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Brackenridge Improvement Group rallying for growth, support

| Sunday, July 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Disp
Lorri Harding, 11-year old Lilliana Harding (center, left), and Cliff Harding, of Washington Township, greet 9-year old Leilani Rosario, of Brooklyn, at Nixon United Methodist Church in Butler on Friday, July 12, 2013 as part of the Fresh Air Fund. Leilani and approximately 20 other children arrived by bus coming from the New York City area and will be visiting for two weeks as part of the Fresh Air Fund.
Cliff Harding, his wife Lorri Harding, and their 11-year old daughter Lilliana Harding greet 9-year old Leilani Rosario, of Brooklyn, at Nixon United Methodist Church in Butler on Friday, July 12, 2013. Leilani and approximately 20 other children arrived by bus coming from the New York City area and will be visiting for two weeks as part of the Fresh Air Fund.

With its mission rooted in beautifying the borough landscape and bolstering community spirit, the newly formed Brackenridge Improvement Group will hold a July 15 meeting at the park pavilion to amass membership and support.

Paul and Janet Valasek of Brackenridge are forming the group after participating in the national Make a Difference Day. The couple said the experience exposed the need for a full-time Brackenridge community service program to run throughout the year.

“We've lived in Brackenridge for 16 years and we care a lot about this community,” Janet Valasek said. “There's definitely a need for a program like this to restore a sense of pride and give residents something to rally around.”

The group held an exploratory meeting on June 21 to form a steering committee. Among the 18 people in attendance was Natrona Comes Together Association president Bill Godfrey.

Natrona Comes Together is a nonprofit, grassroots organization that has spent the past nine years improving the quality of life in Harrison's Natrona neighborhood with an emphasis on art and history preservation, childhood education and youth services.

Godfrey will advise the Brackenridge Improvement Group in its infancy on how to raise funds and awareness, apply for nonprofit status, receive grants and organize community projects.

Godfrey said he supports the Brackenridge group because he's committed to building a unified community improvement presence throughout the area to eradicate the negative effects of poverty.

“The drug problem is pervasive in the area,” he said. “It's not just contained to Natrona or Brackenridge; it spills over.

“If we can all work together and create a unified front to improve the entire area, I think it would help significantly to improve the problem.”

Godfrey said he was approached by BIG steering committee member Dino Lopreiato, who owns Vibo's Bakery on Brackenridge Avenue. He is one of several borough business owners involved in the group along with multiple borough council, Salvation Army and chamber of commerce members.

The group is trying to increase its visibility by posting flyers throughout the borough.

Paul Valasek said he's also working with borough council to have the group's flyers mailed to residents along with their water bills.

Another meeting will be held July 15 to raise awareness and promote the group's formal kick-off event in September.

According to Valasek, the event will feature a block party and car show. It most likely will shut down the Tarentum half of Brackenridge.

BIG will be promoting the event in August at the borough's Community Day.

While the group has yet to formalize any programs or events, Valasek said one of the primary focuses will center on youth services. The Natrona Heights, Harrison, native hopes to build a park area for the borough youth to gather and participate in organized events.

“I grew up an athlete, and I remember always running around or being involved in something at our park,” he said. “These kids don't really have that, and it's a shame.

“I think that will definitely be a priority when everything starts really coming together.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or

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