Agencies make pitch to officials, candidates
AMY ZUBEK/TIMES NEWS Carbon County Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, center, welcomes area legislators and county agencies to a legislative brunch on Friday. The group spoke about various county programs that help children to the elderly and the effects budget cuts have on these programs. Speakers are, seated from left, Sheila Theodorou, administrator/CEO of Carbon-Monroe-Pike County MH/MR; Jamie Drake, treatment program manager Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission; Pat Sasserath, executive director, Carbon County Assistance Office; Jeanne Miller, director of Carbon and Schuylkill County Educational Services at Lehigh Carbon Community College; and Cheri Santore, director of the Carbon County Area Agency on Aging. Not seen is guest speaker Megan Croizier, caseworker supervisor, Children and Youth Services.
In Carbon County, millions of dollars are spent annually on preventive programs that help children, families and the elderly.
Because of the state deficit, these programs have seen funding cuts over the last few years.
On Friday, county officials from numerous agencies gathered at the Lehighton Recreation Center to welcome area legislators and candidates to a legislative brunch. The goal of the program, which was sponsored by the Interagency Council of Carbon County and Partners for Progress and Child and Family Collaborative Board, was to show present and future policy makers 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 how these programs save the county money over time.
Carbon County Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, a member of the steering committee for the brunch, welcomed everyone to the event.
"Today is a day to tell you about our programs, our successes and stumbling blocks and what we are doing to cut down on costs," he 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 with a short DVD showing how preventive programs can help change a child's life.
She then talked about the creation of the Child and Family Collaborative, which focuses on helping children and their families from birth to school-age.
Miller explained that through joint efforts between the collaborative, since 2001 the group has brought in over $3 million in preventive programs, such as the SHINE after-school program, Right From The Start, and Middle School Career Club.
She provided legislators with a packet of statistics that showed the quality in children's program's have helped increase parental involvement and the students' social abilities, provide child care services, and decrease the costs for placements.
"It's a savings to the taxpayers overall," Miller said. "For every $1 invested in quality early education, it saves $7 in special education, public assistance, corrections, and lost taxes.
"If we keep 25 kids out of the juvenile system, it saves $1,125,000."
She then urged the legislators to be the agency's champions and help support these programs for years to come.
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 said that currently, Children and Youth is operating on a $4.2 million budget and serves over 125 families and 261 children.
She then overviewed the programs the agency offers to help lower the number of children being placed in foster care.
Since September 2006, Croizier explained, the number of placements are down 25 percent.
Theodorou stated that the tri-county's MH/MR program serves over 4,800 individuals annually.
Limited funding tends to be a challenge, but that helps drive the group to find ways to cut costs without cutting quality programs.
Drake explained that the people the drug and alcohol commission serves are people with addictions, such as alcohol or opiates.
She then talked about the numerous services that are available to a person, including out-patient and in-patient services.
A surprising fact that Drake noted showed that 45 percent of the clients served in recent years were uninsured; while 51 percent were unemployed.
Sasserath, who deals with people who need health and financial assistance, stated that the rising trends in uninsured and unemployed individuals corresponds with the county unemployment rate, which currently hovers at 11 percent.
"We're the seventh highest in the state for unemployment," she said, noting that it's not that people don't want to work. "We are a county of working people that needs help."
Services the assistance office provides includes medical assistance, food assistance, and more.
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 currently operates on a $2 million budget. Of that amount, nearly $1.5 million is state funded.
Santore then 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 event, state representative candidates Justin Yaich and Doyle Heffley; as well as state senate candidates John R. Yudichak and Stephen A. Urban, weighed in on the matter. All agreed that the program was very educational and well developed.
"I thought it was very informative," Yaich said. "It was interesting seeing how the groups work together. They offer extremely valuable services. It's incredibly sad to think that funding for these programs could be cut."
"I thought it was a great program," Heffley said. "The more we can learn now before our campaign, the better we can hit the ground running when we're in office. It's great to have such a passionate group of people in Carbon County."
Yudichak said, "It's a great collaborative and the program was very informative. I found out a great deal about Carbon County and it's evident that these organizations are doing great work and have good working relationships."
Urban said, "It was a wonderful program and very educational."