Collect stories from our diverse community, identify what people value, and share this information to guide Williamsport’s future
Author: Robin Van Auken
Robin Van Auken is a writer, and by profession an archaeologist. She specializes in writing books and storytelling.
She also is an instructor at Lycoming College, Williamsport, PA, where she teaches archaeology and communications.
Heart of Williamsport is deeply saddened that our dear friend and founding member Richard James has passed away. We will always cherish our time with Richard, and appreciate his dedication to freedom and racial unity through love and engagement for all people.
By Sophie Herzing Heart of Williamsport
When you first meet Richard James, shake his hand, and introduce yourself, you’re overcome with his presence, immediately understanding that this is a guy who is genuinely interested in your story and also has a couple good ones of his own. Even though Richard did not grow up in Williamsport, he has a deep admiration for the town. “I like the small town feel,” he says.He’s lived in the town for about 16 years now, coming from Philadelphia to gt a break from the desolate job search down there. “I ended up staying because I fell in love with the place,” he says.
Change is Coming
Richard has moved about the city of Williamsport, from a small “tacky” place, as he calls it, to now living in the beautiful and historic section of Millionaire’s Row, which is a collection of older houses and stately mansions built in the late 1800s. No matter where he has lived, however, he always finds a sense of camaraderie and belonging within the town. “Here, any time you walk into the grocery store, you’re bound to find somebody you know and have a conversation with them even if you saw them just last week.”
When asked what he would hate to lose about Williamsport, he felt compelled to say the fresh air. He loves the mountainous landscape that he can trace with his eyes as he walks along the River Walk, his favorite spot. “It’s very peaceful… you’re within the city, but you feel like you’re in the country,” he says. The access to nature and the small town feel is what Richard said he believes to be Williamsport’s greatest asset. He hopes it can be retained by finding a balance between commercial development and preservation of older sites.
Richard is involved with the Beloved Community Council, which works to uphold the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The group also inspires service opportunity for residents. This sort of project relates closely with Richard’s own personal story of working at a newspaper publication company, called Web Weekly back in 2003. He was the first African American to hold a management position.Through the Beloved Community Council, and the work he does with Heart of Williamsport, he is seeing change beginning to manifest. “You saw people from all walks of life come together: young people, old people, rich and poor and we said that we are going to let this be our town,” he says, “we aren’t going to let it go to the drug dealers and the gangs, and it’s working. I’m proud of that.”
Richard added that he believes the hard work isn’t over. “I see a bright future for Williamsport,” whether that be through uniting different groups of diversity or enhancing the wonderful architecture or natural aspects we have in the city. “There is going to be new opportunities. I can feel it. I want Williamsport to be the crown jewel of Pennsylvania,” he said. “People are going to point to us and say ‘these people, they got it right’”
Step Outside for the annual MLK PeaceWalk, Rally and Day of Service
From your friends at
HEART OF WILLIAMSPORT
in support of Beloved Communities
Please join us for the annual MLK PeaceWalk, Rally and Day of Service event will be held:
Monday January, 15, 2018
(Dr. King’s actual birthday)
The event will be held at Pennsylvania College of Technology in the Bardo Gymnasium. Doors open at 8:30 a.m. for registration for service project.
Volunteers will be sent to several community service providers in Lycoming and Clinton counties. Most of the service provider agencies are in Williamsport.
There will be a short PeaceWalk through the nearby neighborhood at 9 a.m. The walkers will return to Bardo Gym for warm refreshments and to listen to guest speakers.
Afterwards, the volunteers will be sent to their service projects (approximately 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.).
Other events – Tuesday January 16, 2018 – 7 p.m. Lycoming College Clarke Chapel 700 College Place, Williamsport, PA Lift Every Voice and Sing – A Celebration of Dr, King’s life. (2018 will mark 50 years since his death.)
Various members of the community will sing, read poetry, in honor of Dr. King’s life.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018 – 5 p.m. Christ Community Worship Center 436 West Fourth Street, Williamsport Unity Through Understanding
Doors open at 5pm Light dinner will be available. At 5:30pm members of the community will engage in conversation in a Round Table discussion about Unity through Understanding
Thursday, January 18, 2018 – 7 p.m. Pennsylvania College of Technology ACC Auditorium Community Unity
Coach Herman Boone, the inspiration for the movie Remember the Titans (2000) starring Denzel Washington as coach Boone. In 1971 Coach Boone, amid much rancor and racial tensions formed a winning high school football team. All events are free and open to the public.
Our Round Table discussion involved groups from the community brainstorming ideas for action corresponding with our value statement. Now, our next step is to consider our value statements in depth. The purpose is to draw attention to the areas that need improvement and recognize the Williamsport’s potential. Here are the upcoming dates of our Focus Groups.
