Groups partner to address staffing needs in child care industry

The United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley is getting involved in a statewide effort to address the worker shortage crisis in the child care industry. 

According to the agency, connecting individuals to employment has proven difficult throughout recent months, and the child care industry is no exception. A recent survey reports that nearly 100 classrooms are closed in the Greater Lehigh Valley and over 92% of programs have a staffing shortage. 

“With a staffing crisis greatly affecting our child care sector, access to high quality early learning and child care opportunities are decreasing for families. We are taking action to connect job seekers to open opportunities available,” stated Akshara Vivekananthan, director of school readiness for the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. 

Across the state of Pennsylvania, child care providers have faced serious challenges in staffing their facilities, which prevents them from providing the quality care they strive to maintain.  

In response to these shortages, hundreds of child care programs from across Pennsylvania are coordinating Child Care Hiring Days for PA from March 29 through March 31. 

United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley has partnered with PennAEYC, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Greater Valley YMCA and The Children’s Center to ensure that Lehigh Valley child care organizations have a presence and to raise local awareness of the statewide staffing shortages. 

 “When child care programs can’t open classrooms or open at all due to staffing issues, it makes it challenging for parents to work and ultimately impacts business productivity and the overall economy,” said Jen DeBell, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children, a statewide, non-profit membership organization that advocates for high-quality early care and education opportunities for children and families and appropriate compensation and support for the professionals that provide these programs. 

Over these three days, participating programs will host walk-in hiring events, featuring on-the-spot interviews at their locations. Many locations will be offering competitive salaries and benefits, signing bonuses, tuition reimbursement, continuing education and on-the-job training. 

“In a moment of truth, we know this hiring event is a temporary solution. We are counting on our legislators to save child care as we need continued investments so all children have equitable access to a healthy start,” Vivekananthan added. 

 This state-wide hiring event aims to simplify the job search and hiring process for job seekers, help participating programs reach potential applicants and promote the rewards of working in early childhood education.  

Interested programs can learn how to participate with the Child Care Hiring Days for PA by visiting ECEhire.com or emailing Akshara Vivekananthan at [email protected]. 

Job seekers can view the entire list of careers and locations performing interviews during the Child Care Hiring Event on ECEhire.com. 


Air Products makes $500K donation to United Way food access programs

Air Products Foundation donates $500,000 to the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley for food security programs. PHOTO/Danielle Stokes, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley –

The Air Products Foundation has announced a gift of $500,000 to United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley to expand education and food access programs with the organization’s community partners. 

“The data is clear that access to healthy food and quality mental health and educational services, remain significant challenges for many of our community’s children and families. Air Products is proud to be a part of the solution to these challenges with our continued partnership with United Way,” said Simon Moore, Air Products’ vice president of investor relations, government relations and sustainability and president of the Air Products Foundation.

According to Feeding America, one in 10 Lehigh Valley residents face food insecurity, including one in six children. 

 Local food pantries supported by United Way served approximately 45,000 people last year, an 88% increase since the pandemic started.  

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruptions to the lives and education of Lehigh Valley students, resulting in what the U.S. Surgeon General has described as a national “youth mental health crisis.” 

 “Our community has great needs, and our community partners have adapted and innovated to meet those growing and changing needs. This support will help to launch three new community initiatives that will ultimately make our students and families healthier, safer and more successful,” said Laurie Gostley Hackett, Air Products’ director of community relations and philanthropy, who chaired the annual United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley campaign. 

The $500,000 contribution, which will be distributed over three years, was announced in Easton and will support the nonprofit Greater Easton Development Partnership’s West Ward Market.  

In year one, the funding will support the creation of the outdoor market located near 12th and Northampton streets as well as provide additional support for students at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Bethlehem Area School District and expand food access in partnership with Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley. 

The West Ward Market, run by the West Ward Community Initiative and Easton Market District, which are both programs of GEDP, will launch this summer and increase neighborhood access to fresh food and community programming. 

The Air Products Foundation’s support will also meet critical needs of students in the Bethlehem Area School District. Air Products is the Community School partner at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, in partnership with United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley and Moravian University. Community Schools improve student outcomes by transforming high-poverty public schools into resource hubs that offer a range of support and opportunities to children, families and the surrounding neighborhood. 

