January 2014

Board member finds both new and old connections to Diakon

Ken Mertz has brought his financial acumen and experience to assist various Diakon boards; he particularly enjoys supporting Diaknon's adoption program.

Growing up in Middletown, Pa., Ken Mertz knew some of the history and tradition of Diakon decades before he began serving on the board of directors of the Diakon Lutheran Fund.

What today is the site of the thriving Diakon senior living community, Frey Village, was once that of the Emaus Orphans House, an organization that had a long relationship with Tressler Lutheran Services, one of the two organizations that created Diakon in 2000. In fact, the Diakon Lutheran Fund is, in essence, the same organization that operated the Tressler Orphans Home from 1868 to 1963.

Mertz also feels connected to Diakon because his mother has been a resident of Frey Village since the 1990s. That connection, he believes, exemplifies what many people experience, feeling the touch of Diakon’s ministry either themselves or through a loved one.

In fact, he says, “I think the benevolence of donors has been so great because a lot of them have been touched by being a recipient of services. There’s an immediate connection.”

“You can see Diakon employees have a deep regard for the people they serve.”

Chief Investment Officer with Emerald Advisers, Inc., Mertz just completed the second of two three-year terms on the board of the Diakon Lutheran Fund, which manages investments that support Diakon’s child and family services. Having previously chaired the Diakon Lutheran Fund board, he was elected chair of the overall Diakon board this year, a board he joined in 2008.

Mertz became more involved with Diakon following requests from several volunteers and members of the organization’s management team, who knew him. His skills as a financial investment professional were a good fit for the board, he was told. Those skills proved especially helpful as the country’s economy hit rough waters just as he joined the boards.

“Everyone is affected by the ups and downs of economic cycles,” Mertz says. “It’s a challenge every day for organizations such as Diakon to continue to meet needs … I have respect for the stewardship I see across this group of leaders. The management of the organization is one of its strengths.”

Another strength Mertz sees is the Diakon staff itself, whose members offer service to every person as if he or she were family, he says. “You can see the employees have a deep regard for the people they serve.”

At the end of the day, Diakon has to be run like a business, Mertz notes—a business that must remain viable so that it can continue to be a caring resource for those who count on it.
Ken and Shirley Mertz (center and right), with daughters Leigh Anne, Savannah, and Autumn. Son Kenny lives in Japan.

“You have to look for efficiencies and improvements,” he says. “If I can be of help in that regard, that’s how I want to volunteer my time. I think we have a responsibility in our lives to use our talents for God’s work. It’s very fulfilling.” He and his family also have found fulfillment through their financial support of Diakon.

An especially important connection for Ken Mertz arises from the special place he has in his heart for Diakon Adoption & Foster Care, for which he and his family recently did a special gift-matching campaign. His family includes two adopted children.

“The work of Diakon is so vital,” he concludes. “The diversity of mission, with services for children, youths, families, and older adults, makes the Diakon footprint so far-reaching. Really, Diakon is there at the beginning and the end of life.”

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Wilderness center automotive program gets 'lift' from $25k grant

Diakon Wilderness Center grant expands vocational training for at-risk youths

No longer a fledgling program taking shape in a former storage facility on the Diakon Wilderness Center's mountainous campus, the center’s automotive program is the recipient of a $25,000 grant that will go a long way toward expanding the scope of Diakon Youth Services' vocational training for at-risk youths.

“With the award, we will be purchasing and installing a car lift, tire-changer, tire-balancer, and an assortment of power tools and air guns,” says Corey Carothers, executive director of Diakon Youth Services. He adds that without the lift, the program would have been limited in impact. “To have the ability to put an entire class of students under a vehicle to view mechanical items really moves the program to a higher level in terms of its impact.”

“As we train students on how to use the new equipment, they will be that much more prepared to get that entry-level job.”

Given by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the grant recognizes the center’s intensive effort to align its programming with vocational standards and outcomes established by PACTT (Pennsylvania Academic and Career/Technical Training), a project of the state commission and the Bureau of Juvenile Justice Services.

Long-term goals of the PACTT Project are to help youths served by providers such as Diakon Youth Services and the Diakon Wilderness Center to develop the necessary competencies either to continue their academic careers or to enter the competitive job market following release from court jurisdiction.

Automotive mechanics is one of three vocational-training emphases at Diakon Youth Services' Diakon Wilderness Center.

“PACTT has helped us to create a standard curriculum that is tied to certain certifications,” Carothers says. “By aligning with PACTT and winning these grant funds, we can take a huge step forward.”

Car lifts, tire changers, balancers, and other equipment are basic necessities in a garage—and critical in a program geared to providing basic training in auto-mechanic skills, he adds.

“If we can train our students to become competent on how to use the new equipment, they will be that much more prepared to go out and get that entry-level job,” says Carothers.

“Thanks to this award, we have increased the quality of the program for our students and established a fully functional classroom that will train them in the field of auto mechanics.”


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