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City leaders create relief fund for troubled Bosnian city
By: Maria Miller
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- As the 125th anniversary of the Great Johnstown Flood nears, a city thousands of miles away is dealing with its own flood problems, and there's an ironic connection to Johnstown.
The village of Brcko, Bosnia-Herzegovina, is actually one of Johnstown's sister cities. And now people in Johnstown are trying to lend a helping hand to their neighbors overseas.
It's certainly no secret that Johnstown has its own financial problems and people could use the help here, but the city leaders who have set up a donation fund for Brcko said Wednesday they know that the people of Johnstown remember what it feels like to need help and always find a way to give back.
When former congressman Jack Murtha visited the war-torn country of Bosnia back in the '90s, he found similarities between the city of Brcko and Johnstown. He eventually formed a plan to unite the two cities, 5,000 miles apart, as sister cities in hopes of helping in each in times of need.
"Myself, Mayor Zucco at the time, and several other representatives went to Brcko, formed the sister city program and in return, the mayors came here and we built that relationship," said Brian Subich, a former Johnstown city councilman.
Now the already impoverished city of Brcko is in need of help more than ever before after the country as a whole received three months worth of rain in just three days, wiping away homes and buildings. The flooding has also triggered massive landslides, causing hundreds of thousands of unexploded landmines, left over from the Bosnian Civil War, to shift, making their locations unknown.
"You're talking about people who had very little in their life. Now they have nothing," said current Johnstown police Officer Scott Haymaker.
Haymaker would know after spending nearly two years in Bosnia-Herzegovina serving as the former command sergeant major of NATO headquarters Sarajevo.
"It's a very economically depressed country, but I can tell you in comparison from 2003 till now, they've made great strides in both infrastructure, economically and structurally since their civil war," Haymaker said. "This is just going to set them back decades."
"With the entire town pretty much evacuated, Johnstowners know what that's like, and we also appreciate how people helped us and helped our city," Subich said.
And that's why Johnstown city leaders are sticking to the pact made by Murtha 16 years ago, now collecting donations to help the residents of Brcko recover and rebuild.
"The troubles that we have here in our country pale in comparison to the problems that they share and have in Brcko," Subich said. "What we would consider poor here, they would consider rich people. So I know that Johnstowners will dig deep and help in any way they can."
Anyone wishing to help can do so by picking up a donation envelope at Johnstown City Hall or at the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, at 116 Market St. Suite 4, Johnstown, Pa.
To make an online donation, visit http://www.cfalleghenies.org/give/donate-now/ and click on "Network for Good."