This month, I am set to reach one of life’s major milestones. On February 23, I will turn 40 years old.
I find this fact astonishing only because I can recall with crystal clarity the day I turned ten, when I thought an eternity would have to pass before I reached the great sum of 15.
Still, I reached that milestone and many others, and 30 years later, here I sit thinking of past accomplishments and future feats yet to be achieved.
Forty seems like an appropriate age to take stock of your existence by counting the milestones along your life’s path. From learning to walk to learning to fly, so many occasions have had a profound impact on me. Giving birth to my favorite person, graduating from college and graduate school, publishing my first novel, and marrying my soulmate a few years back have all been events that shaped me in dramatic ways.
Having said that, what I remember most vividly about the last 20 years or so has not been so much the milestones but rather the moments I’ve shared with friends and loved ones. This is hardly an original concept and I must credit the source, the late Rose Kennedy, who raised a U.S. President and two senators along with six other children. She was also a leading philanthropist who lived to the ripe old age of 104.
“Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments,” she wrote in her autobiography, Times to Remember.
The moments I cherish best have been the most unexpected, and at times have not fit neatly into the narrative I once believed my life would follow.
For everyone official milestone I’ve met, there are hundreds of moments that have eclipsed their standing. This is not to diminish their importance, rather it is emphasize how incredibly rich my life has been to date.
Like anyone, there are instances I’d rather not repeat, difficult lessons learned the hard way. Still, I can’t discount any of them for – without them – my life might have taken an alternate course than the current one.
Speaking of alternate courses, this issue is dedicated to those who go out of their way to help those whose lives have been touched by hardship and/
In this edition, we honor the first responders on the scene, as well as those who raise their voices on behalf of the silenced. We pay tribute to those who support the downtrodden and the disadvantaged.
In an effort to be a positive force for change, we also are spotlighting organizations and causes to which you can contribute your resources. Even if you don’t have a lot of money, you can still make a difference by volunteering your time to help others in need. Have a spare hour or day? Want to help – among others – hungry children, people with life limiting illnesses or victims of domestic violence? Details about several worthy causes are listed within this month’s pages. Remember, volunteering can be a rewarding solo activity or a great way for families to bond and instill good values in their children’s hearts and minds. No memory is as precious as one that’s made while lifting others up.
Finally, this issue contains over 50 notices of places to go and things to do in the month of February, from celebrating Valentine’s Day at a local restaurant with your special someone to discovering the diversity of artists and performers in your own backyard.
Whether you elect to mark your life by milestones or moments, take time to appreciate the unique beauty of each.
Until next month,
Carla E. Anderton
One of my all-time favorite actresses is Julie Andrews. I’ll save you the trouble of Googling to see if 2016 took her, too. Fortunately, at 82 years young, she’s still with us. While she appeared in a number of iconic films, one holds a special place in my heart, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. As far as I’m concerned, everything about this film is amazing, from the masterful performances of Andrews in the role of Maria and her co-stars – particularly Christopher Plummer as the dashing Captain VonTrapp and Peggy Wood as the ever sage Mother Superior – to the infectious tunes that provide the movie’s soundtrack.
Perhaps my favorite scene in The Sound of Music is the one where Maria first travels to the VonTrapp estate from the familiar confines of the convent, where she thought she’d live out the rest of her days.
“What will this day be like? I wonder. What will my future be?” she asks, her voice a mixture of uncertainty and eagerness. As she approaches the palatial home and prepares herself to meet “a Captain with seven children” she ponders “what’s so fearsome about that?” and sets off with renewed confidence.
It’s an inspiring instance of resolution and determination that tells the audience what sort of person Maria is, during which their view of her shifts from flighty and scatterbrained to confident and composed.
For me, however, the most motivational part of this scene is at the beginning, when Maria exits the convent, bags in tow, and prepares to leave behind the only life she’s ever known.
As the gates of the abbey close behind her, Maria says, appropriately, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.”
My first viewing of the film was in 1984, so long ago that my grandmother actually rented a VCR from our local Kroger grocery store so we could watch the movie on VHS. (That’s right, I said “rented” as, at the time, most working class people couldn’t afford to own VCRs.)
In the years since, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve held on to that sentiment, that when God closes a door, somewhere a window opens. I uttered it to myself the day I left my hometown at the tender age of 22, filled with anticipation of the possibilities that awaited me in California, Pennsylvania. I repeated the phrase over a decade later, when I made another earth moving change. Only a couple of months ago, I had to say “Au Revoir” to a place I considered my second home for 16 years, and as that door closed behind me for the last time, I kept in mind the thought of the window that’s opened for me again and again, just when I’ve needed to set my sights on something new.
