Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Network looks for chance to volunteer

Wednesday, June 14, 2006
The Express-Times

BETHLEHEM Members of the Network of Young Professionals identified affordable housing and juvenile issues as the Lehigh Valley's most pressing social concerns Tuesday.

And they sought a way to create volunteer opportunities to alleviate the problems.

The group listed mentoring, financial literacy, clean and crime-free neighborhoods, after-school activities and bolstering food banks as activities young professionals could pursue.

"It all starts with a full belly," NYP President Abraham Nemitz said. "You think a lot better when you're not hungry."

The network was created to keep young professionals in the Lehigh Valley. The group has about 900 participants, ranging between 22 and 40 years old.

Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham, a Lehigh Valley native, said he has heard the hackneyed adage that the area is a great place to raise a family but it's a tough place to be young and single. "I see you all nodding," he said to the 25 NYP members gathered in Hotel Bethlehem. "But I see that changing."

Lehigh and Northampton counties are among the fastest growing regions in Pennsylvania, Cunningham said, and the young professionals are a "vibrant, important part" of the Valley's development strategies. "Ten years ago, we wrestled with how to develop," he said. Now "the human services and social needs are not going away in the wake of prosperity."

Cunningham said affordable housing and juvenile issues are the top two "major issues on the horizon." "Solving the needs issues in your community can't be the sole responsibility of the government," he said.

United Way spokesman Phil Hayne affirmed Cunningham's suggestions by providing Valley statistics. Fifty percent of low-income families cannot afford a two- bedroom apartment, he said. At minimum wage, the family would have to work 112 hours per week, 52 weeks a year in order to afford a $750 per month two-bedroom apartment. "The working family is now a struggling family," Hayne said.

More than 1,000 students drop out of school each year, he said, with 75 percent coming from the three urban districts -- Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton. Students begin thinking about dropping out as early as fifth grade, Hayne said.

"We, as a community, need to join together to address these issues. It's not about throwing money around. I'm interested in making lasting changes in people's lives," Hayne said.

Nemitz said in a NYP-conducted survey last year, 80 percent of its members identified the need for more volunteer opportunities.

"We tend to be a civic-minded bunch," he said.

Article courtesy of The Express-Times

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