 Funding will also support a new transportation vehicle for the food pantry program at Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley. During the pandemic, the food pantry program distributed 62,000 pounds of food to clients and delivered almost 20,000 pounds of foods to the homes of 52 seniors isolating and following safer-at-home orders.  



Laura McHugh to receive 2021 Athena Award

Laura McHugh –

Laura McHugh, associate vice president of marketing & communications for the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, will be this year’s recipient of the Athena Award from the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce Women’s Business Council. 

The award, which has been given out each year since 1981, recognizes women leaders in the community, with the goal of inspiring women to achieve their full potential. 

Before her current role with the United Way, McHugh was working in broadcast television for more than 15 years for both commercial and public television stations. She has also worked as an adjunct professor of communications for Cedar Crest College. 

Also this year, Natasha Ljuljic, HR specialist for talent & diversity, inclusion and belonging at Air Products, is being honored with the Athena Young Professional Award. 

Ljuljic is responsible for managing the diversity, inclusion and belonging initiatives for Air Products, globally. She also serves on a number of boards for Lehigh Valley nonprofits including the Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites, Valley Youth House and Rising Tide. 

The Athena Organizational Award will be presented to the Olympus Corp. of the Americas in Center Valley. 

The company employs more than 5,500 people throughout North and South America. 

This year’s Athena Awards will be held Oct. 11 at the Samuels Theater at Cedar Crest College. 

United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley volunteers return with Day of Caring

The annual Day of Caring returned this week for the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley.  

Working with the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley, more than 500 volunteers representing 38 local companies volunteered at nonprofits in the region, performing tasks ranging from power washing and landscaping to painting and gathering supplies. 

“Our community has needs, and when we support United Way, we all become part of the solution. Today, we could give back by volunteering our time, and we encourage everyone to continue to get involved and help in any way they can,” said United Way campaign chair Laurie Gostley Hackett of Air Products. 

It was the return of the annual event that was mostly sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic last year, and is the traditional start of the organization’s fundraising campaign. 

It is the largest single day volunteering event in the Lehigh Valley each year. 

“You could feel the LIVE UNITED spirit in every corner of the Greater Lehigh Valley today. I’m grateful to and inspired by the hundreds of people who rolled up their sleeves and invested their talent and energy in serving our community during Day of Caring,” said David Lewis, president, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. 

Participants were mostly volunteers from 38 local companies and organizations and contributed $80,000 in volunteer hours to various projects at several area nonprofits in Lehigh, Northampton, and Carbon Counties.  

Some project examples included:  

  • Painting murals and adding motivational statements to the pathways leading intoPaxinosaElementary School in Easton with Crayola  
  • Re-organizing the pantry and supply room at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School with Air Products
  • Landscaping and sprucing up the grounds at Friends of Johnstone with PPL
  • Organizing and beautifying inside and out of Central Elementary School with City Center Allentown
  • Completing a makeover for the student relaxation room at Raub Middle School with St. Luke’s University Health Network.

“Today’s volunteers should know that together they made a huge impact on our nonprofits and made a real difference for a lot of people who rely on them,” said Karen Daly Smith, CEO, Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley. 

PPL’s Renae Yeager named Women United’s Philanthropist of the Year

Renae Yeager –

Renae Yeager of PPL Corp has been named the 2021 Betsy Torrence Philanthropist of the Year by Women United of the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. 

It is the group’s highest honor. 

Each year Women United recognizes a philanthropic leader in the Lehigh Valley who is active in the community and demonstrates a personal commitment of “time, talent and treasure.” 

“It is an extremely high honor to receive a nomination for the Philanthropist of the Year award, let alone to receive it,” said Darlene Pors, president of Women United. “Renae Yeager lives and breathes all that Women United’s mission stands for. Her leadership, passion and selfless service to our community have helped so many of our neighbors endure challenging and critical issues; none more apparent than in the last year and a half. Women United is so lucky to have Renae as part of our organization, and we are so proud to recognize her with this award.” 

Yeager currently chairs Women United’s Impact Investments Committee and has been a member of the group’s advisory cabinet since 2017. She has served on various other non-profit boards in the Lehigh Valley during her professional career, such as The Literacy Center, one of Women United’s Signature Projects. 

In her professional career, Yeager has held the position of vice president corporate audit at PPL since 2015. During her 38 years with the company, she has also held management positions in information technology, ethics, and PPL Electric Utilities regulatory operations.  

The award will be presented virtually on Oct. 19 at noon. 

