EBENSBURG - The words "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference," are stenciled in large blue letters on the wall above a row of brand new desktop computers.
Similar motivational messages decorate group therapy rooms and common areas in the newly opened Cambria County Day Reporting Center.
After a tumultuous start-up process, which saw multiple changes of venue for the program, which allows non-violent criminals and low-risk offenders to report for classes and therapy in place of prison sentences, county officials celebrated the center's opening Friday at the Cambria County Services Building.
"This is more than dollars and cents," President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said, gesturing at computers lining the room.
"More importantly, we're talking about people's lives."
The center provides an opportunity to examine offenders' lives and focus on their real issues, instead of a revolving door of repeat offenses and incarceration, Lengenfelder said.
Only nonviolent offenders will be permitted into the program. Violent or sexual offenders will still face punishment through prison sentences. Any participant that violates his or her terms with the program faces the possibility of dismissal and a return to prison.
The candidates for the program will be evaluated with input from Cambria County Prison officials as well as the various county magisterial district judges, President Judge Timothy Creany said.
"The majority of the cases we face are substance abuse-related," Creany said.
Those individuals will receive drug and alcohol abuse counseling at the center, Creany said. Vocational training and mental health referrals will also be available for those enrolled, he said.
Cambria County was awarded a $111,000 Justice Assistance Grant to help pay for materials and staffing at the center, which could see as many as 100 participants once the center is fully operational.
About nine employees from BI Inc. of Wilkes-Barre will staff the center.
Originally planned for Johnstown, plans to establish the center shifted from inclusion at the county prison to the former Infocon building at 957 Rowena Drive before settling at the County Services Building. The majority of the restoration work in the office was completed by county inmates at a savings to the county, officials said.
Former President Commissioner P.J. Stevens thanked Creany and the current board of commissioners for bringing the center to fruition.
Former Commissioner Salvatore "Sam" Valenty, as well as District Attorney Kelly Callihan and former Chief Public Defender and current Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser were also in attendance.
Despite the celebration, the importance of the center was not lost on the crowd of county officials.
While the center will not be without some initial problems, the benefit - ending the cycle of crime and positively changing people's lives by keeping them out of prison - is the center's focus, Creany said.
"What is the cost in missed opportunity?" Creany asked.
Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.