Lee Initiatives awards $600,000 in grants

·3 min read

May 27—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — First responders and advocates for families across Cambria and Somerset counties have funding for projects thanks to Lee Initiatives Health and Wellness Endowment.

More than 40 organizations received a total of $600,000 in grants Thursday from Lee Initiatives.

Checks were presented in a room filled by dozens of people representing the recipient agencies.

"Without these funds, these projects would not become reality," Lee Initiatives Inc. CEO Jodi Clark said. "We at Lee Initiatives are grateful for the people who tirelessly work to improve the community."

With a grant of $40,000, the Cambria County Backpack Project plans to stabilize its weekend food program for 550 children in kindergarten through 12th grade, project director Kristen Villarrial said.

The grant will fund a permanent coordinator position that will be crucial as the program grows, she said.

"We have two new school districts joining us next fall and we are talking with a third new district," Villarrial said. "We've increased the nutritional value of the items we include in the backpacks that we send home with children, and we make sure it is enough for a whole weekend. It's often the case that the children need it for a whole weekend."

The Cambria County Drug Coalition was awarded a grant of $20,000, which was accepted Thursday by its executive director, Natalie Kauffman.

"It is encouraging and inspiring to have the philanthropic agencies in the city support our vision of drug-free communities," Kauffman said.

"This grant is, in part, a match we need to receive our federal grant, all of which will support daily operations for youth drug prevention, hope of recovery and reducing stigma."

Sandyvale Memorial Gardens and Conservancy in Johnstown was awarded $2,500 toward the development of a healing garden with wind chimes, sensory plants and a meditation area, all accessible to people with disabilities.

"We wanted to build a healing garden mainly because of the problem of addiction, which impacts entire families," said Diana Kabo, Sandyvale president. "The community needs a space where they can come and sit and contemplate."

She said the garden is planned to be the size of half of a football field, and the plants chosen for it will have qualities that apply to more than one of the five senses so that people of any degree of disability can enjoy it through touching the plants and smelling them as well as seeing them.

"We had a nurse and a paraplegic man visit Sandyvale, and they guided us about what we need in it," Kabo said. "And just the fact that people who have conditions that challenge them physically and mentally, we want to give them a place to contemplate and heal."

Founded in 2005, the Lee Initiatives Health and Wellness Endowment was established as the legacy of Lee Hospital to improve the health and well- being of the residents of the area served by the former Lee Hospital in western Pennsylvania.

Since its inception, the endowment has awarded nearly $7.5 million in grants to local organizations.