If you’re reading this, you’re looking through my personal window. Thank you, and don’t mind the dust! With the shift from bimonthly to monthly, we’re adding lots of awesome, original content as well as expanding our current offerings. One example has been a marked increase in event listings. Looking for something to do, close to home, in January or early February? We’ve got you covered.
2016 was a challenging year for a lot of people in myriad ways. Maybe it was a good year for you, maybe not. Maybe you’ve had doors close behind you, too, and you’ve found yourself searching for an open window. May 2017 be a year of renewal for you, of change and new beginnings.
Speaking of new beginnings, this issue is dedicated to those who have set off on innovative courses, just as the ever cheerful Maria did in The Sound of Music. May confidence, too, be their guide!
Until next month, Carla E. Anderton
In our two years publishing Pennsylvania Bridges, I’ve always regretted the fact we never had the opportunity to publish a November issue, given we began as a bi-monthly publication.
A Thanksgiving issue always provides the perfect chance to reflect on all we’ve been grateful for in the past year, and to envision all we might give thanks for in the coming year.
So, this year, I want to express my tremendous appreciation to so many, even as we move into the month of December, because this month I also get to say a special thanks to you, our loyal readers, and also to our talented, dedicated writers and staff.
Before I get carried away with asking folks to come on stage, however, let me take a brief moment to make an exciting announcement.
Beginning this month, we will be publishing Pennsylvania Bridges every month. Yep, you heard it right, and you heard it here first. Every month, we’ll be bringing you the best in arts, entertainment, education, lifestyle and special event coverage in the region. We’ll also be expanding our already extensive coverage of local churches, area non-profits, and other philanthropic organizations geared towards helping others, as well we increasing our front row and behind the scenes presence at area arts and entertainment events.
Got a story? You know how to find us. We’re on the web at pabridges.com, as well as on Facebook & Twitter.
Want us to print your announcement? Let us know.
Like to write? Get in touch. We’re always looking for a few good people. Have a photo you want to share? Let us know.
While we’ll be temporarily cutting back on our page count per issue, we’ll be dramatically increasing our circulation, as well as doubling the number of times we’re printed each year.
What that means is twice the audience for your special event or business, with an edition being produced every month.
Getting back to people I need to thank, however, this issue wouldn’t have been possible without the journalistic efforts of Fred Terling, Assistant Editor and Staff Writer. You’re the best, Tomato.
Technology columnist Eric Worton provided support in the form of [regular] meals, as well as an in-depth report on how to cut the cord using Roku devices to explore the best in entertainment programming.
Reanna Roberts of our exclusive series Exploring the Paranormal gave us a unique perspective on the mental state of that classic Christmas curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge.
Pastor B.T. Gilligan always pens a thought provoking reflection on matters of faith, and this month’s was especially moving. I dare you not to cry reading it. I certainly shed a tear or two.
In short, this issue, like others before it, is jam packed full of goodness.
Based on your feedback, you guys feel the same way. The message is clear: You really like us! Thank you! Keep those letters and emails coming. We pride ourselves on being YOUR paper, and we want to be your voice.
Simply put, as we enter the holidays, I feel so grateful, for our advertisers, for our writers, and for all of you, whether this is your first time reading Pennsylvania Bridges or whether you’re already a loyal fan. Thank you!
As we prepare to celebrate a season with great meaning for so many, I can only hope that we show each other kindness, decency, and the very best of what we can be. Merry Christmas, and Happiest of New Year’s!
See you in January. Until next month,
Carla E. Anderton
Westmoreland College held a ribbon cutting ceremony to dedicate its new Instructional Design Lab which provides college faculty with the tools to create content engaging course content.
The lab is equipped with six smart podium computers that provide the tools for faculty to imbed video, PowerPoint presentations and other digital content into their online courses delivered in a web conferencing format. These online classes are delivered synchronously allowing instructors and students to interact in real time. Students can access the courses via any mobile device, including smartphones, tablets or computers.
“It’s the closest you can get to being in class without being in an actual classroom, “said Associate Professor John Shelapinsky who teaches Paralegal classes online.
This fall, 47% of Westmoreland students are taking at least one online class and their grade point averages are slightly higher than those enrolled solely in on-ground courses.
“One of our goals is to grow online programs and services to engage students where they are and that’s online, said Westmoreland President Tuesday Stanley. “The Instructional Design Lab will help us to do that.”
Funding for the creation of the Instructional Design Lab was provided by a gift from an anonymous donor.
