Leadership Westmoreland expands participants' knowledge of county

Offering insight The Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce is seeking applicants for the 2017-18 cohort of its nine-month Leadership Westmoreland program. About 20 participants are accepted, and once-a-month sessions start in mid-September. Applicants must...

Leadership Westmoreland expands participants' knowledge of county

Offering insight

The Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce is seeking applicants for the 2017-18 cohort of its nine-month Leadership Westmoreland program.

About 20 participants are accepted, and once-a-month sessions start in mid-September. Applicants must live or work in Westmoreland County. For an application, go to westmorelandchamber.com, click on the chamber information tab and select Leadership Westmoreland, or call 724-834-2900.

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Updated 3 hours ago

Professionals enrolled in Leadership Westmoreland spend most workdays focused on their fields, which include manufacturing, banking, the arts, local government and nonprofit agencies.

But one day a month is different.

The 21 participants in the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce program set aside time to learn about the region, meet people and tour places they otherwise might never encounter and plan community service projects.

In January, they talked with two female Westmoreland County Prison inmates, District Attorney John Peck and other court officials. Economic and personal development and education have been topics on other days.

A recent Thursday was spent at the Greensburg courthouse and county offices. Leadership Westmoreland cohorts met with Commissioners Gina Cerilli, Ted Kopas and other officials, learned about the county's land bank for blighted properties and tried on robes and sat behind the bench in Judge Chris Scherer's courtroom. They answered survey questions for the county's comprehensive plan and looked out from holding cells as sheriff's Sgt. Scott Pfeifer talked about local crime.

“This is the first opportunity that I have had to really learn about the county — getting out, meeting people, going to different sites and just learning about the county itself beyond my own little world, my career,” said Patrick Bochy, 35, who moved from York about three years ago and is chief of staff at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.

“It's been eye-opening.”

The chamber restarted Leadership Westmoreland in 2015, said President Chad Amond, who took part in the similar Leadership Pittsburgh program when he led a Monroeville business organization.

Amond said a few chambers of commerce ran a program for Westmoreland professionals until about eight years ago, when local employment fell during the recession.

Leadership Westmoreland costs $55,000 to $65,000 to run. Most employers pay the tuition, although some participants pay for themselves and scholarships are available, he said.

An overnight hotel stay, with personal development activities and a study of demographics, kicks off the program. Professionals also break up into four groups and develop service projects.

Brian Williams, 26, of Westmoreland City said his group set up 11 donation boxes at senior centers and churches, hoping to collect 100 pairs of gloves for distribution through Seton Hill Child Services. They collected 500 pairs and plan to continue the effort.

The group went to the agency's Greensburg facility on Dec. 20. “It was a lot of fun working with the kids, giving out all the gloves,” said Williams, supervisor of cost management at turbomachinery manufacturer Elliott Group in Jeannette.

The chamber's program “gives us the opportunity to have multiple viewpoints of leadership ... and how it ties into the community outside of our activities that we do every day. There is more out there,” Williams said.

Ashley Ungerman, director of Seton Hill's New Kensington center, said many of the 72 children served there didn't have gloves or mittens, but each took home a pair provided through the collection.

“They were pretty excited to get them,” said Ungerman, whose center serves infants through preschoolers and provides preschool and child-care programs.

Other projects

• Hempfield Township Manager Andrew Walz said his group will talk with minorities about what it's like to live and work in the county, where the population of 360,000 is about 95 percent white. Video interviews are scheduled March 18 and 25 in Greensburg, and Walz, 33, of Hempfield said the group also wants to talk with an employer that has successfully recruited minorities.

• The Westmoreland Cares group plans to publicize mental health first-aid training, available through Westmoreland Casemanagement and Supports Inc. While many people know CPR skills to help heart attack victims, mental health training to deal with a panic attack is less common, said Jarred Grabiak, 32, of Greensburg, a strategic initiatives manager with Elliott Group. WCSI wants to take the training to businesses, government agencies and other workplaces, said Michel Keller, 44, of Hempfield, staff development manager at the agency and a Leadership Westmoreland participant.

• Full STEAM Ahead is for children served by Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Laurel Region. A group of middle schoolers learned in January at the art museum how artists interpret human anatomy and about glass and pigment making, Bochy said. Future events in the science, technology, engineering, arts and math program will be at Excela Health and FirstEnergy Corp. sites, he said.

Kelli Belanger, Big Brothers Big Sisters executive director, said the STEAM effort has tied in well to her organization's effort to provide activities about career opportunities and the region's offerings.

“We are trying to get a little more substance into what we are doing,” she said, and Leadership Westmoreland members have helped by setting up programs at their workplaces and other sites.

Kim Leonard is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4674 or kleonard@tribweb.com.

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