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Cambria commissioners expand in-school counseling program

Tribune-Democrat - 8/18/2023

Aug. 18—PATTON, Pa. — The Cambria County commissioners on Thursday amended a contract between the Cambria County Drug and Alcohol Program and Reaching Educational Achievements with Clinical Mental Health (R.E.A.C.H.) to continue providing mental health counseling services in local schools.

Cambria County Drug and Alcohol Program Administrator Fred Oliveros said that the intention of the Cambria County Rise Project is to place clinical mental health counselors in local school districts.

The commissioners amended the amount of the contract on Thursday from $666,710.74 to $928,898.76.

Currently, seven counselors have been split among the county's 14 school districts. The contract's additional $262,188.02 will help place a counselor in each of the 14 districts, he said.

The program was implemented during part of the past school year using funds from the county's portion of money received through court settlements with opioid companies.

Cambria County, which ranked among the state's hardest-hit counties by the opioid epidemic, is projected to receive more than $12 million over 18 years through a settlement that involved Johnson & Johnson and three major drug distributors, including AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.

Oliveros said that 375 students have been referred to the program, and 241 were actively engaged.

"There are a number of students who have been through this referral and screening process ... connected with mental health providers through their insurance or other providers who are already present in the school and the community, and we just need to do case management work to connect that," he said. "But we're making an impact."

Cambria Heights School District Superintendent Kenneth Kerchenske said that the Rise Project has been successful in the district.

"I think (the program) in its first year has been a humongous success," he said, noting that about 30 to 40 students in the district have participated.

Kerchenske said that the district's counselor immediately became part of the school family.

"She's not seen as an outsider who comes into the school, but she's seen as a part of the faculty and staff, and she's providing services that, for example, our guidance counselors can't provide," he said.

Julia Dello, executive director of R.E.A.C.H., thanked the county for its support and trust in starting the program.

"The support has been overwhelming," she said, "and the backing that you all provide has been giving us confidence to push forward and know that this program is something that's going to be sustained and that we can continue to offer services. We couldn't have asked for better people to work with."


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