The WE In North Central Pennsylvania: Centre, McKean and Elk Counties

Many, many thanks to Michael Brand, Director of Education and Leadership Development for The Nonprofit Partnership in Erie. As a partner and friend of PANO, Michael set up three focus groups in North Central PA on behalf of PANO.

During this Listening Tour trip, PANO visted:


Bright and early on June 17th, we headed to State College where we were hosted by Tammy Gentzel, Executive Director of the Centre County United Way. The conversation centered around the following ideas and thoughts:


Individuals living in State College stated that they loved their community because:

Dedicated People Seeking to Make a Better Community

  • All the people in the community are dedicated to make life better in Centre County
  • People are willing to volunteer
  • Openness of people here and commitment to improving the community
  • Lots of young energy

Culture and Intellectual Stimulation

  • Culture
  • Intellectual vibrancy with the University
  • Value the “compression and pressure.” University creates tension in entire town, which provides the stimulation needed to get people involved and to bring out their potential

Natural Beauty

  • Natural Beauty
  • Parks and Recreation—beautiful green space
  • Water and streams

Community Size and Location

  • Location of State College is close to both urban areas (e.g. Washington D.C, New York City) and the wilderness
  • Benefits of a big city but with little hassle—due to being a University town

 Transient Population

  • We are transient. It is rare to find a “native person” because the University creates the feeling that “everyone is an outsider.” We all need each other

Collaborative Organizations

  • From human services perspective, agencies work so well together



Talented Youth Would Have Diverse Places to Work

  • The age gap would be eliminated. Many students leave to fulfill their potential (e.g. talent flight). This talent flight/brain drain inhibits the growth of the community
  • Recruited and retained enterprise that offers different types of jobs so that young graduates would stay in the area due to having more career opportunities
  • A diversified economy

Education Would be Available for Everyone as Needed

  • Education is continuously available; we would be able to learn what we need to learn when we need it
  • Educational opportunities would be available for all people
  • All children have access to preschool education, including free preschool as needed

People Would Know About and Have Access to Needed Services

  • Adequate funding for human resource would be available
  • “Real” help for mental health and drug addiction services – current programs are too short with few long lasting results)
  • Increased awareness of drug use/sexual assaults with preventative services in place

Multi-generations of Individuals Would be Engaged and Feel Supported

  • Programming would be multi-generational (e.g. adult literacy is critical for child literacy). This would lead to a trickle-down effect where programs would “get the biggest bang for their buck”
  • Retirees would be better engaged, as they provide enormous, under-used resources
  • People feel they have an extended family in the community vs. feeling like “transient islands.”

 Improved Natural Spaces for Healthy Lifestyles

  • Bike trails everywhere
  • Community gardens

 Businesses Would be Innovative and Willing to Change

  • More innovative HR programs
  • Shifting paradigms of how we do business

 Crime Would be Exposed and Severely Reduced

  • Crime would be severely reduced (e.g. drug dealing in Bellefonte leading to people living in fear)
  • Crime would no longer be hidden (e.g. low level drug dealers are currently not being prosecuted as law enforcement seeks to get to the top level dealers)

 Vibrant Downtown Area With Valued Resources

  • Downtown would look a lot different, having more culture, civic events
  • Key community resources are “stewarded” (high schools, culture, libraries)

 Affordable Housing Would be Available for Everyone

  • Affordable housing would be available; currently the lack of affordable housing is influencing everything

 Community would Be Transparent With Free Flow of Information

  Public Transportation Would be Improved


Following are the things we heard as issues from people living and working in State College, listed in no particular order:

Change How People Lead and Engage at the Community Level

  • Need more politicians who are not politicos; politicians who are not the “same old, same old”
  • More progressive people need to step up in political arena
  • People need to be educated about issues and people need to vote!
  • Community leaders need to educate public about why the status quo does not work. We need to step up to the plate

Create Environment of Acceptance and Trust

  • “Charter for Compassion”—Be more mindful and accepting of each other
  • Tolerate differences—which leads to positive change within communities
  • People from all levels of leadership and demographics need to get to know each other better so they can build capacity and create a collaborative environment
  • Trust people closest to the issue to know solutions – not just academically