Diverse Community: Monday, August 7th
7:00-8:30 PM @ Firetree Place
Arts, Culture, & Heritage: Thursday August 10th
5:30-7:00 PM @ City Alliance Church sanctuary
Urban Amenities & Recreation: Tuesday, August 15th
5:30-7:00 PM @ YMCA
Beautiful Natural Environment: Monday, August 28th
5:30-7:00 PM @ Susquehanna State Park Pavilion
Small- Town Feel: Thursday, August 31st
5:30-7:00 PM @ Sun Gazette
Educational Assets: Wednesday, September 6th
5:30-7:00 PM @ Curtain School auditorium
Health, Safety, & Welfare: Tuesday, September 12th
5:30-7:00 PM @ YWCA
Opportunities & Economic Growth: Monday, September 18th
12:00-2:00 PM @ Trade & Transit 2. (3rd floor)
If you’d like to evaluate the value statements ahead of time, click here
We celebrate our arts, culture and heritage through events and activities that capture the spirit of Williamsport and support local businesses which revitalize our city, enrich our lives, preserve for the next generation.
Our arts and culture are integral to:
Local businesses & artists
First Friday & other art celebrations
Our rich history instills pride and is reflected in:
Little League & baseball traditions
Our lumber heritage
Diverse, quality architecture
What do you think about this value statement? Do you agree?
MARK MARONEY, Reporter
Williamsport Sun-Gazette, April 27, 2017
Richard Hosch could see a common theme developing on his table at the Heart of Williamsport “Summit Up” event Wednesday night.
The theme was the transition of the city’s downtown as a destination with more attractions, such as the Susquehanna River Walk, and a myriad of restaurants and specialty shops connected by a network of streets and nearby neighborhoods.
Hosch, a chef with a catering business on West Fourth Street in the Historic District, was one of about 50 individuals who gathered for a few hours inside the Cochran Primary School to go over the results of a communitywide survey. It included the thoughts of 944 respondents who explained what was important to them about the city and what changes they wanted to see.
Ruth Keller, a former public relations director, said the summit was “good to get people out.” She said she has a special interest in seeing neighborhood watch groups spread throughout the city to deter crime.
A fun time for all
Participants first filled out a demographic chart listing details such as their age, housing status, gender, ethnicity and household income.
The returned data from the survey was organized by themes for groups on the tables. They included educational assets, activities and events; opportunities and economic growth; urban amenities and recreation; arts, culture and heritage; small town feel and location; beautiful natural environment; health, safety and welfare; and diverse community.
“I enjoy taking part in the ‘Safe, Clean and Green’ in my neighborhood,” said Margaret Tupper, of Arch Street in Newberry, who was on the education assets table. The event she referred to is a bi-annual litter collection promoted by the Newberry Community Partnership.
The collection often brings people together, but more volunteers are needed, said Alannah Gabriel, a longtime coordinator of the group, who joined her friend Tupper for the summit.
David Defebo, of Woodmont Avenue in the Vallamont section of the city, sat on the opportunities and economic growth table. He read dozens of the responses, breaking them into sub-sections. They included ideas such as the city’s low-cost living compared to places such as New York or San Francisco, and its educational opportunities, with a college on either side of the city.
One response focused on the connectivity of the arts, culture and opportunity as a means for quality of life.
A predominant theme was the changing look of the downtown since 1999 and how its revitalization continues to bring opportunity for employment, entice new developers and improve neighborhoods.
Some 109 of the 944 responses involved Little League — not just for a superior form of supervised recreation and sport but also as a measure of the importance of Little League in the city’s heritage, as the place where Carl E. Stotz grew up and as the site that was the birthplace of the game, said Alice Trowbridge, of Susquehanna Greenway Partnership.
“Organized youth baseball and softball is a recreation, but Little League is so much more,” she said. “It is part of our heritage and our tradition.”
The community’s small town “feel” and short driving distance from metropolitan areas were among the favorites for one person. The city’s short distance from state parks, hunting camps, fishing streams, hiking and biking paths, skiing and canoeing and paddling on rivers and creeks was the lure for another.
Many families valued the children’s library at the James V. Brown Library and a responsive city government that makes itself accessible by holding public meetings and hearings.
Another table received numerous responses on the diversity of the community, which is one of its stronger points because of the younger generation that visits and uses businesses, some of which have been developed by young entrepreneurs.
Others valued the city and region’s public transportation system, one that is “cost-efficient and easy to use,” and still others saw value in the shopping district and its outreach toward customers, especially with many big-box stores closing their doors.
At the end of the activity, the responses were collected and placed into two categories: What people value about the city and why it is important. These will be used to create a vision statement, Trowbridge said.
Adding to the delight of the event, a mural created by students in pre-school through third-grade was shared.
The children drew images of what they thought was the ideal city.
The mural showed colorful flowers, happy babies, recycling bins, shade trees growing, baseball played, rainbows in the sky and a house where children could play in safety and secure from harm.
For the past year, Heart of Williamsport has used the content of 72 video stories to identify the common values people share, and develop vision statements that reflect these shared values.
The data along with the survey responses will be shared with city and county planners and may be adopted as guiding principles for decision-making.
