When asked what is important to him, Allen Kukovich, a man firmly grounded in family and community, doesn't hesitate with his answer: home.
Mr. Kukovich, 63, feels a certain pride and satisfaction that his family has deep roots in Manor, Westmoreland County. He represented the county for nearly three decades as a member of the state general assembly, serving as a Democratic state representative from the 56th District, then as a state senator in the 39th District.
His wife, Nancy, is president of United Way of Westmoreland County. His daughter, Ali, is a sophomore at Penn-Trafford High School, her father's alma mater.
"What's important to me is where my family and I live," Mr. Kukovich said. "My daughter is a fifth generation growing up there, and I just always felt so rooted in this community."
In his new role as regional chairman in a group called Power of 32, Mr. Kukovich's sense of community has expanded to include areas beyond his immediate hometown. Power of 32 is concerned with long-term solutions to improve the quality of life of people in a 32-county area that encompasses parts of four states.
"A lot of forces that affect our lives don't care about [government] boundaries, so it made me realize how important it is to think in a more broad way and to try to come up with a long-range agenda," he said.
Power of 32 hopes to create a shared vision for the region's future. In addition to 15 counties in Pennsylvania, Power of 32 includes parts of Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland, and represents more than 4 million people.
The two-year program began in May 2009 with funding from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, The Grable Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, Richard King Mellon Foundation and The Pittsburgh Foundation.
Since then, 30 to 40 other foundations have come on board to assist Power of 32, which operates on a $1.5 million to $2 million budget, Mr. Kukovich said. Power of 32 has aligned itself with partners such as Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership and Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.
"The Power of 32 is not about the creation of another entity," Mr. Kukovich said. "It's about collaboration within the region and to empower existing organizations. The key to be successful ... we need to rely on partners and organizations that we've been working with and to hear that vision."
This former Pennsylvania lawmaker said his years in state government prepared him to serve first as executive director of Power of 32 and now as its regional director, a position he has held since March.
The five years he served as director of Gov. Ed Rendell's southwest regional office also were important in preparing him for the job.
"It allowed me to make contacts which have been really important. It also helped me understand how the process works. A lot of what I did there was work with a number of different groups to coordinate activities. Economic development was a big part of that position."
The Power of 32 project is divided into three phases: community conversations, which started during the summer to listen to people concerning the challenges and strengths of the region; framing solutions, which started in the fall to identify policy options; and regional town meeting, which will begin this year to start prioritizing policy options for the region.
Mr. Kukovich said he is excited with the progress of Power of 32, particularly the community conversations.
"The community conversations were structured so that everyone had a chance to participate," he said. "This gave people a chance to think more broadly and long term."
Mr. Kukovich contends the key now is to move these issues into an agenda that is achievable as they look toward the next three to four months.
"It's very easy to take all of this data and say it's 'agenda,' but it has to be achievable," he said. "But on the other hand, we can't be too cautious. It has to be bold enough to capture people's imagination."
Selena Schmidt, executive director of Power of 32, said Mr. Kukovich's work has been instrumental to the organization. For example, she explained how during a week in July, when the group launched community conversations, Mr. Kukovich crisscrossed three states in three days.
"His ability to relate with people across issues, ideologies and geography was integral to building our strong coalition of leaders," Ms. Schmidt said.
"His integrity, commitment and passion for the region helped Power of 32 to connect the initiative to organizations, colleges and universities, and community leaders. His legacy with the project is rooted in these accomplishments."
Spending almost half his life's work devoted to public service, Mr. Kukovich said his time with Power of 32 ranks extremely high. In many ways, he said, he sees the work of a group that stretches beyond municipal, county and state lines as ultimately helping achieve his aspirations for his hometown of Manor.
"I just want to see it grow, strive and continue to be a great place to live," he said.
Anthony Todd Carlisle, freelance writer; firstname.lastname@example.org .