United Way kick off

Solomon Pack 1201 members (left to right) Matthew Rybolt, Hunter Maines and Dominick Maines salute the American flag during the Pledge of Allegiance lead by Boy Scout Zahie Harris at Thursday's United Way of the Laurel Highlands kickoff.

About 40,000 people will likely have their lives directly impacted in some positive ways next year thanks to money the United Way of the Laurel Highlands (UWLH) anticipates raising during its 2014 donation drive.

UWLH hopes to collect $1.1 million from individuals and organizations throughout Cambria and Somerset counties. Funds will then be distributed to United Way’s partner agencies.

“We have a great team of partner agencies focused around a lot of wonderful missions that we hold accountable for their work,” Bill McKinney, president and CEO of the United Way of the Laurel Highlands, said on Thursday during a campaign kickoff reception at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown’s Living-Learning Center.

The local chapter raised slightly more than $1 million during its 2013 campaign.

It then helped 38,122 individuals through its partner agencies, which provide numerous services, such as drug prevention programs, shelter for abused women and food for the hungry.

“We have a lot of momentum from last year,” McKinney said.

Money will be distributed to organizations that address priority areas listed in the UWLH’s community needs assessment: helping children and youth succeed, strengthening and supporting families, promoting self-sufficiency, supporting vulnerable and aging populations, and promoting health and wellness.

“What I like about the United Way’s needs assessment that they did three years ago to where they are today is what I think is laser focused on the root causes of the symptoms that we see: drug abuse, crime, low income,” campaign chairman Gerald Zahorchak, superintendent of the Greater Johnstown School District, said.

“They’re getting right at the root by saying we’re going to treat early childhood people, infants and toddlers and their families to ensure engagement.”

An emphasis will be placed on helping at-risk children among other individuals.

“It seems like a long-term investment, but you have to go into it that way,” Michelle Figlar, executive director of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, said.

“If you want the worker of tomorrow, you’ve got to invest in the child now, the child that’s being born today. We have to start now because many of the families that you live with, work with need help and are struggling. Poverty takes hope and dreams away. That’s what it does. It takes your ability to dream away.”

G. Henry Cook, Somerset Trust Co. CEO and president, is serving as the vice-chairman.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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