In the 24-years that the Leadership Blair County program has been helping with the professional development of people in the business and education communities, it has also been helping to make the overall community better. Each class establishes a rallying-point around a project that in some meaningful way makes a difference, either helping a non-profit organization to do something better or creating an amenity that helps the county put its best foot forward.
It’s hardly a new concept, according to former Blair County Commissioner Donna Gority who was on the original planning committee that created Leadership Blair County.
“True servant leaders are also good community stewards,” Gority pointed out. “The class project was more than just a team building exercise. It helped each class define who they are and what type of legacy they would leave.”
Their legacies have made a monumental difference in so many tangible ways.
The most recent LBC class, which graduated in June raised money for Evolution Expressions’ Arts for Healing program. The program uses art, dancing and music therapy to help children cope with traumatic experiences. Through a number of fundraisers that included restaurant nights, a Zumbathon and a 200-Club cash bash, the class was able to buy new art supplies, instruments and a wall-length mirror and rubber flooring for the Zumba room. That’s not all. Additional funds financed not only arts-related field trips but the 14-passenger van that will transport them there.
“We believed that this was a worthy cause because there are local youths coping with some truly rough times,” explained class member Mandy Murphy. “We knew that Evolution Expressions was doing what it could to make a difference but really didn’t have the means, as a relatively new organization, to do more. It was wonderful to be able to help.”
Craig Clark, Evolution’s Vice-President and co-owner, heartily agreed.
“The LBC Class of 2018 communicated and shared our passion to help a part of Blair County’s population that is most in need of services,” Clark acknowledged. “This class can best be described as a talented, hard-working group of individuals who worked together as a team to meet their mission. And for that, we are very grateful.”
In 2017, the LBC class took-on a similar project. Working with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Blair County, the class raised funds to enable every child involved with BBBS to receive a new bicycle, helmet, lock and safety training. In addition, they were able to completely remodel the basement of the BBBS building, adding a handicap accessible ramp and door, a new bathroom, floors, paint, lighting and tools to enable the kids to work on their bikes when they needed fixed. A new trailer was also purchased to transfer the kids and their bikes to all the exciting trails and parks in Blair County.
“The project was a lot of work but the day that the kids actually picked out their new bikes and rode them for the first time was truly a rewarding moment for our class,” remembers Jackie Lantzy. “Aside from the benefits to the kids, the project brought us together as a group. Everyone was able to help out in some meaningful way.”
Class member Rachel Prosser was happy to experience the feeling that a person gets after a job well done.
“Just knowing that our time, effort and resources were going to youth in our community was all the incentive that we needed,” Prosser disclosed. “Just knowing that these young people felt cared-about was tremendous.”
The 2016 LBC Class renovated the gymnasium and recreation room used by The Beacon at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Altoona. That involved installing a network of ten security cameras, monitor and a control center; replacing lights and fixtures with energy efficient lighting and installing a new exhaust fan; and repairing and painting everywhere it was needed.
The Beacon provides youth with a safe environment and structured activities led by supportive adult role models. Through a daily after-school program, youth receive mentoring, tutoring, homework research tools and employment preparation support.
“Throughout the project, our class often applied the teamwork and servant leadership skills that we learned in the LBC program,” stated class member Diana McClure. “We gained the satisfaction derived from being part of a team that practiced servant leadership in ways that provided a good example to the The Beacon program’s youth and we hope our project inspired them to look for ways in which they can make a positive impact in their community.”
The renovations at The Beacon were far from revolutionary. In fact the previous year, the 2015 LBC class did a similar project at “The Door” in Bellwood. An after-school program that attracts many young people who often have difficult home circumstances, The Door provides a safe place for students to do school work, interact and receive what for many of them is the only hot dinner meal of the week.
“Our project was to remodel and upgrade the kitchen at The Door,” said class member Walter Goffart. “This included purchasing some new appliances, putting up drywall, painting, trim work and installing cabinets. It felt so good to watch a committed group of people – our class – pulling together for such a worthwhile cause. People talk about servant leadership. We had a chance to experience it for the benefit of others.”
