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HUD administrator impressed with city and county efforts to fight blight, establish opportunity zone

SHAMOKIN — U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Joe DeFelice told city and county officials Friday afternoon that he was impressed with their efforts in fighting blight, establishing an opportunity zone and creating community development projects.

During his last stop on a three-day tour of multiple counties, DeFelice said, “I want you to tell us how we can do our job better. We are taking our show on the road to find out how we can help communities by listening and addressing their concerns.”

The HUD administrator was joined in his 30-minute visit to City Hall by Thomas Rossomando, national advocate for manufacturing and technology, and Elvis Solivan, regional senior adviser to DeFelice.

DeFelice said his mission is threefold: eradicate homelessness, eliminate blight and advance economic opportunities.

DeFelice discussed multiple federal funding applications that are available to the city and county.

“We want to hook you up with the right people to instill revenue in communities,” he said.

Rossomando also spoke about federal programs that can assist the city and county.

Shamokin Mayor John Brown, who noted Shamokin is currently under Act 47 for financially depressed municipalities, discussed the city’s ongoing efforts to revitalize its downtown district and provide recreational and tourism opportunities that have been spurred by the very successful Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area in recent years.

Unfortunately, Brown said an opportunity zone in the city that includes the downtown district was recently declared a flood zone by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

DeFelice said he was unaware of the flood zone designation that is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, but vowed to help the city in its economic development efforts.

Northumberland County Housing Authority Executive Director Ed Christiano informed DeFelice of the successful countywide blight task force spearheaded by the authority.

Christiano, who informed DeFelice that the county has a land bank, also made reference to several townhouse projects the housing authority has established in the local area.

“The housing authority has worked very well with state Rep. Kurt Masser, state Sen. John Gordner, Northumberland County commissioners and Shamokin and Coal Township officials in acquiring multiple dilapidated properties, razing them and in some cases, building new homes at the sites for eligible residents.

Shamokin Housing Authority Executive Director Ronald Miller briefed DeFelice on the multiple HUD-assisted housing projects in the city and the housing authority’s plan to build homes for disabled veterans at the site of the former Shroyer Dress Factory.

Miller said housing is definitely needed for disabled veterans in the local area.

DeFelice commended city officials for making progress in several areas to improve the community. “You are far ahead of what a lot of municipalities are doing,” he said.

The HUD administrator, who was impressed by Friday’s turnout of public officials, said he would be willing to host a roundtable with city and county officials, realtors, investors and business owners in the future.

After the information session, Masser stated, “I’m so glad federal agencies are reaching out like this to smaller communities. It was a very fruitful visit and Shamokin needs to take advantage of the opportunities presented here today by Mr. DeFelice.”

Brown added, “A lot of good information was provided to us by Mr. DeFelice and we appreciate him visiting our community.”

Also in attendance were Masser, SEDA-COG Revitalization Coordinator Betsy Kramer, Northumberland County Commissioner Sam Schiccatano, Shamokin Administrator Robert Slaby, Shamokin Administrative Accountant Doreen Annis, city council members Charlie Verano and Barbara Moyer, Shamokin Treasurer Brenda Scandle and Shamokin Planning Commission Chairman Jeff Fromm.

DeFelice, who resides in Northeast Philadelphia, traveled to 13 counties this week to meet with local leaders and tour HUD-assisted housing and community development projects. He also spent time touring designated opportunity zones.

Since his appointment by President Donald Trump in 2017, DeFelice has toured 170 counties to see HUD’s impact on communities in the Mid-Atlantic region, which includes Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.

DeFelice works with federal, state and local partners to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. He is responsible for the oversight of a $39 billion portfolio of programs and services and nearly 500 employees.

Prior to joining HUD, DeFelice worked as an attorney in Philadelphia. He is the former chairman of the Philadelphia Republican Party and has deep roots in community development.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO  

Sydney Marquardt, a senior member of the Big Red Band, is escorted onto Jazz Diminick Field at the Silver Bowl by her parents, Bill Marquardt and Michelle Marquardt, who is being assisted by Claudine Gratti, during senior night festivities prior to Friday night’s game. Michelle Marquardt was critically injured and spent four weeks in a hospital as a result of a motorcyle versus vehicle crash Aug. 26 in Danville.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO  

The Shamokin Area High School soccer team drills during a Halloween practice Friday afternoon at Kemp Memorial Stadium. The Indians, under head coach Todd Nye, took some time to enjoy the last regular season practice before entering the District 4 playoffs next week.


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Ronald McDonald House volunteers honored with dinner

DANVILLE — Volunteers who keep the Ronald McDonald House of Danville (RMH) going received special thanks on Thursday night.

They were honored with a dinner at the house on the Geisinger Medical Center campus.

