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United Way helps bring back summer

From left, Hal Callithen, Aidan Sheakley, Caleb Halenda and Thomas Saxman, students of the ARC of Butler County's Activities, Employment and Recreational Opportunities Transition Summer Camp, stand by a block tower they constructed at camp in June. Submitted photo

Summer can feel like an eternity for students who rely on school to get much of their social interaction with friends, which is one aspect of the “summer slide” United Way is trying to fight.

United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania said the agency is funding Welcome Back Summer programs that support youth engagement and education throughout the summer, several of which are in Butler County. Jared Stewart, impact coordinator for the United Way, said funding summer programming is one way the organization fills community needs.

“It helps combat the learning loss that takes place in the summer months — the loss of academic skills between a school year ending and one beginning,” Stewart said. “It also provides opportunities for socialization; building and maintaining relationships; and opportunities to grow and strengthen social skills, confidence.”

Stewart said Armstrong, Butler, Fayette and Westmoreland counties received a total of $102,800 in funding for summer programming in 2023.

Those programs include Butler YMCA’s Summer Day Camp; Community Care Connections’ Camp Apple; Glade Run Lutheran Services’ Summer Enrichment Program; Helping All Victims in Need's Mindful Mondays; the Arc of Butler County’s AERO Transition Summer Camp; Kid’s Innovation Playground’s Tech Tinkering Summer Camp; and Zelienople Area Public Library’s LEGO Club.

United Way started Welcome Back Summer funding in 2022 in an effort to bring such programming following the cancellation of similar events during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Additionally, some of the camps funded provide food and meals for children, according to Stewart.

“With food prices constantly rising, food insecurity is a very real thing,” Stewart said. “For some kids the breakfast or lunch they get at school is all they get in a day, so these camps help fill that gap too.”

Mary Krewduk, fundraising and communications specialist for the ARC, said the United Way helped provide transitional programming to individuals with disabilities in a two-day camp in June. The camp was free for students ages 16 to 21, and included lunch both days, according to Krewduk.

“That age group getting ready to transition from high school to adulthood — it provides them extra support to be successful in making that transition,” Krewduk said. “Employment readiness, self-advocacy (and) daily living skills” are the types of areas activities focused on, she said.

Stewart said he doesn’t have data yet on how many young people the United Way’s funding is helping this summer. The number of organizations receiving money could lead to the United Way to continue providing Welcome Back Summer funding in the future.

“I'm hopeful that the impact is quite high,” Stewart said. “We are thankful for the great work our partner organizations are doing; we’re happy we have the ability to help them through these grants.”

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