Of all the common experiences that graduates of the Leadership Blair County program have had, perhaps none has been as enduring as the projects to which each class can independently hang-its-hat. There have been 24 classes. There have been 24 projects. We have described only the most recent four. Suffice it to say, the other twenty are just as special and have made significant impact.
“There is much about the LBC program of which we are proud,” Donna Gority emphasized. “The really great thing is that there is much more to come.”
(For more information on the Leadership Blair County program, contact the Blair County Chamber at 814-943-8151 or visit the Chamber Website at www.blairchamber.com.)
Sharon Green has accomplished considerable success in teaching yoga because she allocates much of her time to learning as much as possible about the many health benefits that yoga offers. The 57-year-old owner/teacher at Bloom Yoga & Wellness in Altoona, Green has a BS Degree in Education from Penn State Altoona, has a 500-hour Professional Level Kripalu Yoga Teacher Certification and is a Licensed Massage Therapist.
The Chamber: How did Bloom Yoga & Wellness come about and why did you feel that this type of business would be successful here?
Sharon: I purchased Bloom Yoga & Wellness from Andrea Young in 2011 after she moved us to Downtown Altoona. It was her inspiration and desire to provide our community with a Yoga centered wellness studio offering a different focus and experience than the fitness center environment. I already had an established yoga student base who were committed to their yoga practice and supportive of me taking this leap. I wanted to continue teaching and learning in a personalized, peaceful and cozy environment. With my extensive movement and anatomy background, Bloom provides an opportunity to teach smaller classes while utilizing my professional gifts to serve individual needs as well as the group. Our classes are done in 8 week series so we can get to know our students and not have a revolving door environment.
The Chamber: What would people in Blair County be surprised to know about Bloom Yoga & Wellness?
Sharon: We offer Yoga Dance that blends yoga and dance movements to a variety of music. No dance or yoga experience is necessary to enjoy this energizing class ended with a peaceful relaxation. Classes are also offered for Adult/Child combinations. It is rare to find Yoga Dance offered outside of metropolitan area. Thanks to our teacher Tracey Roth it is offered in our community. We are also the folks that provide FREE Yoga On the Beach “YOB” each summer at Canoe Creek State Park near the swimming area on Saturday mornings, 9-10:00.
The Chamber: You’re currently working on creating some events to enhance the appreciation of yoga and wellness. Can you describe one of those?
Sharon: We are bringing an international senior Kripalu Yoga teacher, Rudy Pierce to Altoona in 2018, 2019, and 2020 for Dynamic Gentle Yoga Teacher Training and some classes open to the public! I’m still pinching myself that this is happening!!! Rudy is a sweet soul and gracious yoga teacher trainer with at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
The Chamber: Wellness has become a popular buzzword in practically every venture that involves lifestyle. In what tangible ways are yoga and wellness connected?
Sharon : One of my mentors called yoga the “ultimate multi-tasking”. As we take care of ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally through the practice of yoga, it not only serves us on the mat, but permeates throughout our lives. Yoga shares movement, meditation, mindfulness, breathing and relaxation techniques, which all nourish and cleanse our whole being.
The Chamber: How do you measure success among your students?
Sharon: I measure success among my students, who are also my teachers, by the changes I am blessed to witness not only physically but more importantly by their overall sense of mindful presence. Most meaningful is the changes they discover off the mat as to how the yoga shows up positively throughout their lives such as: peace and clarity of mind, coordination and balance, consciously preparing and focusing during physical or mental activities, flexibility and strength, less judgmental thoughts of themselves and others, being lighter hearted and playful, etc.
The Chamber: What’s still on Sharon Green’s “bucket list?”
Sharon: Professionally, in the next few years I hope to complete the 1000 hour Professional Level Kripalu Teacher Training in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which is the largest international yoga teaching center in North America. Side note to those who think they can’t do yoga -- Kripalu means Compassion. There are different strokes “yoga ” for different folks. Personally, I hope to bicycle the “Ride of Your Life” consisting of the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC (332 miles).
