Accolades run gamut from teddy bears to java

The Chester County Commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 6, celebrated a variety of programs that ranged from creating teddy bears to pouring java to saving lives.

Sherry N (holding citation, Chester County Youth Center's , is joined by Chester County Commissioners' Chairman Terence Farrell, Youth Center Director Gary Blair, and Commissioners Michelle Kichline and Kathi Cozzone.
Sherry Nakrasius (holding citation), Chester County Youth Center's Staff of the Year Award recipient, is joined by Chester County Commissioners' Chairman Terence Farrell, Youth Center Director Gary Blair, and Commissioners Michelle Kichline and Kathi Cozzone.

Three of the citations involved the Chester County Youth Center in Pocopson Township, which houses adjudicated youth as well as those simply in need of shelter. The commissioners honored it as recipient of the Juvenile Detention Center and Alternative Program’s 2015 Special Event of the Year for the “Teddy Bear Drop.”

The project, which has also received state recognition, was created in consultation with Chester County Hospital’s volunteers, who make hand-knitted and hand-sewn items for young hospital patients. To boost that effort, residents at the center made 100 cuddly, stuffed animals in just three days, and a group of the young people even got to distribute their creations at the hospital, reinforcing the value of community service.

“We’re very, very fortunate to have this collaboration with Chester County Hospital,” said Gary Blair, the center’s director.

Blair also lauded the work of Sherri Nakrasius, who has worked for more than a quarter of a century at the center, including 16 years as a caseworker. He said Nakrasius, the recipient of the 2015 Staff of the Year Award, has been instrumental in tasks running the gamut from completing paperwork for state inspections to serving as the center’s education liaison.

“We couldn’t do what we do without Sherri,” Blair said.

The commissioners also honored the Chester County Youth Center with the 2015 Program of the Year Award for an initiative with Arts Holding Hands and Hearts, a nonprofit that conducts a variety of therapeutic programs at the center, including weekly yoga classes and expressive arts workshops.

Blair noted that the Arts Holding Hands and Hearts program is another recipient of state recognition.

Accepting a proclamation for National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Gary F. Entrekin, administrator for the county’s Department of Mental Health/Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, introduced the commissioners to a number of people involved in the Coffee Cup, including two students who work there and spoke eloquently about their experiences.

Entrekin said the partnership with the Chester County Intermediate Unit began when the first coffee shop opened in the Government Services Center. Since then, two others have been started and two more are in the works. “It’s opened doors for a lot of students,” Entrekin said. “Employment is the key to self worth.”

The commissioners welcomed Brian O’Leary, the new executive director of the Planning Commission, which received a Sustainability Award from the Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association. Assistant Director David Ward explained that the county was recognized for its efforts to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.

The commissioners also heard from several emergency services officials, including Director of Emergency Services Robert Kagel, who accepted a proclamation for Fire Prevention Week.

George “Beau” Crowding, deputy director of fire services, said the county is working constantly to improve fire safety through education and inspections. Last year, the county experienced three deaths, 54 injuries, and $15 million in damages, he said.

Crowding said county residents should be grateful that volunteer firefighters are willing to put in the 180 hours of training required for the job. “That’s a huge investment of time,” he said.

Assistant Fire Marshal Jack Weer said the theme of this year’s Fire Prevention Week is “hear the beep where you sleep,” a message to encourage residents to add working smoke detectors to every bedroom.

Weer told a story about a county resident who earlier this week took what she thought were 3-day-old ashes from her fireplace, put them into a plastic container, and set the container on a wood floor before going to bed. Weer said the woman was very lucky that she was awakened by the crackling sound of the fire and was able to crawl out of the house.

“Had she had a working smoke detector, she probably would have been alerted to that earlier,” Weer said. “We’re very fortunate that she was able to get out alive.”

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