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Pa. group to decide spending priorities

March 31, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - As it has in the past, money has become available to help improve the lot of residents in Chambersburg's poorer neighborhoods. But unlike the other times, priorities for spending the $170,000 will be set by those who will benefit from it.

The money, from the state Department of Health and the Children's Trust Fund, will go to a Communities That Care program. The program is run by a citizens committee through which dozens of residents and community leaders have spent two years to get the effort up and running.

The projects "won't be planned by people in ivory towers then forced on the neighborhoods," said Grace Burrows, coordinator of the program for the Franklin County Human Services Administration.

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"The community plans how it will spend the money. It will teach residents how to manage their own community. They've decided on which risk factors they want to concentrate on, the areas they feel they can do something about," she said.

Shawn Blackburn, one of the original members of the committee, is anxious for the program to procede. "It's nice that the money is finally here," said Blackburn, 35, of North Sixth Street.

The program is based on 30 years of research into the factors that put young people at risk and the protective factors that buffer them, Burrows said. It's designed to bring the whole community together in a web of support much like an extended family, she said.

A national effort, the program is being established in cities and counties across Pennsylvania to help poor communities deal with problems such as violence, substance abuse, delinquency, teen pregnancy and school drop-outs.

The Chambersburg program, which is scheduled to be running by May 1, targets more than 5,000 residents in the downtown areas that send students to the King Street and Thaddeus Stevens elementary schools, Burrows said. More than 67 percent of the students at Stevens and 84 percent at King Street Elementary are below the poverty level.

Two public housing projects and most of the borough's low-rent housing stock are in the area, she said. Most residents are black or Hispanic.

Former Gov. Robert Casey brought the program to the state. It's been adopted as a special project by Michelle Ridge, wife of Gov. Tom Ridge, Burrows said.

The Franklin County Commissioners and the county's judges backed it early on and appointed Burrows to set it up.

As many as 75 residents became involved in the early planning. Some of them are on a search committee reviewing more than 40 applications for the five staff positions that will run the program.

There will be a manager, outreach worker, volunteer coordinator and two-part-time secretaries. Office space will be provided by the Chambersburg Community Improvement Association and Building Our Pride in Chambersburg, Burrows said.

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