Denise Higgins was looking for the right after-school program for her children. As a Pennsylvania College of Technology student majoring in early childhood education, she knew exactly what she wanted and what her children needed. She simply wanted them to be happy and safe, plus she wanted them to be engaged in their community and be exposed to creative ways of learning new things.
She found just that at The Center.
Higgins submitted an application for her 10-year old son, Stanley, and met with Natalia Pilato, arts and education director at The Center.
The Higgins family, clockwise from top left, Tahzier, 12; Denise; Nzinga, 6; and Stanley, 10.
"I had heard about exciting new programs at The Center and was anxious to learn more first-hand," Higgins said. "I came to pick Stanley up a little early every day to observe and lend a hand. The more I got to know the staff, volunteers, and children at The Center, the more impressed I was."
The after school programs include creative learning classes for grades one to 12, homework help, music lessons, computer lab, digital photography instruction, visual arts, performing arts, drawing, painting, printmaking and creative writing.
"Last year, Stanley participated in the garden project. From April on, he was busy in the garden preparing beds, planting seeds, weeding and watering. Throughout the summer, when the garden started producing an abundance of vegetables, we helped to harvest the produce and prepare fresh, healthy meals at The Center," Higgins explained. "In addition to the gardening itself, Stanley learned about cooking, nutrition, and the importance of well-balanced meals."
The staff at The Center say Stanley is very creative and a promising art student. too.
"When artist and art educator Jackie Thomas came to The Center to do a weaving project with the children, Stanley jumped right in," Pilato said. "The piece he created was selected to be displayed at a First Friday event."
The Center typically serves more than 3,700 people a year. In addition to the programs for children, it offers youth and adult recreation activities, from aerobics to volleyball.
"Our mission is to empower individuals to build better communities. We seek to make real and lasting changes in the community by impacting the lives of those people we serve," said Melodie Russell, The Center's executive director.
"We provide programs and activities aimed at empowering youth, parents, adults, community organizations and institutions to regain control of their lives, homes and neighborhoods, and to work collectively to strengthen our diverse community."
"The Center nurtures positive feelings in community members about themselves intellectually, physically, emotionally and socially; and it offers programs that contribute to self-esteem enhancement and a high level of dignity - qualities that are essential in order to become healthy and effective in meeting the challenges of life," Pilato explained.
The Center is proactive in collaborating with other community partners including the Uptown Music Collective, CAPPA, YMCA, YWCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and many others.
"We want to be progressive in our thinking," Russell said. "We want to constantly be moving forward and improving our programs, and plan to continue to increase our outreach efforts and self-supporting operations. We greatly appreciate the funding that United Way provides and, one day soon, hope to be self-supported and sustained. We are grateful to United Way for helping us move toward this actualization."
"The programs at The Center are a great example of United Way funds doing the most good in our community," said Rosann Pelleschi, director of funds distribution and community building at United Way.
"By providing children with a positive environment that teaches them how to build healthy relationships and make smart choices, they are impacting future generations more than we know. Including adults in the process makes it even more efficient and effective."
For more information on Lycoming County United Way, or to support the campaign that funds programs like these, visit www.lcuw.org or call 323-9448.