Bob Layo is a friend of mine. For three decades, he served as President/CEO of the Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber until he just couldn’t take it anymore. “My motivation to do the programs and events that we did practically every year was gone,” he told me. “It was time to move on.”
I’ve heard similar comments from colleagues who have only been in the chamber business a few years. Chamber management can be a balancing act between meeting member expectations and convincing non-members of the importance of coming onboard. Both are challenges that bring satisfaction and frustration, hardly ever in equal measure.
Much like the school year, our Chamber moves into high-gear in late August and goes strong until mid-June. July is our catch-up month, a chance to assess where we are in relationship to our budget and our annual goals. It’s a time to breathe. And wherever possible, it’s a time for exploration and discovery. Last month, I was provided the opportunity to explore and discover.
The Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals (PACP) is an organization to which we have belonged since its inception. Each year, PACP awards scholarships to members who apply to attend either the PACP Conference or the annual conference of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). I applied for the ACCE scholarship and was notified in the spring that my application was accepted.
I am guessing that my scholarship from PACP was based less on my status in the chamber community than it was on the fact that the conference was being held in Des Moines. Who could possibly resist Iowa in July? Surprisingly, the conference attracted more than 1,000 people from throughout the country. I suspect that might have been because the chamber industry is undoubtedly in flux. Staying relevant is a standard that many chambers are failing to meet. Consequently, their membership numbers are dropping. It’s difficult to turn the ship in the other direction once the tide has shifted.
With the vast array of educational sessions from which to choose at ACCE, I found myself focused on the three topics that seem to have the greatest sense of urgency for our Chamber – workforce development, membership retention and young professionals. I was hardly alone. In all but two of the sessions I had to stand against the wall, despite arriving early. The seats were all filled.
The workforce development discussions had a common theme: Job availability without the requisite number of qualified candidates to fill those jobs. To the larger cities, that meant accessing greater numbers of training dollars and the hope for a favorable resolution to immigration legislation. To smaller cities, it came down to doing more with less and finding creative ways to entice its young people to embrace careers closer to home.
From the membership retention side, the most beneficial sessions were the best practices ones where chambers readily shared how they were re-inventing themselves so that they no longer looked like chambers of commerce. To no one’s surprise, those discussions bled-over to animated exchanges on how young professionals were the “fly-in-the-ointment” of business prosperity. Thankfully, the two sessions that I attended on engaging young professionals provided solid examples of how several chambers had figured-out ways to recognize and appreciate the many assets that young professionals bring to the table. I’m looking forward to finding more of that common ground with our own young professionals program.
In all, my trip to Des Moines was enriching and even enjoyable. The people in Des Moines are friendly and the city is clean, safe and welcoming. I’m grateful to PACP for providing the spark that has allowed me to re-charge my battery and I look forward to carrying my enthusiasm to our Chamber staff so that they, too, will be invigorated for the task ahead.
We have many things to accomplish during the remainder of 2018. We invite our business community to be an integral part of the process.
There’s a Chinese proverb that advises that a person who says that something can’t be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it. In business and in education, we are routinely strangled by our reluctance to venture too far from what we know. In the name of tradition, we continue to embrace concepts that are ultimately detrimental to our individual or community growth.
It happens everywhere and it happens often. Which is why what took place on May 31st at the graduation ceremonies at Hollidaysburg Area High School was such a breath of fresh air.
Like most school districts, Hollidaysburg’s graduation event featured a standard agenda that culminated in the conferring of diplomas to its graduates. The early part of the agenda, as always, included speeches from the valedictorian and salutatorian of the senior class.
But Hollidaysburg, for the first time, included a third speaker. That speaker, Delaney Clemens, was the outstanding Hollidaysburg senior at the Greater Altoona Career & Technology Center. Like valedictorian Rohan Gupta and salutatorian Alexandra Kaplan, Clemens’ speech was inspirational and well-delivered. Unlike theirs, however, she spoke of her academic struggles and attendance difficulties prior to signing-up for classes at the GACTC.
