Mon River Valley Coalition carves pathway to opportunities for children

Mark Soroka/For the Observer-Reporter

The Mon River Valley Coalition’s quarterly meetings bring together key regional stakeholders to discuss tourism and growth initiatives for the region.

There is no shortage of bold ideas at meetings of the Mon River Valley Coalition.

A case in point is the Mon Valley Rowing Club’s vision for turning the Monongahela River into a pathway of opportunity for children. In the coming months, the organization wants to launch a juniors rowing program, assemble a team composed of high-risk youth from the area, teach those kids how to row competitively and turn them into high achievers.

Nathanael Stevens, president of the Mon Valley Rowing Club, said his organization hopes to change lives by helping children break free from the cycle of poverty, addiction and defeatism.

“We saw our river as an underutilized resource that we could use to rescue our greatest resources – our children,” said Stevens, during the Mon River Valley Coalition’s quarterly meeting last Friday at California University of Pennsylvania. “Through the sport of rowing, we are pairing kids with adults who love them and will champion their future – one of hope and success.”

Stevens said the Mon Valley Rowing Club’s Juniors Rowing Program plans to recruit 20 youth from high schools throughout the Mon Valley, with an emphasis on children who are at risk. The program will offer participants with need-based scholarships, mentoring and personal development.

“Rowing teaches relationship skills as youth learn to be dependable and depend on others in a respectful environment,” said Stevens, who added that the team plans to compete in national races and regattas attended by high school, collegiate and master’s teams. “Through hard work, youth will have an opportunity to break their own records and advance as rowers. Rowing is also a great means for assistance with college scholarships and admissions.”

In the future, the Mon Valley Rowing Club may also offer a master’s program for adults who want to row for fitness, recreation or competition, as well as an adaptive rowing team for individuals with disabilities.

This year, the Mon Valley Rowing Club hopes to raise $50,000 through donations to cover the cost of equipment and a coach. Stevens said that one of the biggest obstacles for a new rowing club is securing water access. The Mon Valley Rowing Club may not have to look any further than Charleroi, thanks to an offer by the Mon Valley Alliance.

Ben Brown, the new chief executive officer of the Mon Valley Alliance, said the rowing club is welcome to use Charleroi’s boat launch on the Monongahela River.

“The Mon Valley Alliance is giving the Mon Valley Rowing Club a place to store their equipment and launch their boats,” said Brown. “We’re excited about bringing the Mon Valley Rowing Club to Charleroi. It’s a wonderful example of how communities can do great things by working together.”

Brown added that the Mon Valley Alliance has applied for a $157,000 DCNR grant that will be matched with LSA funds to double the size of the current Charleroi boat ramp, build retaining walls and improve landscaping.

Donna Holdorf, executive director of the National Road Heritage Corridor and the other co-director of the Mon River Valley Coalition said, “We are here to help. We will work with your communities to help make them more appealing and welcoming to outsiders.”

In other news at the meeting:

  • Michelle Branthoover Parnell, project leader for Grow Mon Valley, said her organization is bringing community gardening to local cities and towns. Among its initiatives, Grow Mon Valley plans to help municipalities set up community gardens, team with the Washington County Food Bank to provide fresh produce for area residents, create a seed bank, start an educational program for schools and provide resources for backyard gardeners.
  • Tanya Chaney, a small business owner from New Eagle, talked about her dream of bringing more recreational activities to New Eagle. She sees great potential for transforming the borough’s undeveloped riverfront property into a tourist destination.
  • North Belle Vernon Councilman R.J. Sokol spoke about plans to create a pathway between North Belle Vernon Community Bank Park and the borough’s downtown district. He said the park is becoming a key asset for all the communities of the Mon Valley and is helping to provide youth with a wide range of recreational activities.
  • Rachel Wilson, president of the Belle Vernon Recreation Board, announced that Belle Vernon’s popular canoe and kayak race will be expanded into a weeklong celebration. The Mon River Community Festival, scheduled July 13-20, will also include activities for children, a Mon River pageant, open-air boxing, a farm-to-table event, music, a parade and fireworks.
  • State Rep. Bud Cook said a travel and tourism fall summit will be held this fall for chambers of commerce, nonprofits, schools, cities, towns and boroughs from Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties, as well as anyone else who is interested in promoting the region’s recreational assets, attractions and activities. The daylong event will be held on the campus of California University of Pennsylvania.

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