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Locals join McKeesport public health panel

| Friday, May 10, 2013, 3:01 a.m.

A McKeesport pastor and the city's public high school principal are on a new panel aiming to prevent violence and promote community mental health.

“We did not want people to get confused and think that we were just talking about a psychological issue,” the Rev. Earlene Coleman of Bethlehem Baptist Church said on Thursday. “This takes in a greater context of what mental health is about.”

Coleman and acting county health director Dr. Ron Voorhees will co-chair the 23-member Public Health Commission on Preventing Violence and Promoting Community Mental Health announced by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

“Community violence is a public health problem,” Fitzgerald said. “In order for us to have any impact at all on this issue, we need to start approaching it from a public health perspective.”

McKeesport Area High School principal Mark Holtzman Jr. also was named. School spokeswoman Kristen Giran said Holtzman looks forward to being a part of the panel.

The commission will meet monthly, make a preliminary report public by year's end, and then present a finished plan a year from now.

Coleman was contacted by Austin Davis, a Fitzgerald aide from McKeesport, and the executive's spokeswoman Amie Downs about co-chairing the panel.

“I have stated many times to others in my community that we must sit down collectively,” Coleman said. “This is not a ‘you' or an ‘I' problem, it is an ‘our' problem, and ‘we' must work together to solve it.”

Downs said Fitzgerald named Coleman because she “initiated several programs geared to fighting community violence (including) the Rally in the Valley, Day of Coming Together, the Noah's Ark Community Center, Law Enforcement Sundays, Project Reach, among many others.”

Downs noted Holtzman's role as principal of a high school and McKeesport Area Technology Center that serve more than 1,200 students.

Coleman and Fitzgerald said the idea for the commission came from state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-East End.

Some other panel members also have Mon-Yough ties. T. Rashad Byrdsong is president and CEO of the Community Empowerment Association, which has various programs in McKeesport and other Mon Valley communities.

Wilford Payne is executive director of Primary Care Health Services in Braddock.

Voorhees and Gainey are among the public officials on the panel, with state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Beechview, and Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District; county Medical Examiner Dr. Karl E. Williams and Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams III; and Wilkinsburg police Chief Ophelia Coleman.

Also named are Ralph L. Bangs, associate director of the Center on Race & Social Problems at the University of Pittsburgh; Loren H. Roth, Pitt associate senior vice chancellor; Richard Garland, coordinator of the Violence Prevention Project at Pitt's School of Public Health; Valerie Dixon, executive director of the Prevent Another Crime Today initiative; Mary Ellen Smith Glasgow, dean of Duquesne University's School of Nursing; the Rev. Glenn Grayson of Wesley Center AME Zion Church in the Hill District; Kevin Jenkins, director of community initiatives for the Pittsburgh Foundation; Magdeline Jensen, CEO of the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh; Marcia A. Martin, vice president of Gateway Health; Beth Monteverde, executive director of Residential Care Services; Joni Siff Schwager, executive director of the Staunton Farm Foundation; Edith Shapira, Pittsburgh Foundation board chair; and Patricia L. Valentine, a deputy director of the county Department of Human Services.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or