Rural Impact County Challenge

Youth Connection, It’s our community’s future.
An Initiative of the Healthy Blair County Coalition

By Coleen Heim, Director of the Healthy Blair County Coalition and Patty Sauka, District Attendance Director at Altoona Area School District

Healthy Blair County Coalition’s Youth Connection Task Force took on the challenge to design a program to reach and engage our community’s youth to share the message they are wanted, they are needed, they are our future. Listen to Coleen Heim, Director of the HBCC, and Patty Sauka, District Attendance Director at Altoona Area School District, talk about the urgency our community is facing concerning youth issues and how to reach adults to share the message we need our youth to grow, to succeed, encourage them to get involved and how to get involved.

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Being a mentor means many things, but most importantly it’s being there to help get the person being mentored on to the right path and guiding them along the way. Mentors, as well as those being mentored, learn and grow from the experience that last a lifetime. Having a mentor can make a big difference. Listen about the journey this mentor and mentored took with many curves and challenges along the way.

School Attendance

Patty Sauka, Attendance Director for the Altoona Area School District and Dr. Kathleen Sweeney, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at the Altoona Family Physicians discuss the relationship between student engagement and school attendance and how that affects their practice. Non-attendance can be a consequence of a variety of causes, both visible and underlying. Listen while they discuss the difference between school absenteeism, truancy, and refusal. Then learn about the importance of building bridges from doctor to parent, to parent to school developing communication for the success of our children.

Mentoring Through the Graduate Initiative Program

Matt Kimberlin, a Counselor at the Tyrone Area School District Middle School and coordinator for the Tyrone Graduation Initiative Program and Taylor, one of his recent graduates, discuss how this program and the major difference it has made in her life. Listen to her story and the amazing changes she has made in her life. Her story is similar to a lot of kids that have gone done the wrong road including substance abuse, attempted suicide, and missing 79 school days in one year. This all changed thanks to Matt and the Graduation Initiative Program. Taylor is an inspiration for all youth.

Rags to Riches – A True Success Story

Katherine “Katy” McCabe entrepreneur of several businesses including Greenbean Coffee House shares with Lisa Hann, Executive Director Family Services Incorporated and member of the Youth Connection Task Force, her path from a rough and difficult beginning to becoming a strong, confident, and successful business woman. She talks about being a teenager on her own at age 15, not going to school, and not making the best decisions to what she did to take control of her life.

Work Force Development

Amy Horwath, Vice President of Mission Services at Goodwill of the Southern Alleghenies, and Stephanie Deliveir, Vice President of Human Resources for Sheetz, Inc. discuss ways our community is working to help youth overcome challenges and barriers to their path toward a successful career.  Every path is different. Blair County has jobs and careers available along with all the necessary resources to enable youth and young adults to be successful in every path.  They share how the HBCC’s Workforce Development Committee is collaborating to identify available services, resources, and trainings.

Solving Truancy

School truancy is a serious problem and can have long-term negative effects on the student, as well as the family. Listen to how a single working parent, and his teenage daughter, worked with Evolutions Counseling to develop proactive skills and ideas that resulted in positive results. With this team approach, they stayed motivated and were successful in solving the truancy problem.

Youth Connection Task Force

Blair County was one of twelve counties across the country to be chosen by the National Association of Counties (NACo) in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Programs to receive community coaching on efforts to reduce childhood poverty.

Across the country, 11.9% of youth are disconnected (not in school or working). In Blair County, 14.4% of our youth are disconnected which is higher than Pennsylvania at 12.3%. If you are involved with youth or are interested on the impact of youth disconnectedness in Blair County, we really need your participation.

In 2017, a Call to Action Summit was held with the goal of bringing together stakeholders to identify the issues and then develop implementation plans to engage youth across Blair County. The five areas of focus were: school attendance, workforce development, school & community interventions, mentoring, and pro-social activities & community engagement.

In 2021, we held a second Youth Connection Summit and have been able to further our Rural Impact County Challenge through awareness of the importance of youth connections. This includes forming new partnerships among organizations that see the value in working together. This brought systems together to address youth disconnectedness.

Our Youth Connection Task Force meets on the third Wednesday of the month at 1:00 pm and the following goals:

  • Build public awareness about the need to address truancy and chronic absenteeism by fostering partnerships across systems to improve school engagement and expand the use of best practices.
  • Enhance collaboration and communications among organizations that can provide pathways of opportunity for youth and young adults.
  • Understand the impact of bullying and support bullying prevention efforts.
  • Support the Chamber of Commerce’s BASICS Attendance Sub-Committee.


  • In collaboration with the United Way of Blair County and the School Attendance Task Force, Blair County adapted the Be There Program (developed by the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania). A training was held for 65 school and agency representatives.
  • As a result of the Workforce Development Committee, several organizations were willing to commit funds to provide employment opportunities for at-risk students and several businesses provided co-op and/or job shadowing opportunities. As a result of the collaboration, youth and young adults have been connected with and/or obtained employment through CareerLink in the Tyrone Area School District, Altoona Area, and Teen Center.
  • HBCC applied for and secured a $20,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to support replication of the Graduation Initiative (GI) Program. This program began by identifying students in the Tyrone Area School District who were at risk of dropping out but had potential if the school/community provided academic and/or behavioral support to them and their families. Building on the success of that program,, the Central Pennsylvania Graduation Initiative and Blair Family Solutions (mental health service provider), led efforts to replicate the program in the Altoona Area School District.

  • The Center for Independent Living in South-Central PA (CILSCSPA) was one of six sites worldwide to adapt the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program as an out of school time program, TEAM Builders. This bullying prevention experience is a collaboration with Dorman’s Sports Performance and CILSCPA. Participating Blair County youth meet in the gym and are offered time to physically work out and get some great exercise. Afterward, certified staff offer a brief activity that promotes good citizenship, social and developmental growth, and skills to build relationships.  To date, over 80 youth have participated in the TEAM Builders Program.

Plans for 2022-2023: 

Develop and conduct training and presentations for after-school and youth-serving organizations to incorporate bullying prevention into their programs.