Kutztown Strong

Pictured at the announcement of the Stronger Together initiative are, from left, state Sen. Judy Schwank; Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams; Tim Mulligan, executive director, Communities in Schools; Kathy Metrick, founder of Kutztown Strong; Migdalia Garcia, program manager, Communities in Schools; Sheryl McKlveen, community coordinator of Kutztown Strong; Christian Temchatin, superintendent of Kutztown School District; Greg Miller, superintendent of Fleetwood School District; Andrew Potteiger, superintendent of Brandywine Heights School District; Merry Schlegel, president of Kutztown Strong; and Nate Herrlin, secretary of Kutztown Strong.

Grants from three organizations will fund an initiative led by Kutztown Strong to support families and children's emotional and mental health needs in the Kutztown, Brandywine and Fleetwood school districts.

The funds will enable the hiring of two master's degree level social workers who will be shared among the school districts, said Sheryl McKlveen, coordinator of Kutztown Strong, a nonprofit that was started in 2014 to address substance abuse in the community.

The project, Stronger Together, was announced at a press conference at Kutztown Middle School on Wednesday.

State Sen. Judy Schwank announced a $45,000 grant from the state Department of Education through a job training program that aims to make sure students graduate school and go to college or enter the workforce.

Schwank said the goals of Stronger Together are to reduce youth depression, reduce youth low commitment to school, help students meet or exceed behavior goals and academic goals, and help parents access behavioral and mental health services and manage their household budgets.

The project will also help schools identify behaviors that can lead to drug misuse.

"They’ll do that with the help of two master social worker professionals, and a member of the Kutztown Strong staff," Schwank said.

McKlveen said the social workers will be hired through Communities In Schools of the Lehigh Valley. The organization won a $64,000 grant from AbbVie, a biopharmaceutical company, to expand its work to rural and suburban communities through Stronger Together. Community in Schools already works with the Reading School District.

“Thanks to Senator Schwank and DA Adams, Communities In Schools has an incredible opportunity to work with Kutztown Strong and Kutztown Area, Fleetwood Area and Brandywine Heights Area School Districts to surround students and families with a community of support and empower them to have bright futures in school and in life,” said Communities in Schools President and CEO Timothy Mulligan. “We are excited to grow our CIS presence in this wonderful Berks County community.”

Kutztown Strong Board Member Nate Herrlin, who also serves as an Oasis Youth Center leader, praised the project, particularly the involvement of Communities in Schools.

“Six years ago, when Kutztown Strong was born, several churches came together to begin Oasis Youth Center, which has served Kutztown’s students in tandem with Kutztown Strong ever since,” said Herrlin. “As I’ve gotten to know individual students through Oasis, it has become clear that there are as many unique needs for support as there are students in our district; whether the need is a listening ear, guidance or food. It’s exciting to see another layer of support is being added through Communities in Schools.”

The project will be able to help more than 5,000 students and more than 3,000 families, Schwank said.

"The dollars spent here are worth so much more than emergency room visits, law enforcement costs, and the emotional devastation of families whose children misuse substances," Schwank said.

Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams committed $20,000 of drug forfeiture funds to the effort. 

Adams and others noted that suburban and rural communities face the same challenges as many of urban neighborhoods.

“Many of us associate problems with crime and drug misuse with cities and urban schools, but those of us who work in the field know that our suburban and rural communities face the same challenges,” said Adams. “I’m pleased to support today this model that really gets to the heart of what we need to be doing — getting kids and their loved ones the behavioral health services and supports they need to surmount potential roadblocks to their pathways to success in school and in life.

 "I think the old adage applies very well here: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Superintendents of the school districts also spoke in support of the initiative.

“Our role in public education is to create a community of learners that have access to and the tools necessary to succeed in their educational pursuits and fulfill the promise of dreams,” said Kutztown School District Superintendent Christian Temchatin. “Our Board of Directors, teachers, and staff are committed to creating opportunities and eliminating barriers. With the support of amazing community partners, like Kutztown Strong, Senator Schwank and District Attorney Adams, we will now be able to support students and families with greater depth than ever before.”

Dr. Greg Miller, Fleetwood School District superintendent, said the initiative is an opportunity for partnership.

“These funds, this program, will help us to meet the needs of our students,” Miller said. “There’s also an added piece here, in a state where we have 500 school districts, we see an opportunity for partnership. In this mode we’ll be able to share resources to better meet the needs of students. And I think that’s critical not just in this endeavor, but we can learn from each other in many other aspects and continue to grow to meet the combined needs of our communities.”

Brandywine Heights School District Superintendent Andrew Potteiger agreed.

“I strongly believe in the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. Thanks to the community, legislative and law enforcement partnerships, we have an incredible opportunity to make positive, purposeful impacts for the children in our community,” said Potteiger. “These grant dollars, and this initiative, targets and puts in place supports for the children in our community that are most vulnerable to varying life influences.”

 Kutztown Strong President Merry Schlegel said the support was appreciated.

“There are so many people to thank for sharing in this dream about bringing social workers into school," said Schlegel. “Together we’ve built a bridge for our schools and families to have access to behavioral health services and supports. This is just the beginning; we truly are so much Stronger Together.”

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