Youth Connection, It’s our community’s future.
An Initiative of the Healthy Blair County Coalition

By Coleen Heim, Director of the Healthy Blair County Coalition and Patty Sauka, District Attendance Director at Altoona Area School District

Healthy Blair County Coalition’s Youth Connection Task Force took on the challenge to design a program to reach and engage our community’s youth to share the message they are wanted, they are needed, they are our future. Listen to Coleen Heim, Director of the HBCC, and Patty Sauka, District Attendance Director at Altoona Area School District, talk about the urgency our community is facing concerning youth issues and how to reach adults to share the message we need our youth to grow, to succeed, encourage them to get involved and how to get involved.

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Being a mentor means many things, but most importantly it’s being there to help get the person being mentored on to the right path and guiding them along the way. Mentors, as well as those being mentored, learn and grow from the experience that last a lifetime. Having a mentor can make a big difference. Listen about the journey this mentor and mentored took with many curves and challenges along the way.

School Attendance

Patty Sauka, Attendance Director for the Altoona Area School District and Dr. Kathleen Sweeney, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at the Altoona Family Physicians discuss the relationship between student engagement and school attendance and how that affects their practice. Non-attendance can be a consequence of a variety of causes, both visible and underlying. Listen while they discuss the difference between school absenteeism, truancy, and refusal. Then learn about the importance of building bridges from doctor to parent, to parent to school developing communication for the success of our children.

Mentoring Through the Graduate Initiative Program

Matt Kimberlan, a Counselor at the Tyrone Area School District Middle School and coordinator for the Tyrone Graduation Initiative Program and Taylor, one of his recent graduates, discuss how this program and the major difference it has made in her life. Listen to her story and the amazing changes she has made in her life. Her story is similar to a lot of kids that have gone done the wrong road including substance abuse, attempted suicide, and missing 79 school days in one year. This all changed thanks to Matt and the Graduation Initiative Program. Taylor is an inspiration for all youth.

Youth Connection Task Force

Blair County was one of twelve counties across the country to be chosen by the National Association of Counties (NACo) in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Programs to receive community coaching on efforts to reduce childhood poverty.

Across the country, 11.9% of youth are disconnected (not in school or working). In Blair County, 14.4% of our youth are disconnected which is higher than Pennsylvania at 12.3%. If you are involved with youth or are interested on the impact of youth disconnectedness in Blair County, we really need your participation.

In 2017, a Call to Action Summit was held with the goal of bringing together stakeholders to identify the issues and then develop implementation plans to engage youth across Blair County. The five areas of focus were: school attendance, workforce development, school & community interventions, mentoring, and pro-social activities & community engagement.
We have been able to further our Rural Impact County Challenge through awareness of the importance of youth connections. This includes forming new partnerships among organizations that see the value in working together. This brought systems together to address youth disconnectedness.

Our School Attendance Task Force has been meeting monthly with the following goals and objectives:

  • Maintain an effective and collaborative School Attendance Task Force.
  • Understand and address the challenges associated with the new Pennsylvania truancy law.
  • Develop a comprehensive marketing plan to support and encourage school attendance.
  • Create a podcast with staff and a youth from Tyrone Area School District’s Graduation Initiative.
  • Encourage School Districts to Implement the “Connect Like Crazy” Program (Graduation Initiative).
  • Communicate with the medical community on health and school attendance, including the need to decrease unnecessary medical excuses which impact attendance/truancy.
  • Enhance communications between School District and Blair County Children, Youth, and Families by reviewing policies and procedures related to confidentiality, school-based caseworkers, and school improvement plans.
  • Blair County will be a pilot site to replicate the Be There School Attendance Challenge and be There Buddy mentoring Program (created by the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania located in Pittsburgh). This is a data-driven initiative with training, toolkits, marketing materials, and resources.
  • Develop a mechanism for youth and families to participate and/or provide guidance on the issues, barriers, and needs affecting Blair County youth.

Our Workforce Development Committee has been meeting regularly.  After reviewing data and discussions with workforce development professionals, it appears that agencies are having difficulty engaging youth and young adults in accessing services that are readily available. The following are goals and objectives:

  • Conduct a needs assessment (who’s doing what, who do we need to partner with, etc.).
  • Create materials outlining services/resources and then facilitate connections with school districts to share with potential dropouts/dropouts.
  • Develop a podcast on the importance of engaging youth/young adults and the services/ resources available to them for employment and career opportunities.
  • Foster connections between local businesses, school districts, and agencies that provide funding for workforce development for at-risk youth/young adults.

Our Connecting with Youth through Mentoring Work Group has conducted three Community Chats events to discuss the importance of mentoring and recruit additional mentors through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program. There were 34 individuals, including youth and families that attended.

Our Youth Connection Team (Prosocial Activities and Community Engagement) meets monthly and has sponsored two Youth and Family Advisory Dinners (Community Voices).  This work group has developed the following:

Mission: Create pathways of opportunity for youth and families through training, resources, and community networking.

Vision: Encourage youth and families to actively participate in creating a positive change in their community. Aid leaders in our neighborhoods to reach families and youth who are disconnected. Empower disengaged youth and young adults by providing opportunities to pursue their passions, gifts, talents, and abilities.

Strategy: Develop a Community Team Toolkit and host training and brainstorming sessions.

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