“I needed to find my passion,” Clemens admitted. “Once I did, things changed completely.”
One of the greatest injustices in the educational panorama of Blair County is the enduring stigma associated with career and technical education. The GACTC has borne the brunt of criticism that it’s little more than a haven for “throwaway students” who simply clog the educational machine.
Those who know the truth recognize that it’s futile to spend time or energy disputing value with people who have already made up their minds. Instead, the emphasis has been on creating opportunities for students who have willingly exited the academic mainstream in favor of career paths that align with their interests and talents. And yes, their passions.
If you think that’s only good for the GACTC students, think again. It is well-documented that Blair County’s economic future is heavily tied to its ability to meet the workforce needs of current businesses as well as ones that may choose to settle here. The projections are, to be honest, dismal. By 2025, it’s estimated that more than 7,000 jobs in Blair County will need to be filled. Many of those jobs will require the education and skills that are the hallmark of the GACTC.
As the GACTC continues the work of preparing students for future employment, there is the disconcerting reality that those of us in the workforce development arena have a lot of rabbits to pull out of a very small hat. How we deal with the perception that our local school districts are doing an exceptional job preparing our young people to leave raises the ante considerably. The clock is ticking.
Our hope is that more districts will follow Hollidaysburg’s lead and recognize the incredible impact that our county has already experienced from those who have chosen to make the GACTC part of their educational experience.
It’s a lot more than just a good idea.
I know a lot of business people. If that was not the case, I’d have some explaining to do. Some of these business people I see at our Chamber programs and events and some I see at the grocery store. Next to the frustration of recognizing that not all businesses are willing to join their local chamber of commerce is the hard reality that nearly half of those who do join, seldom take advantage of the many benefits and opportunities that membership affords.
Rather than cultivate a miserable disposition, which I’m postponing until retirement, I’m back on the warpath to explain just exactly how business success is intrinsically tied to the networking, education and professional development that are the bread-and-butter of organizations like ours.
I have come to understand the impediments to greater participation. For small businesses in particular, there’s little time available to do anything beyond handling the normal duties that make it possible to keep the lights on. Larger businesses have so many groups and associations competing for their time (and their dollars), that it’s hard to accommodate everyone.
So on goes my salesman hat. Please do your best to treat everything I say as if it’s coming from someone with complete objectivity. Get ready to be dazzled as I describe all the incredible things that are taking place within the remainder of May that will take your business to a place where other businesses can only hope to go.
Want to hear about how higher education is helping to prepare young people for the future workforce? The Chamber’s Breakfast Club on May 10th features Dr. Jim Troha, President of Juniata College as keynote speaker. Troha’s presentation will provide insight into how you as an employer can access the best and the brightest before they begin to take their talents elsewhere.
Feel awkward at social events where networking opportunities exist? The Chamber’s WE-LEaD (Women Encouraging: Leadership, Education and Development) Committee is hosting an Etiquette Luncheon on May 15th. Later that same day, the Young Professionals of Blair County, another Chamber program, will help you learn what you need to know about LinkedIn. They’ll even take your photo. If your social media skills aren’t what they need to be, it may be wise to check this out.
The very next day, the Chamber’s Small Business Partners roll-out the second part of a two-part series on brand building. Colleen Devorris of BrandDemon will help you better understand the importance of your brand and what it’s saying to your clients and customers. If you like who you are and what you’re doing, show-up anyway. It won’t be long until your business will need a facelift.
Remember that future workforce presentation from earlier in the month? On May 22nd, you’ll have a chance to learn about the importance of impacting the workforce of the distant future which, by the way, will be knocking at your door before you know it. The Early Childhood Summit, put together by the Chamber’s BASICS Subcommittee on Early Childhood Education, will take place at the Blair County Convention Center. It will be an eye-opening event and you’ll be interested to hear why the business community is an essential component of the effort to get our young people off to a great start.
Tired yet? We’re just beginning. The day following the Early Childhood Summit is the Home Run for Safety, scheduled at Peoples Natural Gas Field. You know how important safety is in protecting your employees and your property. This event will show you hands-on examples of ways to make certain that you leave nothing to chance in how you preserve the things most important to you.
