Program enables trainee at Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum

| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

In the 1970s, Mt. Pleasant's Jodi Russel spent a number of years working as a “leer girl” at L.E. Smith Glass Co.

“I worked in the cold end of the plant, and that meant I helped remove cooled glass items from the conveyor belt and placed them on pallets,” Russel said.

With that experience, Russel offers a unique perspective to those touring the Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum, where she is undergoing employment training as a participant in the Senior Community Service Employment program at Westmoreland County Community College near Youngwood, she said.

“I can speak personally to that during the tours,” Russel said. “Also my late uncle Charles Zahrobsky started out as a glass blower at Bryce Brothers and moved on to Lenox Crystal when that company bought Bryce Brothers in 1965.”

The museum, a nonprofit organization located at 402 E. Main St., Suite 600, in Mt. Pleasant Township, celebrates the history of Mt. Pleasant's three past glass companies.

For nearly 40 years, the federally funded, employment-training program offers temporary employment training to citizens ages 55 and older who are unemployed at the time of program applications, and who meet specific income-related guidelines.

The program is administered by the college via state and federal funding.

Successful applicants, such as Russel, can receive employment training at nonprofit organizations and public agencies throughout the program's service area, which encapsulates Westmoreland, Fayette, Cambria and Greene counties, said William Magda, a Norvelt native and the college's director of community development.

“We place them based on what type of employment they would be interested in at a nonprofit organization or at a public agency like a social security office or a library,” Magda said. “We appreciate the time that all of the training sites provide to training our participants.”

The federal grant is financing Jodi's employment training. She is paid minimum wage to undergo training at the museum for roughly 20 hours per week.

“Our primary mandate is to help people gain employment through their community service,” said Rebecca Dunn, a job developer with the program who counts Russel as a client.

Russel, who is on disability for a bad back and neuropathy, a condition caused by damage to the peripheral nerves of the nervous system, considers the work at the museum fitting for her state in life, she said.

“It's going really well. It's giving me a few hours a week of work, and it's very interesting,” Russel said.

Cassandra Vivian, the museum's executive director, calls Russel, who in 1973 earned an associate's degree in visual communications from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, her “right arm.”

“Jodi's been a godsend. Right now, she is transcribing the records of the local Glass Workers' Union, and she keeps all the files organized,” Vivian said. “She also has a degree, so she makes signs for us.”

Under the arrangement with the center, the government funding to compensate Russel for her employment at the museum will expire in the fall, Dunn said.

At that time, Vivian said she hopes to be able to hire Russel, based on raising the funds to do so.

“We're hoping that we will be able to hire Jodi,” Vivian said.

Dunn said that was good news.

“If the site can hire people they've trained, that's the best possible outcome,” Dunn said. “Then we would continue to recruit, try to employ another person there in the future.”

Vivian said work at the museum, including daily visitors requesting tours, necessitates more employees.

“If everything goes right, we might have a second one coming in shortly,” she said.

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or

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