Work Collaboratively as a Community

  • Move from competitive environment to collaborative; from coordination to collaboration. We all need to make example of ourselves and “be it.” Build on existing collaborations (e.g. Centre Inspires is an initiative that creates critical mass to create change). For example, have sober living communities using a housing nonprofit collaborative approach, with sharing a roof & and other resources
  • Work together in talking to politicians and community members
  • Break down of lines between small communities (many townships duplicate (e.g. Arts festivals); move beyond insular communities (e.g. downtown vs. rural)

Change Zoning Regulations

  • Zoning must be changed to eliminate homogeneous, isolated communities to allow for heterogeneous neighborhoods.  People would then need to adapt to live with each other
  • Current zoning is “reactionary” and very restrictive. Zoning impacts those who need affordable housing
  • Perhaps the county should look at NO zoning

Invest in a “Community With a Purpose”

  • Those with more wealth (e.g. developers) need to invest deeper into the community
  • Value shift from entertainment (e.g. sports) to something more inclusive like community celebration—to “community with a purpose.”

Identify Best Practices Both Locally and in Other Communities

  • Look at models of what is working in other communities
  • Showcase strengths and good work to inspire others

Engender an Appetite for Change and a Tolerance for Ambiguity

  • Be less risk averse—to let go of the control
  • Allow initiatives to grow organically rather than trying to “engineer change”

Effective, Open Communication

  • Need a media revolution that leads to effective, open communication (e.g. Visions for a better world.)

More Time and More Staff

  • We need more time and we need more staff.  We need to figure out how to make time to do this (convene). We are currently consumed with just trying to keep pace


Amplify the Sector’s Voice in the State Legislature

  • Speak to state legislators on big issues (e.g. PA is 3rd in the nation for heroin use)
  • Inform and educate legislators that there are current solutions to local problems so stop funding new programs; focus and fund the current programs that are working
  • Band with other State Associations to amplify the voice of the sector
  • Work with other statewide associations to reduce time and onerous regulations that come with state government contracts/grants. The paperwork is exhausting and eats up energy and enthusiasm

Convene and Connect People from Various Regions to Collaborate Around Solutions

  • Bring everyone together; convene leaders from different regions throughout the state to talk about both solutions and mistakes
  • Be a connector and pass along solutions and advice from other communities
  • Be assertive and aggressive in pushing of information to all organizations
  • Identify efforts with greatest possibility for success and join, instead of trying to think of new things or create another initiative  (e.g. 3B33 seeks to bring $3 billion to community by 2033)
  • Provide regional access to others so we  so we know who to talk to

Provide Training in Nonprofit Management

  • Educate boards and staff about the legal landscape of nonprofits
  • Show conceptual maps of how change has/could occurred (e.g. from government t funding  to no government funding)
  • Education about new fundraising models

Address the Extreme Cultural Stratification Between Generations

Back to the Top



After our discussion with the lovely folks in State College, we traveled to Bellefonte, also in Centre County, where we were hosted by Liz Toukonen, Branch Executive Director at the YMCA of Centre County-Bellefonte.


This group of individuals living in Bellefonte stated that they love the following about their community:

Involvement of Caring People in the Community

  • The sense of community
  • People who care about the community
  • Community has involved members, who address the  good, the bad, and the ugly through lots of dialogue
  • Great church community with active churches

Community Size

  • The scale = small enough for sense of intimacy (ballgame – 300 from Bellefonte vs 50 from State College)
  • Community pride
  • Bellefonte still has a small town feel. We know the mayor and the police. We can fix little problems quickly and cut through bureaucracy

Our History

  • Our history (e.g. YMCA started in 1869 – 3rd oldest YMCA in PA; we were the first school system in the nation to desegregate; Penn State started in Bellefonte; 7 governors come from Bellefonte)

Geographic and Architectural Beauty

  • Geographically beautiful and architecturally rich
  • Water & streams


Educational Systems would Support Students for 100% Graduation Rates

  • ALL students would be grade proficient and would graduate
  • School systems would be even better and lend to better learning. Currently 42% of Bellefonte elementary school students are on free or reduced lunch
  • 100% of students would graduate

