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U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan Tours Berks Projects that Secured Federal Funding

Jakob Hollenbach was more than a little excited.

The Alvernia University sophomore from Topton had been headed down the stairs from his dorm room on the fourth floor of the school’s Reading CollegeTowne building late Wednesday morning to class when a group of school officials diverted him. They asked him to join them in checking out the progress that was being made on converting a 55,000-square-foot space on the building’s second floor into the new home of Alvernia’s nursing program.

The renovation will allow Alvernia to add more than 120 students to the program when it’s completed in August.

The effort is a big deal to Hollenbach, who was eager to tag along and get a glimpse of the ongoing project. The 20-year-old is studying at Alvernia with the hopes of one day becoming an emergency room nurse.

The second floor of CollegeTowne — at the moment just a wide-open shell with exposed pipes and wires — is where he hopes to turn that dream into a reality.

For that to happen, a lot of work needs to be done. And it will be, thanks in part to help from the federal government.

Federal grant money is playing a big part in Alvernia’s renovation project at its CollegeTowne campus. That’s why U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan stopped by Wednesday.

During a tour of the construction site she crossed paths with the excited Hollenbach, taking a few moments to talk to him about what the project will mean for him. She understood his eagerness for the work to be completed and what it will mean for his career preparation — she explained that her brother, Jason Jampoler, is an emergency room nurse in Iowa.

She also understood the role federal investments play in projects like the one at Alvernia. It’s exactly why the Chester County Democrat who also represents part of Berks County decided to spend some time in Berks on Wednesday.

Houlahan visited several sites around the county where federal dollars are being put to use to benefit the local community.

Her first stop was at Alvernia, followed by visits to the Daniel Torres Hispanic Center, the Literacy Council of Reading-Berks and, lastly, the LGBT Center of Greater Reading.

At Alvernia, the congresswoman presented school officials with an oversized, ceremonial check for $2 million. The money was for expansion of its health science program and provided through the federal Community Project Funding program, which was included in the recently-passed federal budget.

At the Hispanic Center, she heard about how the organization was using the $635,000 in Community Project Funding it received to establish itself as a health hub.

At the LGBT Center she learned about the organization’s Violence Reduction Project that is being supported by $113,000 from the program.

And at the Literacy Council, which received federal COVID relief funding, Houlahan again saw how local organizations are using federal dollars.

“What these places have in common is that each of these institutions have been recipients of Community Project Funding and American Rescue Plan,” she said. “So those federal dollars are helping right here in our community and we are here today to see the progress that has been made.”

Houlahan said her office takes its ability to support local organizations through federal funding seriously, knowing how important it is. And through the Community Project Funding program, she can have a hands-on impact where that money goes.

The program allows each of the country’s 435 House members to nominate up to 15 projects for federal funding. This is the second year the program has been included in the federal budget.

This year, 14 of Houlahan’s projects were approved for a total of more than $10 million — including Alvernia, Centro Hispano and the LGBT Center.

“Our office really takes our responsibility very seriously so that when there are opportunities for funding we open up the process for all,” she said, adding that about 40 organizations applied for the program this past year. “That process goes through an independent group, separate and apart from our own office, that evaluates each of those proposals.”

Houlahan said the biggest priority is that the projects chosen to receive funding will enrich the community she serves and have a long-lasting impact for decades to come.

Along with the initiatives at Alvernia, Centro Hispano and the LGBT Center, the other projects in Berks to receive Community Project Funding through the congresswoman this year are the Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation and Reading Housing Authority.

The Berks Latino Workforce Development Corporation received $1.9 million to help fund the physical renovation of its training facility and the purchase of equipment to establish skills and training programs.

The Reading Housing Authority received $750,000 to help repurpose two existing buildings in Oakbrook Homes to create a neighborhood resource center to offer programming including education and workforce development, a business center and a small grocery store.

The original article can be found in The Reading Eagle.