Commissioners Approve $750,000 ARPA Grant for Workforce Empowerment Center

Lebanon County Commissioners on Thursday approved the release of $750,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to Tec Centro Lebanon for the organization to house its new workforce empowerment center .

According to Rafael Torres, Founder/CEO of Tec Centro Lebanon, the building, located at 9 S. 9th St., Lebanon, will be used to provide Lebanon County residents with the opportunity to receive language skills and hand training. – community work. The building was formerly an Elks Lodge and more recently served as a church.

The former Elks Lodge near the corner of 9th and Cumberland streets is set to become a center for technological education. The property is listed for sale, currently on hold, by Iron Valley Real Estate of Lancaster. (MLS)

“This is a community project that will invest in community growth,” Torres said. “And that’s what we saw when we started developing the WEPA Empowerment Center.”

The model that Tec Centro Lebanon plans to use to build its program is the same one that has seen great success in Lancaster County.

“We chose to replicate a model that already exists in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s a successful model that’s been around for eight years,” Torres said. “It started in a small space and now in 2022 it has expanded to a second location. … This has recently been replicated in Reading. The City of York is set to unveil its technology center next month and Lebanon is next.

Torres said studies over the years indicate the need for an inclusive training center like the one his organization plans to launch in Lebanon County.

“It’s so that everyone gets the skills and training they need to become a marketable member of our community,” he said. “I had to continue studying and the numbers are not good. They talk about the students in the local school district and 90% of them barely succeeding, their homes barely succeeding.

Torres added that opportunities for adults to improve their lives will also exist at the workforce empowerment center.

“We need to take care of them and provide opportunities” for adult members of the community, he said. “It’s not that we do the work for them, but that we provide opportunities for them to improve. So let’s look at them holistically.

Working with other nonprofit organizations to address issues that exist outside of the workforce development realm, the goal is to make individuals whole so they can support themselves and /or those in their families, Torres said.

“Do you remember I mentioned the word holistic? He asked. “So we’re going to have people working in the building with the individual as a whole. It’s not just about putting them on the program and then forgetting about them. It’s about making sure the systems are in place. A full-time social worker in the building, a behavioral health specialist who will be available to students.

Torres added that people need to be “whole in mind and heart” in order to be productive members of the workforce, and that his holistic program will work to ensure program participants are ready for the workforce. work.

In terms of workforce development, Tec Centro Lebanon will provide training in the construction, technology and health sectors, among others, and part of the ARPA funds will be used to provide culinary arts kitchen.

The two incumbent commissioners, Jo Ellen Litz (D) and Chairman Robert Phillips (R), noted that the requested amount was a big ask, but added that the investment was one that they believe will meet the needs in workforce from Lebanon County businesses and will provide area residents with the tools they need to get jobs that require skills training. (Nominations are currently pending for the 24 Republicans vying to fill the third commissioner seat left vacant by the death of the late former commissioner Bill Ames in December.)

County Administrator Jamie Wolgemuth said county attorney David Warner asked, and commissioners agreed as part of their vote, to include a lien agreement in case the organization fails. would not follow federal guidelines related to the use of ARPA funds.

Most of the $26 million in ARPA funding the county received was previously for a new 911 center and a new radio system for emergency responders.

Read more: Commissioners Respond to GOP Decision on Property Tax Increase; plan underway for a year, defended as financially sound

In other matters, commissioners voted to approve a request for a $48,000 grant from Lebanon Valley Rail-Trail (LVRT) to the state for the purchase of a tractor ($38,400) and a storage shed ($9,600). LVRT will provide an additional $12,000 to cover the remainder of the combined purchase price.

LVRT volunteer Tom Kotay said the two tractors currently owned by the LVRT are too small to cover the area to be serviced.

“As the trail grows, our two small tractors don’t cut it for safety reasons for our volunteers, and this purchase will also make maintenance easier,” Kotay said.

Kotay told commissioners that the current shed, located at the trailhead near Colebrook Road in the southern part of the county, will be moved to the north end of the county near Jonestown. Once the shed is moved, smaller equipment will be stored there so tractors don’t have to be constantly moved across the county.

After the vote to approve the request for funding from the State Department of Community and Economic Development, Kotay informed the commissioners that a portion of the trail will be closed for several weeks for the replacement of high voltage transmission lines. .

Kotay said MetEd will close a one-mile section of the Wilhelm Avenue footpath at the Lebanon Valley Exhibition Center and Fairgrounds for work on power lines. LVRT has yet to announce trail closure dates, but Kotay said a closure schedule will be shared through press releases and posted on the LVRT website when available.

“We don’t know the duration yet, but it could be several weeks,” he said. “This over a mile section of the trail is going to be closed for safety reasons. Those high voltage wires and poles that are out there are pretty important when you go to replace them. I think it’s 60 foot high poles, and when you put a jib (crane) on it and move things around, you just can’t get rail trail users near it.

Kotay added that once the work is complete, it is believed that MetEd’s parent company, First Energy, will return to make improvements to this section of the trail. Although an agreement has not been formalized, the power company tentatively plans to lay tarmac, which Kotay says will significantly improve this section of the trail for users.

Commissioners also approved the signing of an agreement between the county, the Lebanon County Housing & Redevelopment Authority and Lebanon Valley College for the administration of the Redevelopment Assistance Program (RACP) grant in the amount of $1 million dollars to the college for two projects.

The college plans to renovate the 20,938 square foot Heilman Center and move its CURE clinic from downtown Annville to the center. LVC has agreed to indemnify the county for reimbursement of any ineligible expense or other potential financial exposure, which may be identified during an audit.

“We’ve done several and never had any ineligible expenses,” Wolgemuth said. “The reporting is quite rigorous and it’s hard to imagine anything slipping through and only being caught in the audit. There are a ton of reports that come with accounting for every dollar in RACP. In fact, things like steel from the United States must all be demonstrated and reported.

During the meeting, Commissioners also:

  • Received a fourth quarter report from the county pension fund investment firm and learned that the fund was over $139 million as of Feb. 16.
  • Granted an extension to the Lebanon Valley Conservancy for a $15,000 grant application from Marcellus Shale to put amenities in the John E. Wenger Memorial Park. The reserve hopes to complete the planned work by the end of 2023.
  • Approval of two applications for hotel tax grant funds in the amount of $5,000 for the ambassador program at the Mount Gretna visitor center and $10,000 for the Lebanon community association for placing baskets hanging exteriors from Cumberland Street to Sixth Street in downtown Lebanon.
  • Approved the minutes of the February 3 meeting, the Treasurer’s report and various staff transactions and seminar requests.

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Michael A. Bynum