $425 (to participate). This money funds the needed materials. These kids do fundraisers to raise money to pay for the privilege of sleeping on a classroom floor all week, eating cafeteria food. It’s character building.” Workdays of six hours for junior high, and seven hours for seniors, adds to the week long character building process.

Taylor, an 18 year volunteer, has taken generations of kids to Reach, which helps them learn skills in working with tools, roofing, and painting, while learning work ethics such as getting up for work at 6:30 a.m. every day during the week.

Taylor’s own family is a multi-general participant in Reach, with her daughter, Maggie Taylor, and granddaughter, Bailey Burkett helping out during camps. It’s not unusual for this program to bring in new generations, as Taylor said “A lot of students have come back as adults to continue work. Reach needs staff and now this is their college summer job.”

To qualify for help through Reach, the home must be owned by the resident, have financial need, and be within half hour travel distance from Brownsville Area High School.

In December, a Reach representative will visit homeowners who have completed applications.

All of the work done is overseen by a “troubleshooter” who had been a contractor in the past. All adults are screened including a background check and a letter from their own church’s pastor, Taylor said.

Homeowners benefit in a tangible way from the efforts of Reach work campers, not only in their everyday lives, but in the creation of a positive perception of modern youth. Taylor relates a project in southern West Virginia, where a homeowner “had stairs and handicap ramp so rotted she couldn’t safely leave the house. After being able to go down the steps and view her new porch on the house, she said ‘My porch looks like it belongs on the front of Southern Living Magazine!’”

Homeowners are pleased with the hard work and good attitudes of the campers, and have said “I didn’t think there were any good kids left in the world,” Taylor recounts, adding “the kids lead prayers at lunch time. It changes peoples’ perceptions of youth. I think that’s worthwhile because of too much negativity for young people.”

Taylor invites local community members and churches to participate with donations of bottled water, ice for lunch coolers, donations in kind, or financial donations. Local church youth who wish to participate will not commute, but will stay with other work campers at the high school, as Taylor said, because it provides church youth with a complete work camper experience.

Taylor is available to visit churches and youth groups to explain the camp, and also said “It’s not too early to be looking for homes which need help.”

For questions, information, work the group can do, or offers to help via food, donations, and more, contact Judith Taylor at mumimp@hotmail.com, or call 724-812-1597.

Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges

December 2016 events in Brownsville

On Sun., Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. the Uniontown Chorale will present a Christmas program at St. Cecilia’s Church (1571 Grindstone Road, Grindstone).

The Allison Nazarene Church (416 Vernon St., Allison) will host Grace on the Hill on Sun., Dec. 4. The evening of prayer time and Bible Study also includes a free light meal & begins at 5:13 p.m. and lasts until 8 p.m. The public is invited.

Monday, Dec. 5 – Bible Released Time for middle school students at South Brownsville United Methodist Church (412 Second St., Brownsville) at 9 a.m. Volunteers  needed, 724-785-3080.

Thurs., Dec. 8 – Produce to People at the Fayette County Fairgrounds (Fiddler’s Building). Volunteers  needed starting at 8:30 a.m. Food distribution begins at 10 a.m.

On Sun., Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. the Bentworth Ministerial Community Choir will present a Christmas program at St. Peter’s (300 Shaffner Ave., Brownsville).

Monday, Dec. 12 – Bible Released Time for middle school students at South Brownsville United Methodist Church (412 Second St., Brownsville) at 9:00 a.m. Volunteers, call 724-785-3080.

The BAMA meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13, will be at 9:15 a.m. at the Calvin United Presbyterian Church (307 Spring St., Brownsville).

Thursday, Dec. 15 – Bible Released Time for elementary students begins at 9:15 a.m. at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church (307 High St., Brownsville). Volunteers needed, 724-785-3080.

Mon., Dec. 19 – Bible Released Time for middle school students at South Brownsville United Methodist Church (412 Second St., Brownsville) at 9 a.m. Volunteers needed, 724-785-3080.