Nearly $250,000 in tourism-related grant funds were awarded to 34 organizations across Somerset County. Thursday, the Somerset County Tourism Grant Program announced the 2018 winners.
Mike and Lori Steele founded Wings for Our Heroes, a non-profit that helps disabled military, fire, EMS and police enjoy the outdoors. The Steeles were awarded a $2,500 marketing grant.
“It’s pretty impressive. I didn’t expect to get anything,” said Mike Steele. “I think it’s going to help us go a long way.”
The program is offered through the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau and partially funded by the county’s 3 percent lodging tax.
“The money granted back is money these businesses probably wouldn’t be able to get any other way,” said Ann Nemanic, the executive director of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.
County officials say the funds will help small and large tourism-related business, including the Flight 93 National Memorial, Seven Springs Mountain Resort and the Great Allegheny Passage.
One of the biggest deciding factors in awarding the grants was whether or not the groups would not only bring in tourists, but also encourage them to stay the night.
“Does it put a head in a bed. So, does this put someone in a hotel for a night to come to Somerset County,” said Somerset County Commissioner James Yoder, who also chairs the grant program review board.
The Steeles plan to use the grant to make flyers, brochures and signs.
“This grant is a great help for us to get advertising. One of the problems we’re having is getting people to know about us,” Steele said.
The military couple said they’re looking forward to growing Wings for Our Heroes.
“Now, with what’s going on in the world right now, with all the disabled military, to bring them in is just a great opportunity for us to give back,” said Steele.