In Carbon County, millions of dollars are spent annually on preventive programs that help children, families and the elderly.

Because of the state deficit, area agencies may be forced to cut these programs.

On Friday, county officials from numerous agencies gathered at the Lehighton Recreation Center to welcome area legislators to the second annual Legislative Brunch. The goal of the program, which was sponsored by the Interagency Council of Carbon County and Child and Family Collaborative Board, was to show policymakers what is being done in the county and how these programs affect the quality of life for children and families from birth to senior citizens; as well as show the importance of the state and federal funding for these preventive programs.

Carbon County Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, a member of the steering committee for the brunch, welcomed everyone to the event.

He introduced the state legislators that were in attendance and thanked the sponsors who made the brunch possible.

"Today is a day to tell you about our programs, our successes and challenges and to promote quality programs in our communities," Nothstein said.

He then introduced Jeanne Miller, director of Carbon and Schuylkill County Educational Services at Lehigh Carbon Community College. Nothstein and Miller are co-chairpersons of the Child and Family Collaborative Board and active in many of the organizations involved in the brunch.

Miller began her presentation by illustrating Carbon County's preventive programs model. It showed the programs that are available to children and their families from birth up until college. Through the various programs, such as Right From The Start and SHINE, students are learning and becoming stronger individuals both on the educational level and in the business world.

She spoke about the creation of the Child and Family Collaborative, which focuses on helping children and their families from birth to school-age, and pointed out statistics that have been gathered since the programs began until the present.

Miller also explained that for every 25 children that the SHINE after-school program prevents from going into the juvenile system, there is a savings of $1,125,000. For every $1 invested in quality early education, $7 in special education, public assistance, corrections, and lost taxes are saved.

"If only one child is kept from leading a life of crime," she said, "there is a savings of $2 million."

Miller then talked about the impact that funding cuts would have on these programs. Basically all programs would have to be cut.

"We understand there needs to be shared sacrifice," she said. "We understand that we are going to lose some of that funding, but we can't lose the fight."

Miller ended her presentation with a poem and slideshow titled "Army of Love." The slideshow pictured teachers and legislators who have become supporters of these after-school programs.

"We can't sit on the sidelines," she said to the legislators and agencies in attendance. "We've got be actively engaged if we're going to continue our Army of Love, fighting the fight for the children and families in Carbon County."

Following Miller, Megan Croizier, caseworker supervisor of Carbon County Children and Youth; Sheila Theodorou, administrator/ CEO of Carbon-Monroe-Pike County MH/MR; Jamie Drake, treatment program manager for Carbon-Monroe-Pike County Drug and Alcohol Commission; Pat Sasserath, executive director for the Carbon County Assistance Office; and Cheri Santore, director of the Carbon County Area Agency on Aging and chairperson of the Interagency Council of Carbon County; then addressed the group.

Each woman spoke about their agency, and how these programs help the county.

Croizier overviewed the programs the agency offers to help lower the number of children being placed in foster care.

Theodorou talked about the programs that are available to county residents who are in need of help because of mental health issues.

Drake explained that the people the drug and alcohol commission serves are people with addictions, such as alcohol or opiates.

She talked about the numerous services that are available to a person, and highlighted what the agency is doing to combat the new drug of choice in Carbon County, opiates.

"A bag of heroin is cheaper than a bag of marijuana," Drake said, noting that 60 percent of the clients enrolled in treatment programs in Carbon are addicted to some type of opiate drug.

She urged everyone to get involved to help keep programs like these available for residents.

Sasserath, who deals with people who need health and financial assistance, then stated that there is an increase in medical and food assistance in Carbon County and in the state and without financial assistance, these people would have nothing.

"The need for assistance continues to grow in Carbon," Sasserath said as she closed her presentation.

Santore then closed out the event by talking about the need for elderly care services such as senior centers, home-delivery meal programs, family assistance programs and more.

She noted that Area Agency on Aging serves hundreds of seniors and needs the funding to be able to continue to help the elderly survive.

Santore wrapped up the event, stating that the programs illustrated during the presentation are only a few of the programs the county currently offers the children, families, residents, and elderly.

She thanked area legislators who attended the event and helped secure funding for these programs in the past.

Following the presentations, Nothstein and Santore announced the winner of the first annual Interagency Council Grant. The $500 grant recipient must represent the council's mission statement and serve the residents of Carbon County.

This year's recipient was Family Promise, a non-profit organization that helps homeless families by providing them with temporary housing accommodations through various churches.

The program closed with Nothstein announcing that the third annual Legislative Brunch will take place on April 27, 2012.

Following the event, legislators mingled with area agency representatives and spoke about challenges that everyone is facing.

Brian Duke, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, said he was honored to be invited to the event and felt that the program was "unique" because it allowed the agencies to tell the legislators about the programs and also about what they need.

Marta Gabriel, regional manager for U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey, also said she was impressed by the program.

"I'm new to this role so this was helpful," she said. "It gave me a better understanding of the needs the county faces. It was a great forum for information."

Other legislators who were represented by their staff at the brunch included Congressman Lou Barletta, U.S. Sen. Robert Casey and state Sen. John Yudichak. State Rep. Doyle Heffley, and Carbon County Commissioners William O'Gurek, Charles Getz and Wayne Nothstein were present at the brunch.