Juniata County may lose Skills Center

MIFFLINTOWN – Residents of Juniata County may lose access to Skills of Central Pennsylvania’s services due to lack of funding and a $70,000 yearly deficit, said Mike Rice, Skills president and CEO.

Skills is a nonprofit organization that provides job training, education and opportunities to people living with a disability.

“We’ve been working with this situation for a long time,” Rice said. “We’ve talked to commissioners and legislatures, but we have to make some difficult decisions in the coming months. The rate of state reimbursement is just not enough to cover the cost of the program.”

Without a dramatic increase in funding, which is not expected, Juniata County Skills will close the Vocational Training Workshop in October and move the Adult Training Services to a smaller location in Mifflintown, Rice said.

The workshop provides daily training for individuals with disabilities so they can develop positive job skills. The 15 participants currently working in the Juniata program can commute to the Lewistown location if the center closes, Rice said.

Susan Russell’s son, Sean, has been attending the Skills vocational workshop for more than 20 years. Closing the Juniata County Skills Center would be a loss for clients and their families, she said.

“Every day my son gets up and wants to go to work,” Russell said. “He’s excited about what he does at Skills and it’s important to him. If the center closes, he has to get up at 6 a.m. every morning and pay for transportation all the way to Lewistown.”

It’s unfortunate, Russell said, that parents who have kids with disabilities are constantly fighting to keep resources and services.

“It was such a shock when we found out the center was closing,” Russell said. “There are good things being done at Skills, but it really feels like we’re being swept aside in this situation. We haven’t been given a chance to save it.”

The potential decision to close Juniata Skills is ultimately a business decision, said Junata County Commissioner Jeff Zimmerman. However, it would certainly be a disappointment, he said.

“Juniata County Skills has been serving our community for such a long time,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve had discussions with Skills representatives and some concerned parents about the situation. Everyone agrees that it wouldn’t be a positive move to close the center, but there’s only so much that can be done.”

The fact is, Rice said, that Skills can no longer handle such high yearly losses. Even with a new budget for the coming fiscal year and efforts to limit overall spending, Skills is still expected to experience a large loss again next year, he said.

“Without significant help in the short and long term, we cannot continue to absorb the losses,” Rice said. “We are going to

continue to work with the Support Coordinators in developing the transition plans for moving to the Lewistown vocational program…”

Rice urges area residents to contact local representatives and legislatures to discuss financial assistance options that may be able to keep the vocational workshop in Juniata County.