After a few days of recuperation, we take you to Homewood Retirement Community for a “Business Before Hours” event so that you can witness some of the significant things that local businesses are doing to promote their services and build a stronger economic base. They may also make you consume a stack of bananas foster French toast for attending. That’s the price you sometimes pay for utilizing your Chamber Membership.
Are you comfortable with your understanding of the new federal tax law that is now in effect? On May 31st, you’ll have an opportunity to hear from a local tax law expert as well as a representative from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at a seminar specifically for the business community. And you can end the day, as well as the month, with a Business After Hours at the Comfort Inn in Duncansville.
See what you’ve been missing? We’d love to help you find a way to make your investment in Chamber Membership as worthwhile as possible. Start slowly. We’ll help you catch-up.
On April 25th, exactly four months after Christmas Day, nearly 1,200 high school sophomores from our area will open four presents and hope that at least one of them isn’t a lump of coal.
The BASICS/Rotary Career Fair will invade the Blair County Convention Center on that day and representatives from eighty-six viable careers will be on-hand to help unravel the mysteries of gainful employment. From that number, each student was permitted to select four. There are few indications that those selections were based on advanced research, consideration of personal skills and abilities or the job market. Most student comments were of the “that looks like fun” variety. Who can blame them?
Whenever a parent or a teacher expresses concern that young people don’t understand the urgency of finding a consistent sense of direction on the career path, I tell them a story that leaves them shaking their head. It is about what happens when you’re waiting for your ship to come in and a bus shows-up instead. It is the story of my career path and it’s too ridiculous not to be true.
It began innocently enough. I had an interest in writing, I earned a degree in Journalism and my first job was with a newspaper. More specifically I was hired three days after my college graduation as Advertising Manager of The Catholic Register, the official publication of the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese.
Within a year I was promoted to managing editor when the staff was downsized from eight people to three. My responsibilities were merely to write all the stories, take all the photos, sell all the advertising and do all the layouts. It was the perfect job for a young, single person who loved the flexibility of being able to produce my own newspaper without the burden of a high salary. That is to say, it was almost the perfect job.
I was employed at the Catholic Register for nine years when a rather unusual incident took place. I was one feature story short as a publication deadline approached so I made arrangements to walk from my office to Garvey Manor Nursing Home, a hike of about thirty yards, to interview Garvey’s Finance Director, Dick Carnicella. Dick was marking a significant anniversary of being hired and agreed to pretend that my interest in featuring him wasn’t the result of time-induced desperation.
While seated in the lobby at Garvey Manor, waiting for Dick to return from lunch, I noticed that the facility’s administrator was beckoning me back to her office. Sister Serafino Besozzi, a Carmelite nun, was someone that I had heard about but had never met. Her reputation of being a sweet person with a heart-of-gold was something I was able to verify almost from our first meeting.
As I entered Sister Serafino’s office, she offered me a seat. She then got right to the point.
“What makes you think you can be my Personnel Director?” she wanted to know. After a few seconds of awkward silence, I said the first thing that came to my mind.
“Nothing. Nothing makes me think I can be your Personnel Director.”
She looked confused. “Aren’t you here to interview for the Personnel Director’s job?”
“No sister,” I responded, my good Catholic school upbringing rising to the occasion. “I’m here to interview Dick Carnicella for a feature story in the Catholic Register.”
We had a good laugh, yet the conversation wasn’t over. She explained that Garvey Manor had just undergone a union organizing effort and to appease the employees, the Personnel Director and the Director of Nursing had been let-go. Sister Serafino was looking for someone to calm the situation. She evidently had no intention of wasting any more time, even if it meant hiring the wrong person.
“What about you?” she asked me, flashing a nervous smile.
I laughed out loud. Surely she was kidding.
“Sister, I know nothing about personnel administration. Correction. I know less than nothing.” She was not deterred.
