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Fundraiser to support inmate cemetery care launched

HOLLIDAYSBURG — An effort initiated two years ago that assigned Blair County Prison inmates to mow two local cemeteries is in need of money to cover the cost of new equipment and equipment repairs.

Tom Bradley of Altoona, a retired administrator for the Altoona Area School District, has launched an online fundraising campaign, through the gofundme.com website, to pay for three power mowers and four weed trimmers that inmates will use this summer at Fairview and Oak Ridge cemeteries.

Bradley, who regularly uses his own weed trimmer to tend to family headstones in three sections of Oak Ridge Cemetery, said he is very appreciative of the inmates’ help to care for Oak Ridge and Fairview cemeteries.

“It was a small miracle when a crew from the Blair County Prison arrived on the scene two years ago and began transforming both properties,” Bradley said.

In 2019, then-Commissioner Ted Beam Jr. encouraged the idea of assigning volunteer inmates to mow and trim grass at Oak Ridge Cemetery with the use of available and donated equipment. That was a very wet summer, which caused the grass to grow quickly.

As the inmates made progress at Oak Ridge Cemetery, their efforts drew praise. After finishing there, they moved to Fairview Cemetery and made a noticeable difference.

Warden Abbie Tate said this year’s program has resumed, with about seven inmates being assigned to cemetery maintenance work, depending on weather and supervisory staff.

She said the program has been beneficial to the community and the inmates.

“The inmates are very proud, as they should be, of the work they’ve accomplished over the past two years,” Tate said. “I have received many letters and cards from the public thanking them for their efforts.”

For the program to continue this year, Bradley said he recognized a need for new mowing and trimming equipment. He said the terrain and size of the cemeteries — a combined 40 acres — had taken a toll on the equipment that was being used. Tate confirmed Bradley’s assessment.

“We realized that the equipment we have been using for the last two years was not holding up,” she said.

Bradley said he approached officials at both cemeteries, the prison, county commissioners and McCoy’s Lawn and Garden Center in Roaring Spring to develop a partnership in support of the fundraising campaign and equipment purchases.

Those who want to make donations should access the www.gofundme.com website and search for the “Fairview and Oak Ridge Cemetery” fundraiser.

Tate is also directing those interested in supporting the program to provide monetary donations through Bradley’s online fundraiser.

“We’d like to continue this program because it gives the inmates a chance to give back to the community,” she said. It also provides the prison with an opportunity to give back to the community, something Tate acknowledged as difficult due to the nature of county corrections.

“This is something we can do that makes a difference for people in the community,” the warden said. “No one wants to be navigating a jungle when they desire to visit the resting place of loved ones.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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