Everyone Would Live Safe and Healthy Lives in Healthy Environments

  • No drugs – no crime
  • Everyone would live in safe, affordable housing
  • Everyone would be healthy
  • Walking trails would be an asset

Charities Would No Longer be Needed (our agency serves 800 people per month)

Economy Would be Strong

  • Storefronts would be filled with shops

History Would be Preserved

  • Town would stop burning down – literally (various historical landmarks have been destroyed by fire)

Everyone Would be Well Represented Politically

Taxes Would be Reduced Because Everyone Would be Working and Chipping In

FB_Michael Pics3


Following are the things we heard as issues from people living in Bellefonte, listed in no particular order:

Involvement of All People in the Community

  • 100% commitment to community where everyone is involved  and committed to community improvement)
  • More family time which would lead to more involvement in town activities
  • Involve the emotionally/mentally challenged individuals in the community so that they have a sense of pride
  • Buy-in needs to start at an early age—which children getting involved and gaining a sense of community pride
  • Get EVERY church involved and engaged in the future of Bellefonte
  • Learn to know each other; when you know someone, you can care for them

Build Small Local Teams Based in Strengths and Actively Work to Implement Plans

  • Develop the right mix of people in work groups (e.g. leaders and doers).  This will get things done based on the strengths of each individual; leaders need room to lead and doers need room to do
  • Need to talk less and have more initiatives.  We often create plans that have no action. We need people to push it through
  • Start with small groups and create momentum
  • Build neighbor-to-neighbor services because outsourced services lead to a byzantine labyrinth of services

People Increase Their Sense of Hope

  • Create a sense of hope for those who are apathetic which can come from life experience or culture of growing up

People Who Know and Care for Each Other

  • Mentors are needed
  • We must care more for each other, to “be the change” – to reinforce positive behavior

Reduce Apathy, Fear and Need to Control

  • People are afraid of liability issues, making it difficult to care; thus, we pay organizations to care
  • Reduce apathy—apathy begets apathy
  • We need to let go of the control and sometimes collaborate

Jobs That Pay a Living Wage

People Need to Develop Skill Sets to be Successful (e.g. soft skills, communication skills)

Change Efforts Need to be Constant and Consistent

Reduce Regulatory/Legal Barriers (e.g. historic preservation)


People Who Steward or Care for Their Homes



Connect People to Information and Resources

  • Create a call center – a “How to” place which matches needs with resources
  • Create a list of resources that are already available
  • Serve as repository for what works and make it available to others
  • Be a connector to organizations that have been successful

Serve as an Advocate and a Voice

Back to the Top



On June 18, we met with another group of dedicated community members in the beautiful new facilities of Care for Children, a Standards for Excellence® Accredited organization, hosted by Executive Director, Tina Martin.


This group of individuals living in Bradford stated that they love the following about their community:

People Know Their Neighbors

  • People know their neighbors. “I can walk out of my house and run into people I know. My grandchildren count how many people say hello to me.”
  • Strong, supportive business community which contributes money and people/personnel (Example: volunteerism, problem solving, individual giving, and corporate giving)
  • One of the most caring communities in the U.S. When there is a need, the community comes together
  • Incredible volunteerism and philanthropy
  • We do not have 6 degrees of separation here

People Face Problems Head-On for the Right Reasons

  • Honest, forthright approach to problems. We have mission-driven people who are ready to address the problems head-on. People make change happen because want a strong community
  • People do good because it is good to do
  • Bradford already has the assets; we can do anything we want to do
  • Bradford nonprofits are progressive, focusing on preventative services—not just fixing the problem
  • We are not focused on our organizations but on the people that we serve
  • We have a “sincerity of purpose” – we are “for the people”

Great Educational Systems and Focus on Youth

  • University of Pittsburgh with its vibrant growing campus)
  • Strong educational system with both public and private schools
  • Public schools are embedded in the community; most of the population enrolls their children in public schools
  • Great emphasis on youth development, which takes a holistic approach

Safe Place to Live and to Raise Children

  • Great place to raise kids. Somebody is always watching out for your children; it takes a village
  • Safe – We all look out for each other

