Communities That Care presents awards during annual meeting
Whitehall-Coplay Communities That Care held its annual meeting Jan. 17 at Fellowship Community, Whitehall. This event was filled with awards, a description on what the group has been up to this past year and a presentation from a featured speaker from the Center for Children’s Justice.
The CTC presented three Community Champion awards. These individuals, or groups, played a significant role in the CTC and its programming over the past year.
The first was awarded to state Rep. Jeanne McNeill, D-133rd. McNeill donated money to the CTC to fund the Botvin Life Skills training program at Whitehall-Coplay Middle School. This program educates students about drug and alcohol prevention while simultaneously helping students develop greater self-esteem and effectively cope with anxiety. The program is now in its third year in the district. WCMS health teacher Richard Gierula presented the award to McNeill.
The second award was presented to Whitehall Area Rotary Club. Mayor Michael Harakal Jr. presented this award to the club’s president, John Orsini. Other members of the club were present and were recognized as well.
Harakal talked about the work the club has done in the township since its inception in 2017. Some of the accomplishments included sponsoring the Jingle Bell Run, volunteering with the Snack Pack Pals program in the schools and arranging mock interviews, assisting with the career fair and implementing the Four-Way Speech Contest for high school students. Harakal emphasized the group’s motto, “Service above self,” is especially fitting for this particular group of people.
“Whitehall Area Rotary Club is a partner in making our community a great place for children to grow and learn,” Harakal said.
The final Community Champion award was presented to Laura Long. Shari Noctor, from Whitehall-Coplay Hunger Initiative, presented Long with the award. Noctor described the work Long has done with Whitehall Area Chamber of Commerce, Whitehall Area Rotary Club and at Fellowship Community. She mentioned no matter what the job, Long has worked to promote and better Whitehall.
“Anyone can effect change if they’re willing to help,” said Noctor, quoting from Long.
Denise Continenza, CTC coordinator, described some of the awards Whitehall-Coplay CTC has received. Most notably, the group was honored as a Coalition of Excellence from the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance. The group was also honored for its community partnership from the Penn State Cooperative Extension’s director’s office. These were just some of the awards received by the CTC.
Continenza went on to describe all the work the group has put in over the past several months to analyze the Pennsylvania Youth Survey data. The PAYS is a survey of students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades to learn about behavior, attitudes and knowledge concerning alcohol, tobacco, other drugs and violence. The survey is taken every other year, and the survey taken in 2017 marked the fourth time Whitehall-Coplay School District has been involved.
The CTC formed subcommittees to analyze the report and measure changes and trends over the years. These trends helped the group to identify future priorities and focus areas. The priorities identified for 2018-20 are to decrease the perceived low risk of drug use among youths, to increase parental awareness of their role in keeping youths safe, to increase opportunities for students to be recognized in the community, to decrease food insecurity among students and to increase commitment to school.
Following Continenza’s report, the group was treated to a presentation from Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children’s Justice. She talked about child abuse and the effect the opioid epidemic is having on children. She detailed how the effects of parental drug use can trickle down and affect the children. Palm presented data about child abuse and neglect reports and how important groups like the CTC are. She reported the welfare system is overworked and needs community groups to aid in caring about the children and working toward identifying problems and solutions.
Palm mentioned many people feel despair and a loss of purpose, and that leads to drug abuse or even self harm. Groups like the CTC are focused on connecting with youths and addressing some of these problems at a young age before they become larger problems.
“A sense of belonging can make a difference,” Continenza added.
Honored guests who attended the meeting included Phillips Armstrong, executive of Lehigh County; Edward D. Hozza Jr., director of administration for Lehigh County and former Whitehall mayor; state Rep. Zach Mako, R-183rd; Ellen Kern, chief of staff for state Sen. Pat Browne, R-16th; McNeill; and Harakal.
“We’re making a big, big difference in the lives of these children,” Continenza said. “We have a great community, so be proud of yourselves.”