“Sister Catherine can teach you whatever you need to know.” Her resolve was unbelievable. I felt like I was talking to God.
“I will give it some thought,” was all I could say.
Since I have a space limitation with this column, I will wrap up by saying that my story interview with Dick Carnicella was my last as an employee of the Catholic Register. I started my employment at Garvey Manor, fittingly so, on April 1, 1986. It was that same day that Sister Catherine confided in me that she also knew nothing about personnel administration.
“I don’t know why Serafino thinks that,” she admitted. “I really don’t have a clue.”
I stayed at Garvey Manor eight years, flew-by-the-seat-of-my pants an incredible number of times on HR matters, was actually asked to speak at a national HR conference, and only left Garvey to accept a Nursing Home Administrator’s position with ALSM.
How did I get to the Chamber? A story for another time. In many ways it’s every bit as unbelievable. Worrying about choosing the wrong career path as a tenth grader? Stop worrying. Someday, if you’re lucky, you’ll find your nun.
A few weeks ago in the workout room at the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA, I noticed that the person next to me on the treadmill was wearing a t-shirt bearing the following message:
“Try being informed instead of just opinionated.”
I recognize good advice when I see it, even at 5:30 in the morning, despite the fact that my penchant for being opinionated far exceeds my desire to be informed. And I know quite a few people just like me. Perhaps I’ve been hanging with the wrong crowd.
One of the crowds I hang with as part of my job is the Chamber’s Public Policy Committee. That committee is the advocacy arm of the organization and has been effective in helping to support legislation at the federal and state levels, mostly initiated by the U.S. Chamber and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry. We appreciate that those two heavyweights provide guidance and resources. It allows us, as the t-shirt at the “Y” recommends, to expand our listening skills.
Advocacy would truly be a walk-in-the-park if it wasn’t for the governmental entities closest to home. I would exclude county government from that group since I’m convinced that their challenges are so overwhelming that it’s unfair to ask them to participate in anything that has a financial component to it.
The County Commissioners dutifully answer questions each January at our Breakfast Club and they try to put a positive spin on whatever they can. Creativity, unfortunately, only goes so far. In a perfect world – or at least somewhere other than Pennsylvania –county government would rule the roost. While states like Maryland, New Jersey and Connecticut are finding new and innovative ways to put county government at the forefront of economic development efforts, Pennsylvania continues to flounder under a system that hasn’t worked in a long, long time.
No, our Public Policy puzzle is, was, and likely will continue to be the twenty-four municipal governments that make up our county. Long before I came to the Chamber – and I’ve been here twenty-one years – a committee known as Government Affairs was attempting to get its arms around municipal issues. That group of well-meaning business leaders later gave way to the Legislative Action Committee. New name, same messy dilemmas.
The Public Policy Committee is looking to take its turn in the barrel. They’ve placed municipal cooperation at the top of the Priorities List and have scheduled a Legislative Summit in April with government affairs representatives from seven countywide chambers in the region.
It sounds like a workable plan. But there are skeptics. One of those is a municipal official who, at one point, was a member of the Legislative Action Committee. Blair Township Supervisor Ed Silvetti has observed the situation from several vantage points. As former director of Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission, Silvetti endured the consequences of a fragmented government and upon retirement, set out to change whatever he could.
He spoke to our Public Policy Committee in February along with Williamsburg Mayor Ted Hyle. If all municipal officials were like Silvetti and Hyle, a lot of significant things would already have been accomplished. Silvetti, in particular, didn’t mince words when asked how the committee should go about creating an atmosphere for cooperation.
“I don’t want to paint a negative picture,” he admitted, “but too many efforts aimed at cooperation are nothing more than committees like this one chasing its tail.”
Can it really be that bad? With elections coming up, the political terrain will change dramatically, at least in Washington and Harrisburg. At the borough and township levels, much is expected to remain the same. The Public Policy Committee, on behalf of the business community, will be looking for ways to get closer to the action.
Business provides the dollars that keep municipalities viable. It’s time that message resonated to those who need to be reminded of it. And that’s more than just an opinion.