United Way Day of Caring returns next week

Volunteers from First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union, Lehigh Valley Health Network, and Split Rock Resort volunteered to deep clean the kitchen in Jim Thorpe Memorial Hall during the 2019 Day of Caring. PHOTO/FILE –

The United Way of the Lehigh Valley’s Day of Caring is returning this year with more than 500 employees from dozens of area company’s volunteering at 50 nonprofits throughout Lehigh, Northampton and Carbon counties. 

“There was not a traditional Day of Caring in 2020, so we are so excited to return 500+ volunteers strong next week. The response has been so positive,” said Laura McHugh, vice president of marketing and communications for the agency. 

On Sept. 30, the volunteers, which are working in conjunction with the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley, will be participating in mostly in-person projects such as painting, organizing or landscaping. 

“Most of our volunteer opportunities are small, outdoors and in-person, but we did offer virtual experiences as well. They included collecting supplies and donations for area organizations,” she said. 

Volunteers are still being accepted for the event, but spots are filling up, she said. 

This is the 28th year of Day of Caring in the Lehigh Valley. Most of the volunteer work is made possible by the donation of the employees’ time by the company they work for. Crayola is the sponsor of this year’s effort. 

Bank On Allentown offering banking access program

The City of Allentown is moving forward with its financial literacy efforts, which are being coordinated through Bank On Allentown. 

Bank On Allentown is a program to advance banking access efforts throughout the region. The organization is offering a free eight-week adult education class on the basics of personal finance. 

Bank On Allentown is a partnership of the City of Allentown, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, Financial Literacy Center, FDIC, People First, First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union and QNB Bank. 

Taught by the Financial Literacy Center of the Lehigh Valley Inc., the class will teach students about saving, credit, borrowing and more. 

Bank On organizers said that banking access is critical to financial stability – a basic banking account is an important first step into the financial mainstream, depositing earnings securely, paying bills efficiently, accessing credit, and saving for emergencies and the future. 

 The classes will be held Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. beginning September 14. 

 Students may register on-line at www.bankonallentown.org to attend class at either Executive Education Academy Charter School at 555 Union Boulevard or Washington Elementary School at 837 N. 9th Street. Class size is limited to 25. 

 Lessons are also available virtually on-line. 

Just Born shares impact of $100k COVID-19 donation

Just Born’s headquarters in Bethlehem. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

Just Born Quality Confections of Bethlehem donated $100,000 to local charities that helped at-risk communities with food, shelter and education in addition to its normal annual charitable giving, the company announced.

Half of the money went to the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley’s COVID-19 Community Response Fund, used to strengthen safety-net services for those impacted by the pandemic. The fund, supported by 22 other corporate partners and many individual donors, focused on strengthening food access, housing, income support and mental health services.

The collaborative fund provided 65 nonprofits much-needed funding in the earliest days of the pandemic.

The remaining $50,000 was donated to a variety of additional nonprofit organizations who provided access to food, housing and education. They included:

  • The Northeast Community Center, which purchased an industrial freezer and refrigerator, increasing the amount of food they’re able to distribute by 191%.
  • The Bethlehem Branch of the Greater Valley YMCA, which served more than 50,000 free meals to children, families and seniors through its Family Emergency Meal Program.

All totaled, the $100,000 contribution provided more than a million meals to nearly 16,000 families throughout the Lehigh Valley.

“As a family-owned company that has been part of the Lehigh Valley for decades, Just Born knows it can only thrive if our community thrives as well,” said Meg Dowd, corporate affairs manager for Just Born. “It’s important for us to shine a light on the work done by local non-profits during this time. By sharing their efforts, we amplify their missions as well as the voices of those they serve.”

Air Products executive to head 2021 Greater Lehigh Valley United Way campaign

Laurie Gostley Hackett

Coming off a record campaign despite the COVID-19 pandemic, The United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley has named its 2021 campaign chair.

Laurie Gostley Hackett, the director of community relations and philanthropy at Air Products will head this year’s campaign.

Air Products has been one of the largest supporters of the annual fundraising campaign.

Air Products raised a record-breaking $4.1 million during the company’s 2020 United Way campaign. The donations were raised by Air Products’ current employees as well as retirees, and the Air Products Foundation, which provided $1.9 million to match those contributions.