Physical Beauty and Natural Resources

  • Physical beauty
  • Phenomenal trail system – constantly getting bigger
  • Best water in the state of PA

Inclusive Community w. Strong Organizations

  • Very heterogeneous community (group homes) which is inclusive of all people groups
  • Strong  YMCA, especially  for small community (3,000 members / 60 K sq/ft) – place to work out but also key mechanism for bringing people together

Ease of Travel

  • In a small town, it’s easy to get around


People Would Be Safe and Healthy

  • Top of the state instead of  6th from the bottom in health outcomes
  • No child abuse
  • Better mental health overall (More sunshine!)
  • Access to more healthy choices (e.g. healthy food choices throughout year; alternative modes of transportation)

People would Graduate, Have Life Skills, Jobs and Not Live in Poverty

  • More jobs
  • No children on free/reduced lunches
  • No welfare
  • High school/college graduates who have life skills
  • Have a workforce that is ready, able, willing, drug-free

Education Would be Available for Everyone

  • Have community colleges
  • Universal Pre-K at age 3

Nonprofits Would Have a Breakeven Bottom Line and Some Nonprofits Would Go Out of Business



Following are the things we heard as issues from people living in Bradford listed in no particular order:

Adequate Services Would be Prevention-Focused, Incentive-Based and Accessible to Those Who Need Care

  • Adequate funding—we are down to “rationing care;” we are serving more people but those served are getting less
  • We are focused on putting out fires and focusing on immediate solutions which distracts from focusing on prevention
  • Remove barriers in the way we serve people – a lot of entitlement programs are disincentives. People should not be penalized for trying to improve; they need to be supported
  • Give incentives that unlock people’s potential
  • Universal health care with truly affordable health care

Jobs and Job Readiness Training Would Build Prepare Workforce

  • Job readiness training (e.g. financial literacy)
  • More programs like Bring 1: Take 1—Library program which fosters literacy, which in turn leads to leadership
  • Build the talent—for a prepared workforce
  • Decrease unemployment.  We keep losing people due to the lack of available jobs
  • Helping youth create individual career plans; provide personal attention to make them career ready and avoid having some fall through the cracks

Educate Business, Government Leaders and the General Public about Nonprofit Work

  • Share more local success stories (e.g. Walmart taking workers from welfare to success)
  • Promote and instill sense of “charitable” and “philanthropy” so people can give back when they can
  • Continue learning about how to talk to and interact with foundation community/legislators
  • We need competitive salaries to retain good people. We have high turnover rates due to low wages. We don’t just want to be a stepping stone to a different career path

Build Collaborative Approach with Existing Programs

  • Start with already strong youth programs
  • Get nonprofits to  work together and also have for-profit and government at table—though this is already happening in many ways (e.g. McKean Collaborative Board)
  • More things like “business roundtables” to create opportunities for business/nonprofit/government relationships. Currently 90  people attend the business round-tables set up by the Office of Innovation and Investment

Cycles of Poverty/Abuse/Poor Eating, Etc. Would be Broken

  • Mentoring – breaking generational cycles of poverty, learned eating habits, welfare
  • Parenting classes

Build Financially Strong Organizations w. Strong Outcomes

  • Identify ways to trim expenses—particularly for the government organizations
  • Identify outcomes and make tough decisions about programs that do not have strong outcomes

Understanding and Advocacy with Insurance Programs

  • Need to better understand insurances and how they work
  • Advocacy is needed to speak on behalf of nonprofits; currently insurance is driving access (e.g. 7 days for solve addiction issues is simply  not working)


Educate Business and Government Stakeholders about Nonprofits

  • Educate both business and government stakeholders.
  • Change the perception of nonprofits  (e.g. no overhead is a myth, focus on value of the services provided; investing in a skilled workforce pays off; nonprofits are a huge economic force; we are ONE economy, not a drain on the economy)

Provide Resources that Help Contain Cost

  • Provide access to resources that help contain cost (e.g.  health insurance, unemployment compensation)
  • Provide access to back office support (e.g. HR  Services and Technology) so organizations can better focus on advancing their missions
  • Create an IT network infrastructure. For example, create a partnership between nonprofits/for-profit businesses who switch out their computers every 3 years, who could share electronic space