“We are very grateful to the donor for the gift that enabled us to equip the lab and hire an instructional designer who assists faculty in transitioning their on-ground courses to an online format and developing engaging digital content,” said Stanley.
Funds from a $2.25 million Title III Strengthening Institutions Grant received from the U.S. Department of Education will allow the college to expand the Instructional Design Lab with additional equipment and professional development.
“The lab is the college’s first step in achieving its long-term goal of creating a Learning Commons as part of the Founders Hall renovation project, currently in the planning stage,” said Stanley.
Once completed, the instructional design lab will move to the Learning Commons which will also contain spaces for tutoring and academic support, mentoring and counseling services, career services and an IT help desk.
Westmoreland offers 11 associate degree, diploma and certificate programs that are available 100 percent online. Among those offerings is the Associate of Arts degree, which is transferrable to bachelor’s degree programs at four-year universities. Other programs available completely online are some of Westmoreland’s most popular majors such as business, accounting, criminal justice and psychology.
This fall, Westmoreland was ranked first in Pennsylvania for 2016 online colleges by OnlineColleges.com.
Photo: Delivering remarks at the dedication ceremony were Stanley; Tara Zirkel, dean, Distance Education and Education Centers; Dick Dickert, chairman, Westmoreland board of trustees; Philip McCalister, president, Educational Foundation board; Annette Boyer, director, Distance Education and Learning Resources; John Shelapinsky, associate professor of Paralegal, Business and Real Estate; Ted Kopas, Westmoreland County commissioner; and Chad Amond, president, Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce.
Depressed areas create despair for residents and youth alike, and a sense that opportunity exists elsewhere. But Terry Vassar of Brownsville, Pennsylvania, decided that he could make it where he lives, and raise others up in the process, through his 180° Empowerment Center, a 501.3c organization headquartered in Brownsville.
Vassar, proud father of five children and a Windows R Us franchise owner, explains the inspiration for the Center’s name: “180 is about making a complete turn-around. Anytime anyone came to Jesus, they would have their life turned around 180 degrees.”
From high school graduation until about age 28, Vassar said that while he had a good family, “…some of us find love in different places, and I found mine in drugs and street life. But at 28, I realized I had no life, and went back to school,” adding that once he rededicated his life to Christ, he didn’t need to go to rehab to quit his habits.
After completing a degree in Ministerial Studies from Shiloh Bible Institute, Vassar worked as a telemarketer where he “ . . . learned how to be a communicator and have people skills,” which benefitted him though managerial and mortgage broker jobs, and would later help bring the Center to the Brownsville community.
Vassar’s experiences on the street, along with personal development through hard work, seeded the idea for 180° Empowerment Center in 2007. However, it took time to build connections with the school district, and create a location, at 165 Market Street in Brownsville. Once in place, he moved ahead with his vision, working with Brownsville Area School District Superintendent Dr. Philip Savini, Jr., Ph. D, to bring the Center’s outreach programs to the district, starting in December of this year.
The Center provides English, math, and Spanish tutoring for 7-12 grades, along with PSSA, SAT, and ACT preparation. In addition, grief counseling, career awareness, student aid workshops, and suicide awareness and prevention programs are available to the area students, or anyone in need.
On request, life development courses and credit counseling are also available.
California University interns from the Department of TRIO and the Hispanic Student Association have stepped in to volunteer their tutoring skills. Lisa Driscoll from the Department of TRIO and Academic Services facilitates the relationship between California University and the Center.
“She’s awesome and it’s been a great partnership. She was instrumental in getting everything in line to start in December,” Vassar said of Driscoll.
Furthering technical literacy skills for Brownsville school district students is Fab Lab, which as Vassar calls “A new, 21st century way of doing design.”
Fab Lab, instructed by Brandon Prentice from Intermediate Unit 1, features classes in Laser Cutting, 3D Printing for Beginners, and a Vinyl Sticker Tutorial. While working through these classes, students learn about design software and 3D modeling to produce projects for the individual class instructions. New Fab Lab classes will form in early 2017.
Vassar’s message for the area is a positive one: “I believe that people in the Mon Valley area, because of the depression, believe they can’t do it here. But by the grace of God, I am. I want kids to be able to duplicate what I’ve done. I want kids to find out what they love to do, and work on developing their strengths.”
Those wishing to donate and/or participate: 180degreesempowerment.com/about, and click on “Lend a Helping Hand.”
Photos: (top) Students show off self portraits made during Fab Lab (bottom) Students participated in a basketball clinic offered by the Center at Brownsville Area High School this past August. Future clinics are planned.
Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges
California Borough families will have the opportunity to partake in a free holiday celebration on Sunday, December 4, 2016 at California University of Pennsylvania’s Natali Student Center from 4-5:30 p.m.
Activities Will Include:
A large inflatable snowman chair for fun photo opportunities
Photobooth Fun – Snap some holiday-themed selfies in the home-made photo booth!
Cal U’s Theater Department will perform a portion of their upcoming musical, “The Happy Elf,” at 4:15 p.m.
Holiday Cookie Decorating
Balloon animals and face painting will be available
A family-friendly holiday movie will continuously be shown in the Vulcan Theater
A card-decorating station will be set-up to decorate cards to send to soldiers and hospitals
Santa will arrive at 4:30 p.m.
Don’t forget your list, and remember to smile for your printed photo with Santa for your decorated frame
Blaze and the DQ ice cream cone will be in attendance
PARKING WILL BE FREE. The best place to park will be behind the Student Union (coming down Hickory Street)
The Bookstore will be running a 20% discount. Plan to have dinner after the event in the Gold Rush, too.
Please invite your friends & spread the word! We hope to see you there!
Event Sponsored by California Borough Recreation Authority and California University of Pennsylvania
The Brownsville, Pennsylvania area is living in hard times because of diminished industry, diminishing population, and diminished incomes. What follows is an increasing number of decaying homes, with residents wishing for help and hope.
And there is hope. Through the auspices of Reach Mission Trips of Colorado, working in conjunction with Reach Workcamps of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Uniontown, approximately 350-400 work campers will take up residence at Brownsville Area High School to serve 70 of Brownsville’s homeowners whose homes are in need of vital improvements.
Reach Mission Trips sponsors 6-8 work camps each year, involving church youth group students from 6th grade through high school and adults.
Judith Taylor, coordinator of Reach Workcamps of St. Peter’s Anglican Church, says of the program “It’s almost a rite of passage at church for kids to go to Reach. It’s a way to learn to serve,” which fulfills Reach’s goal of developing youth into “transformed servants of Jesus,” according to their web site.
Homeowners in need are pleased to discover there is no cost to them for the student teams who work to make their home “warmer, safer, and dryer” – the main goals of the home improvements according to Taylor.
“What’s the catch?” homeowners wonder, but there is no catch, as Taylor explains “funds come from youth group fundraisers. Each student usually pays $400 – $425 (to participate). This money funds the needed materials. These kids do fundraisers to raise money to pay for the privilege of sleeping on a classroom floor all week, eating cafeteria food. It’s character building.” Workdays of six hours for junior high, and seven hours for seniors, adds to the week long character building process.
Taylor, an 18 year volunteer, has taken generations of kids to Reach, which helps them learn skills in working with tools, roofing, and painting, while learning work ethics such as getting up for work at 6:30 a.m. every day during the week.
Taylor’s own family is a multi-general participant in Reach, with her daughter, Maggie Taylor, and granddaughter, Bailey Burkett helping out during camps. It’s not unusual for this program to bring in new generations, as Taylor said “A lot of students have come back as adults to continue work. Reach needs staff and now this is their college summer job.”
To qualify for help through Reach, the home must be owned by the resident, have financial need, and be within half hour travel distance from Brownsville Area High School.
In December, a Reach representative will visit homeowners who have completed applications.
All of the work done is overseen by a “troubleshooter” who had been a contractor in the past. All adults are screened including a background check and a letter from their own church’s pastor, Taylor said.
Homeowners benefit in a tangible way from the efforts of Reach work campers, not only in their everyday lives, but in the creation of a positive perception of modern youth. Taylor relates a project in southern West Virginia, where a homeowner “had stairs and handicap ramp so rotted she couldn’t safely leave the house. After being able to go down the steps and view her new porch on the house, she said ‘My porch looks like it belongs on the front of Southern Living Magazine!’”
Homeowners are pleased with the hard work and good attitudes of the campers, and have said “I didn’t think there were any good kids left in the world,” Taylor recounts, adding “the kids lead prayers at lunch time. It changes peoples’ perceptions of youth. I think that’s worthwhile because of too much negativity for young people.”
Taylor invites local community members and churches to participate with donations of bottled water, ice for lunch coolers, donations in kind, or financial donations. Local church youth who wish to participate will not commute, but will stay with other work campers at the high school, as Taylor said, because it provides church youth with a complete work camper experience.
Taylor is available to visit churches and youth groups to explain the camp, and also said “It’s not too early to be looking for homes which need help.”
For questions, information, work the group can do, or offers to help via food, donations, and more, contact Judith Taylor at email@example.com, or call 724-812-1597.
Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges