MOUNT CARMEL — The Mother Maria Kaupas Center strives to teach young people valuable life lessons through its annual winter service program, which recently completed its fourth year.
It allows a group of college students to participate in community projects that help them develop skills and build relationships through serving others.
The 10 students who took part this year were selected from seven colleges and universities. They are all members of either Divine Redeemer, Our Lady of Mount Carmel or SS Peter and Paul Catholic parishes in Mount Carmel or Holy Angels, Kulpmont.
“The objective of this program is in keeping with the center’s basic mission of encouraging young Catholics to live lives of leadership and service in the church and their community,” said Kaupas director Jake Betz.
Betz said students must submit an application, complete an essay and be approved for participation by their pastor. Once selected, they meet collectively and are tasked to work in groups on projects coordinated through the Kaupas Center.
They took 10 days out of their Christmas break to participate in this year’s program in late December and early January; seven of the students had previously been involved.
A number of students spent a day cooking and delivering soup made at the Kaupas Center to 15 people, including shut-ins.
At the Mount Carmel Food Pantry, students helped distribute non-perishable food to needy individuals. They were also involved with organization and clean-up at the pantry.
“Last winter break I felt like I didn’t utilize my free time well. It’s nice to be able to come home, do something positive while making new connections through this program and actively helping others,” said Alyssa Menko, a West Chester University sophomore,
The students also helped in the downtown area, said Cathy Besser, president of Mount Carmel Downtown Inc. (MCDI).
“They’re a great group of young people and hard workers,” she said. “We gave them a number of projects to do for us downtown and they all stepped up and did whatever we asked of them.”
Besser said students took down Hometown Heroes banners and washed them, and removed dead vegetation from sidewalk planters.
“We look forward to having them come each year. There are many things downtown that we need to do and their help is greatly appreciated,” she said.
At LIFE Geisinger in Kulpmont, the students interacted with patients and staff and played bingo.
“I’m a big pusher for inter-generational things,” said LIFE Geisinger activities director Paul Conniff. “They didn’t have to be here but wanted to be a part of helping encourage others and make them feel better.”
Conniff said he could tell the students had a good upbringing by the respect and kindness they showed.
Lee Amarose, a Lebanon Valley College senior and member of Divine Redeemer parish, said he enjoyed brightening the day for the patients.
“This is both a rewarding and humbling experience,” he said.
Jennifer Fischer, Serenity Gardens activities director, said the students sang Christmas carols with residents.
“It was fun because there was a little competition going on this year between our residents and the students to see which group could sing the loudest,” she said.
“I believe that the Kaupas Winter Service Program is a great concept,” she added, “and hopefully even more people and organizations will want to participate in the future. I think it brings the community together.”
Elderly residents at Serenith Gardens had an opportunity to interact with the young people and do things they may not otherwise be involved in.
“After the singing this year, we also enjoyed an ice cream social together,” she said.
The Rev. Frank Karwacki, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, spoke about on the ‘blessing” of having young people willing to serve their church and community.
“It’s a wonderful program for the students over Christmas break,” he said.
At the church this year, they worked with the church secretary to accomplish various tasks, he said.
Rev. Michael Hutsko, of Saints Peter and Paul Church, was also pleased with the contributions of the participants.
“They helped decorate our Centralia parish and also accompanied me on several home visits,” he said. “Their service to the community has helped change people’s lives for the better and it’s greatly admired and appreciated.”
Each student received a stipend of $300 for their 10 days of service. An additional $100 was presented to the student selected for the Dolores Orzel Spirit and Leadership Award, which focuses on promoting gospel values and showing exceptional leadership throughout the program. This year’s recipient was Michael P. Vincenzes, of Atlas, a senior at Penn State University.
Vincenzes, a son of Lisa and Jody Vincenzes, is a member of Church of the Holy Angels, Kulpmont. This was his second year as a participant.
“Through the program, I learned about Mother Maria Kaupas’ motto, ‘Always more, always better, always with love,’” he said. “As I advance in my college career, I will follow her philosophy.”
The value of participation in the winter service program far exceeds any monetary gifts which they receive, students said.
“I’m used to volunteering at my home church (Holy Angels) and this type of work puts a smile on my face, seeing how what we’re doing encourages and lifts up others,” said Sean Fisher, a senior at Susquehanna University.
Several students said the program helps them in the pursuit of their college degrees, while establishing new connections and opening doors of opportunity.
Amanda Horan, a freshman criminal justice major at Bloomsburg University, said she wants to make a difference in her career.
“I’ve done volunteer work ever since high school. Now in college, I’m majoring in criminal justice and plan on using my degree to help make a difference for good wherever I serve,” said Horan, who is a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish.
“I’m a nursing major,” said Sydney Casey, a senior at Bloomsburg University and member of Saints Peter and Paul Church. “Giving back to the community is a large part of what I’ll be doing in my profession, which involves a dedication to help heal others.”
SUNBURY — About two or three times a month, Northumberland County Jail Warden Bruce Kovach said an inmate who is released from the facility will not have arranged a ride home.
A discussion on the issue was sparked during Wednesday’s county prison board meeting after President Judge Charles Saylor described an incident that occurred at the new jail complex in Coal Township about two weeks ago.
“An inmate was released without transportation,” Saylor said. “He proceeded to create a ride by stealing a car.”
Kovach indicated the suspect was identified after being caught on surveillance video stealing a staff member’s unlocked vehicle, which had the keys inside.
Saylor and Kovach both noted the jail has been following the same procedures when releasing inmates since prior to the 2015 fire at the former location in Sunbury.
“At our Sunbury facility, it was less evident (when inmates didn’t have transportation),” Kovach said. “We could open the door and they were in town.”
Upon their release, Kovach said inmates are given debit cards containing the balance of funds they deposited into an account when they were locked up.
Kovach said all of the area cab companies do accept payment via those debit cards from anyone needing a ride.
When inmates were being housed in a wing at SCI Coal Township as the new jail was being built, Kovach said the state required the county to escort any inmate without a ride home off of the prison’s property.
Commissioner Kym Best said she liked the idea of having Northumberland County Jail employees escort released inmates to the edge of the new jail’s property if they don’t have a ride home.
Commissioner Sam Schiccatano cautioned that by doing so, inmates would still be far away from a populated area and may be tempted to steal a truck from nearby Reinhart Foodservice.
Following the meeting, Kovach said he and jail staff make every effort to make sure inmates are not left out in the cold upon their release.
He and other staff members have previously offered rides to take inmates to the area of their homes. In addition, Kovach said jail staff work with local religious organizations to secure funds for bus tickets for inmates who are released but have no means of returning to their homes outside of the area.
Saylor directed Kovach to work with the probation department to make sure the “best efforts” are being made to make sure inmates being released have some form of transportation once they walk out of the prison doors.
Kovach also noted the prison has always been careful to look out for the well-being of the inmates at the time of their release.
“If it’s bad weather, we don’t let folks leave (on foot),” Kovach said. “We make sure they at least have a ride to the local community.”
Following the meeting, Schiccatano reported the county recently received a $250,000 check from Summit Food Service, which is contracted to operate the jail’s kitchen.
According to Schiccatano, the company previously promised to pay the county the funds in order to have certain pieces of equipment installed in the kitchen as part of the jail’s construction.
Schiccatano said the money will be used to help pay down the funds borrowed to construct the jail.
COAL TOWNSHIP — Craig Fetterman, chairman of the township board of commissioners, said no one from Northumberland County has contacted him or township Manager Rob Slaby regarding settlement of a lawsuit filed by the county.
Fetterman, who was responding to a story in Tuesday’s edition of The News-Item in which county Commissioner Sam Schiccatano said a settlement could come as early as that day, also said any such agreement would need approval by the board at a properly advertised public meeting.
Schiccatano, speaking at the close of Monday’s county commissioners meeting, said he believed the county was close to settling the lawsuit he and fellow majority Republican Commissioner Rick Shoch filed against township commissioners regarding construction inspection and permit fees for the new county jail in Coal Township. Schiccatano said he had not received any official offer from the township commissioners to settle, but he claimed two of the five township commissioners are receptive to reaching an agreement.
Schiccatano, whose nephew Matt Schiccatano is a township commissioner, did not name the commissioners. Others on the board are Bernie Rumberger, George Zalar and Gene Welsh.
Fetterman contacted The News-Item Tuesday to specify that, while he wants to settle the suit “as much as anyone,” he was not among those negotiating with Sam Schiccatano.
But, he added, “my offer still stands,” referencing a proposal the board made in December and reiterated by Fetterman at a public meeting last week. The township said it would reimburse an agreed amount of the fees to the county, but that the county would then donate that same amount back to the township for the public recreation facility under construction on Arch Street.
Sam Schiccatano said previously that, with the county paying the same amount, “I don’t consider this proposal an offer to negotiate at all.”
The lawsuit was filed in January 2018 over $161,724 for state inspections and plan reviews and $220,801 for a building permit for construction of the county jail that opened last year. They claim the fees are not related to the actual cost incurred by the township in the work related to the administering of the permits and inspections, making them unenforceable by law, unconstitutional and invalid.
The township has defended its fees, based on 1 percent of total construction costs, which it says it uses for any township project. The township claimed in a motion for summary judgment that the lawsuit was premature and that the county lacked jurisdiction and failed to follow the statutory conditions of an appeal.
Senior Judge Dudley Anderson, of Lycoming County, ruled in an order dated Dec. 17 that the motion for summary judgment was denied.