The Christmas season brings out the spirit of giving in people, so now is an appropriate time to think about how you can give back to your community.

Volunteering is the perfect solution for many people. Giving of time is easier on the pocketbook. So while most of us are extra busy during the holiday season, we might stop to think about those who are less fortunate and give a few hours to help with a food kitchen, ring a bell or work in the toy room for the Salvation Army, help with Special Olympics or a Red Cross blood drive.

Many volunteer opportunities such as these are listed on the Lift Johnstown Volunteer Registry. The site is easy to use – just go to and click on the “Want to Volunteer” box on the top right side of the page. The website lists a variety of opportunities for your consideration.

• A group from the John B. Gunter Community Leadership Initiative has adopted the Lift Johnstown volunteer site as its project for the year.

The Gunter program, organized by the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce, is designed to develop leaders for the area by honing leadership skills and promoting community volunteerism.

The project group will help to identify and engage local volunteers. The group will set up informational booths at community events and use social media and personal visits to businesses and organizations to achieve their goal of increasing volunteerism.

• Julie Butcher Pezzino, executive director of Grow Pittsburgh, and Judy Wagner, senior director of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, spent a day with city, county, community and environmental leaders in Johnstown to provide direction in establishing urban-food production and vacant-lot initiatives.

The plan is to develop urban gardens and simple plantings to beautify vacant lots in the city.

A community garden and greenhouse facility are being developed at Sandyvale Memorial Gardens and Conservancy, which also will house a farmer’s market. A business plan is being developed for a co-op corner store in Prospect that would sell fresh, local produce.

• The Stonycreek River is competing against five other rivers to become Pennsylvania River of the Year for 2011. Please vote for the Stonycreek at

If the Stonycreek wins, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will receive $10,000 for river improvements.

Through projects of the Stonycreek-Conemaugh River Improvement Project (SCRIP), the Stonycreek has evolved from its legacy of acid-mine drainage to one that supports 22 species of fish. Clean water is a win for everyone, and being named River of the Year will provide a huge boost as releases from the Quemahoning Reservoir begin in 2011 to enable whitewater boating on the river well into the summer.

You can become involved in our community while sitting at your computer: Voting just takes a few seconds and can make a big difference.

• Several concepts for reusing the three vacant churches in Cambria City were generated in a charrette, or visioning session, held Nov. 19-21.

Johnstown Area Heritage Association and Save Our Steeples raised funds to bring in Sacred Places, a non-profit planning organization from Philadelphia, which was joined by volunteer architects to listen to ideas from the community and produce sketches of how those concepts would look in Immaculate Conception, SS. Casimir & Emerick’s and St. Columba’s Catholic churches.

The concepts included restaurants; performing arts space; ethnic foods production/ education; a columbarium – a place to store a loved one’s ashes; indoor gardens possibly with a high-end restaurant; and climbing walls.

• Kids love to play video games – will kids be excited by the opportunity to create their own games? The Community Foundation for the Alleghenies says absolutely “yes” in an application for $2.9 million to the National Science Foundation grant for informal science education in Cambria, Somerset and Bedford counties.

Partnered with Carnegie Mellon University, St. Francis University and Concurrent Technologies Corp., the proposal would help community centers, libraries and other community-based facilities to host teams of high school students to develop their own games with help from mentors from CMU and local universities. In the process, the students would absorb knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math, which will help them build the confidence to pursue careers in technology.

As we close out 2010 and look to the new year with its new opportunities and new beginnings, each one of us can make a difference. We can each give something back. Such giving helps us feel the Christmas spirit all year round, even when it is 90 degrees in August. Give some time – feel good.


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