Some celebrated up to 30 years of service to the home-away-from-home for families of children at the Janet Weis Children’s Hospital. Others were thanked for their service to Camp Dost, which is sponsored by RMH. The campground near Millville is the site of an annual series of camps for children with health challenges who would otherwise be unlikely to attend a summer camp.

Sue Artman, a house desk attendant at RMH was honored for five years of service. Camp Dost counselors Bianca Lovetro, Liz Sledinski, Dale Smeltz and Graham Tevis had five years. Board members Rick Focht, Tanisha Robinson, Brian Wolfe and Linda Brown also made the five-year mark.

Ten-year honorees included the Student Nurses Association of Bloomsburg for their work with Meals that Heal and fundraising events. Lori Mackey, Camp Dost art therapist; Phil Kuhns, house desk attendant; and the ongoing support of Theta Tau Omega of Bloomsburg University were also recognized.

Michael Jacobs, program assistant and volunteer coordinator, said the Ronald McDonald House couldn’t survive without the help of volunteers.

“We look for individuals and groups,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with helping families by working at the Family Room in (Geisinger) or the front desk at Ronald McDonald House. There are a lot of different areas.”

Jacobs said volunteering at RMH is rewarding in that volunteers know they are doing something for a good cause.

“We make you feel at home,” he added. “We really try to make it as personable as possible. (Volunteers) are giving us their free time.”

Ginetta Reed, director of development and communication, said special bonds are built between volunteers and the families. Her thoughts were echoed by Chris Lehman, program supervisor and Camp Dost coordinator, about summertime volunteers.

“They start here,” Lehman said. “But they have such an attachment and an affection for camp. Even when they move away, whether it is (to) Florida, Washington (or) Illinois, they come back to camp every year and pay for their travel themselves. All we give them is s’mores.”

Theta Tau Omega members helped serve the thank you dinner and included Rebecca Shuttle, Emma Tasker-Becker, Taylor Billheimer, Bianca Balducci, Ellen Wong and Alexis Borja of Bloomsburg University.

Jacobs requested people interested in joining the RMH or Camp Dost volunteer teams call 570-214-1792 or visit www.rmhdanville.org.


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Library grateful for grant assistance

SHAMOKIN — Victoria Ryan-Price, head librarian of the Shamokin-Coal Township Public Library expressed her appreciation Friday for the $127,644 in Keystone grant money that the library will be receiving from the state. The monies will be used to make necessary repairs and upgrades to the facility.

“The Shamokin-Coal Township Public Library is honored to be one of the 19 libraries in Pennsylvania to have been chosen to receive a Keystone grant. The repairs and renovations that will be made to our facility will improve the appearance and service that we provide to our patrons,” said Ryan-Price. “By us being able to install a curved commercial stairlift, our library will be able to accommodate our handicapped accessible patrons with limited mobility. It is important to us to be able to serve all of our patrons. We are doing a disservice to the population if we cannot provide resources and services to everyone equally because of a person’s physical inability to walk up a staircase. Now we will have the means to ratify that problem.”

Upgrades and repairs

Ryan-Price indicated that she was pleased with the new energy saving lights and windows that will be installed throughout the facility.

“We are happy to be getting new energy-efficient lighting installed throughout the library. There are 500 light bulbs in our library. We will be able to save a significant amount of money on electricity, which can be better used towards programs and materials for our patrons.”

Ryan-Price stated that windows on the second floor of the library do not open and are not energy efficient. They are a dim yellow, which makes the library look darker, and were installed prior to the 1960s before it was a library and still a department store. She also said that cleanup of ceiling damage on the second floor from past water leakage and flooding will be performed. When finished, she envisions the upstairs becoming a brighter and a more welcoming space for patrons.

A new furnace for the library will also be installed as part of the planned upgrades.

“A new boiler to heat the library will be a great asset as we move into the cold weather months. There have been many heating issues in the past because there was only one boiler to heat the entire American Legion Building. The library was forced to to close for several days last winter because the building’s sole heating unit was broken,” explained Ryan-Price.

State Rep. Kurt Masser who was instrumental in securing Keystone grant money for the library, expressed his appreciation for the library and the value it brings to the local community.

“The library certainly is a key asset to our community. We’re glad that the state recognized this need and provided these monies, which will be used to make much-needed repairs and improvements so that everyone who utilizes the building can fully enjoy it,” he stated.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO 

Mount Carmel’s Shane Weidner drags several Bloomsburg defenders while picking up 22-yards in the first quarter Friday night at the Silver Bowl.


HOGP 

In this photo released by NASA on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, U.S. astronauts Jessica Meir, left, and Christina Koch pose for a photo in the International Space Station. On Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, the two are scheduled to perform a spacewalk to replace a broken battery charger. (NASA via AP)