Watchful Shepherd provides tools to those in abusive situations | Helping the Helpers

Beyond requesting that people donate if they can, Walnoha said more awareness of the reality of domestic violence and abuse would help their mission

By: - December 13, 2022 6:30 am

(Uniontown Herald-Standard photo)

By Jon Andreassi

Founded nearly 30 years ago in Peters Township, Watchful Shepherd is hopeful it will be able to provide assistance to those in situations involving domestic violence and child abuse.

Joseph Femiani started the organization in 1993, hoping to help fill the gaps in service for overburdened agencies.

(Capital-Star file)

“We provide security alarm systems for children and families that have been identified by the agencies we work with,” said Tracy Walnoha, Watchful Shepherd’s executive director.

According to Walnoha, they primarily work with Children and Youth Services agencies across Pennsylvania. The devices they provide are from Connect America, the parent company of Lifeline, and have a red button that contacts a 24/7 response center.

Watchful Shepherd gives those devices to CYS agencies, who then distribute them.

In some cases, CYS asks judges to mandate that a child have the alert device as part of an overall safety plan. Watchful Shepherd’s website notes the device is just one piece of that plan, and is not meant to be a standalone tool.

Watchful Shepherd also is able to provide a more discreet device to abuse victims. This one is a small button that fits on a keychain and connects to an app on your smartphone. A double tap of the button will send a text message to five pre-selected emergency contacts.

Walnoha said their organization is funded through private grants, donations and fundraising events. Government funding is not accepted.

“Abuse and neglect, it stretches across every economic situation,” Walnoha said. “Unfortunately, abuse is a very diverse reality.”

The Watchful Shepherd hosted its “Dancing for a Cause” fundraiser at Valley Brook Country Club this past October (Uniontown Herald Standard photo).

In October, Watchful Shepherd hosted its “Dancing for a Cause” fundraiser at Valley Brook Country Club. The event, similar to the popular television program, “Dancing With the Stars,” teams up notable people in the community with Arthur Murray Dance Studio instructors.

Beyond requesting that people donate if they can, Walnoha said more awareness of the reality of domestic violence and abuse would help their mission.

While the organization assists in Pennsylvania counties, Watchful Shepherd has also recently started working with agencies in Washington state and North Carolina. Walnoha hopes to expand further.

“We’re a very small nonprofit, but our goal is to expand it out of our area,” Walnoha said.

Jon Andreassi is a reporter for the Herald-Standard of Uniontown, Pa. Helping the Helpers is a joint effort of the Uniontown Herald-Standard and the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Readers may email him at  [email protected].

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