Connect Nonprofits to Needed Resources 

  • Be a matchmaker for organizations—connecting nonprofits with for-profits who can support them in a variety of ways
  • Assist organizations in  moving from paper to electronic files
  • Provide Executive Director Training and/or connections
  • Access to legal services

Continue offering Standards for Excellence

  • The Standards for Excellence program helped us to have a strong infrastructure; it is a program that is applicable to any size organization and the education for the board is incredible

Advocate for Nonprofits

  • Speak up on behalf of nonprofits at-risk of losing nonprofit status  (e.g. PILOTS in Warren County)

Help to Prepare for the Millennial Generation

  • Understanding how to communicate via technology

Highlight Business Partners Who Give

Back to the Top



Our final stop on this trip was in St. Marys in Elk County, where we were graciously hosted by Bill Conrad, Executive Director of the Stackpole-Hall Foundation.  This special group convened as organizations who were early adopters of the Standards for Excellence program and included Dickinson Center, Community Educational Council of Elk & Cameron Counties and Paula Fritz Eddy from the Elk County Community Foundation. Thus, the conversation focused more on Standards and the impact that it has had in assisting organizations in advancing their mission. A special shout-out to Bill Conrad for organizing, hosting and also providing lunch for this illustrious group!


  • Helped with meeting management
  • Assisted with board management
  • Assisted with marketing, fund development, credibility, and providing guidelines
  • Avoids “recreating the wheel” on “what works” in nonprofit management
  • Helped “put things in order” and “helped us know what should be in place”
  • Standards is applied theory; its “where the rubber hits the road”


  • Population loss leading to brain drain
  • Need skilled workers; unable to fill available jobs
  • Difficulty finding board members
  • Engaging new people in creating thriving communities – not just the same people


Partner with the Local Organizations to Provide Training for Nonprofit Career Development

  • Partner with the Community Education Council (CEC) on educational, open-enrollment training to benefit local business, nonprofits, and government.  Topics could include Holding Effective Meetings, Planning, etc.
  • Continue to partner with the Elk County Community Foundation and CEC on their annual Nonprofit Academy Day – a one day, low cost training
  • Provide training on collaboration, advocacy (e.g. How to Build Relationships w. Legislators)
  • Provide a Nonprofit Management Certificate Program

Find Ways to Make the Standards for Excellence More Accessible (e.g. moving the accreditation process online is a great start!)

  • Add a Standards for Excellence mentorship program
  • Highlight the self-study program
  • Create incentives by partnering with foundations to provide financial support
  • Decrease the intensity of the Board and Program Evaluation sections

Create Initiatives Specific to Reaching Rural Areas

  • Create Rural Collaboration Circles (e.g. Center for Rural Pennsylvania)
  • Organizations don’t collaborate well and tend to work in silos
  • Collaboration needs to be better understood—along with the benefits that it brings to all organizations involved

Increase Community Involvement

  • Difficulty finding board members due to population loss
  • Need more people who are active everywhere in the community

Assist w. Government Affairs

  • Assist in building relationships w. legislators, building on current strenths
  • Teach knowledge in how to advocate

Assist w. IT Support

Back to the Top


Thanks, again to Michael Brand from Nonprofit Partnership in Erie for setting up the first three focus groups for PANO, to Tammy Gentzel from Centre County United Way, Toukonen from YMCA of Centre County-Bellefonte, Tina Martin from Care for Children, and Bill Conrad from the Stackpole-Hall Foundation for so graciously coordinating and hosting each of these groups. And what an honor to interact with everyone who took time from their incredible work to share the journey of their organizations! I am humbled by the warmth and well wishes that were bestowed on us.

DSC_0369And as always, a special thanks to Maher Duessel, CPAsfor partnering with PANO to make this Listening Tour Possible! And a special shout out to Maher Duessel partner, Lisa Ritter, who joined us in both McKean and Elk counties for our June 18th conversations. As a PANO board member, her input added much to the conversation!

We Together WILL create thriving communities!


If you want to join the conversation and participate in some way, don’t want to wait until we come to your community.

At PANO, WE are not interested in PANO—we are interested in what WE can do with all of you. Join us. Join the WE!

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