“With the strong support of Air Products, I step into this role with great optimism, enthusiasm and hope,” Hackett said. “The community has been through so much together over the past year, and my colleagues and I are inspired by the passion, partnership and potential of United Way. United Way is truly the Greater Lehigh Valley’s community builder, helping our community to be strong, stable and accessible.”

Hackett comes to the role with a great deal of experience. Her work with the Air Products Foundation supports programs and agencies that work to improve the quality of life in the region. She has worked as a volunteer with dozens of Lehigh Valley-based nonprofits and has served on UWGLV’s Board of Directors since 2019.

United Way’s annual campaign runs through March 31, 2022.

Despite COVID-19, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley has record campaign

A worldwide pandemic didn’t slow down the 2020 United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley campaign. The organization, which raises money for nonprofits in the region, said the 2020 campaign brought in the highest amount of money in its more than 100 years — nearly $18.2 million.

Paul Hurd, chief development officer for the organization, said the annual campaigns have been raising more money every year in recent years. “This is our 11th consecutive year of an increase,” he said. “Less than a handful of United Ways around the country can say that.”

But, he said, 2020 was special. When the campaign started out in the middle of the pandemic last fall, no one was sure what was going to happen. Without the live, in-person fundraising events many supporting corporations rely on to help motivate employees to give, donations could have been way down. In fact, with COVID-19-related layoffs and other financial hardships there was a 20% drop in the number of donors.

Those who could give, though, stepped up and brought in even more money.

Many of the region’s largest employers took the lead in the fundraising efforts. Hurd pointed to corporations like PPL and Crayola, but even smaller firms with 30 employees met and exceeded their fundraising goals. Air Products, its employees and retirees, set a record raising $4.1 million for the 2020 campaign. Retirees in particular rallied to raise extra funds to meet the needs in the community this year, he said.

Hurd gave a great deal of credit to J.B. Reilly, president of City Center Investment Corp., and his wife Kathleen, who chaired this year’s campaign.

J.B. and Kathleen Reilly chaired the 2020 campaign for the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

“J.B’s early approach was to be very strategic,” Hurd said.

Decisions, such as delaying the start of the annual campaign by a month, turned out well. The Reillys and other organizers participated in hundreds of Zoom calls to motivate donors and drive home the need to support member organizations through this difficult time.

“We faced unprecedented challenges and great uncertainty this year. I’d like to thank each and every donor who stepped up to the challenge and to all of the partners who remain committed to the cause,” J.B. Reilly said.

Hurd said one clue that should have been an early indicator that the campaign would go well was the separate COVID-19 relief fund the United Way set up earlier in the year, which raised more than $675,000 to help businesses, people and organizations most impacted by the pandemic. The best thing about that effort was that it came from corporate supporters, not the United Way.

“We had these partners coming to us saying that we needed to start up a fund,” he said.

With all of the supporters coming through in the way that they did, Hurd said 2020 turned out to be “an amazing year” for the United Way and the organizations it supports.

BIPOC professionals encouraged to join leadership series

The Fund for Racial Justice and Equity (FRGE) of the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley is now accepting applications to participate in a year-long executive leadership development series for Black, Indigenous and People of Color leaders.

“The development of current BIPOC leaders in our community to be ready for executive roles, is pivotal for the equitable transformation of the entire Lehigh Valley,” said Fund leader Kevin Greene, COO of Faces International.

The organization is looking for ten BIPOC applicants who are already active in the Lehigh Valley who are creating an impact in the community.

The series is aimed at helping those individuals develop their networks, enhance their skillsets and grow their influence to achieve a higher level of leadership.

The series will have both virtual and in-person sessions as well as offline mentoring sessions and an out-of-area immersive experience.

“While the FRJE works within a larger equity agenda, it has specific work that it will create and invest in to enhance Black and Brown leadership in the Lehigh Valley community. In this inaugural year, the FRJE will focus on two key goals: building executive BIPOC leadership and building capacity with BIPOC-led nonprofit organizations,” said Jill Pereira, vice president of education and impact for UWGLV.

The Fund for Racial Justice and Equity launched in June 2020 and has received financial support from BB&T now Truist, Behr Paint, Bridgenet Solutions and TBL Services Inc., Gateway Health, Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation, PPL Corporation and United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley Women United as well as individual United Way donors.

Individuals who identify as BIPOC, work for or own a nonprofit organization or business and have worked in their professional field for a minimum of three years are encouraged to apply at www.unitedwayglv.org.

The deadline for applications is April 1.