The group is identifying projects and/or programs that will support the vision and “sense of place” that people hold dear for Williamsport and build bridges between groups of people who may not know each other.
You spoke, we listened. After a year of story gathering, video interviews, survey questions answered, and story listening, we will review the responses we have received from our community, and work together in small groups to develop our vision statements. We need you to help us “sum it up!” These vision statements will become the guiding principles to help influence local decisions and planning to put your ideas into action.
Your friends at Heart of Williamsport request the honor of your presence for our community event:
SUMMIT UP! What Matters Most
Wednesday, April 26, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
Cochran Elementary School 1500 Cherry St Williamsport
(take Market St. west on Belmont to school; parking in lot or on the street; enter doors #9 or #10)
Khamila, Khalil, Rahim Baines and Shaheed James discuss Peace in the Port and the fight they are facing for change in the community and a better generation to come.
Peace in the Port
We had a chance to sit down with the Baines family, who moved to Williamsport 15 years ago for new opportunities and to be able to get their dad the help and attention he needed.
Khamila, Kahlil, and Rahim Baines, along with Shaheed James, shared their stories about how the community helped them grow as children and their hopes for what their children will experience, as well. They say that they hope their can be more community involvement for them as they grow up.
“That’s why we started the Peace in the Port Movement,” Khalil says, “to try to get the younger people involved in different activities and to bring that spark back to Williamsport.”
Peace in the Port was started by Khalil and his family in order to bring peace back into the community, as well as highlight the positives that individuals are doing rather than the negative.
They wanted to create a platform for people who had lost loved ones because of shootings or drug overdoses, to be able to discuss their heartache as well as create change so that these things did not affect any other families, or help others cope who have been affected.
“We all stand for peace and we all want a difference,” Khalil says.
Peace in the Port has a Facebook page that the community can follow to hear about their events, such as First Saturday.
The day after First Friday, Peace in the Port has started First Saturday in which to bring organizations together that strive for the same mission they do and so others can then learn about that mission. They also had an event at Short Park in June where they held a basketball tournament, brought in food from places such as Qdoba, sold T-shirts, and set off lanterns to honor those lost in the past year due to violence and drugs.
They also have meetings every Wednesday evening at the James V. Brown Library to open up discussions on how they can spread their message and peace across the city.
The Baines family is using organizations like Peace in the Port to bring positivity back into the community, as well as give their children positive role models to follow.
“I want the next generation to realize their options,” Rahim says, “follow your goals and your dreams before you follow your friends.”
Even more than just themselves, Khamila spoke about her wish for there to be more African-American role models in the community to be mentors for the youth.
“If everyone would write down something that we could do for the city to make it better and we could come together and read that aloud and start conversations, we could make a change to the community,” Rahim concludes.
The Baines are an example of a family that took their situation from a young age, learned from it, and wanted to change the future for the next generation by spreading peace, warmth, love, and the belief in personal success beyond stereotypes and expectations.
“I’m just going to keep up the fight,” Shaheed says, “If we can do that, we can win.”
Cliff Stevens opens up about his recent move to the area, diving into parts of the community, and how he has embraced the culture of Williamsport.
Cliff Stevens and his wife, Veruschka, moved to the Williamsport area from center-city Philadelphia, and even though they have only been in the city a little over a year, they have felt a distinct welcome in the community.
They were searching for a new lifestyle outside of the one they had in Philadelphia, and they discovered Williamsport when they came into town for coffee while camping in Laporte, PA. Once they had a cup of Alabaster coffee, they were hooked.
After searching for loft apartments, they eventually connected with Mark Winkelman about building a loft apartment at the Pajama Factory. Now, after the remodeling and construction, you walk into the Stevens’ apartment and immediately feel like you are transported to a NYC loft. The design by Mark transformed a small space into one that is liveable, unique, and quintessential to the Pajama Factory vibe.
“My favorite memory is moving day,” Cliff says. “Six or seven people just wandered in and wanted to know who we were and just ended up hanging out on the couch and having conversation. It was just a really great experience.”
Something that Cliff says he admires is the merging of the beautiful locale with the big-city feel. He can look out his window and see the mountainous landscape while still pursuing his business, Culture Spots, which provides mobile web-based software for museums and galleries to use to provide their visitors with mobile audio tours.
Even in the small amount of time that he has been in Williamsport, Cliff has thrown himself into the art and music scene. He started the Williamsport Music Scene Summit, which was held last August. At the summit, 17 people came out to share their music and ideas with people, such as Dave Brumbaugh and different orchestras in the community.
He’s also working on organizing Pajama Jam, which uses the community space in the Pajama Factory. There, musicians and bands can play on stage in front of a live audience without having to be concerned about people paying cover or buying drinks; they are just there to play and have people listen.
Cliff has become an example in the community for those who are new to the area and want to be involved. It’s all about finding something you are passionate about and putting your talents into that effort.
“I am excited about the future of Williamsport,” Cliff says, “There seems to be a momentum and we came at the tipping point.” He says that he believes there is going to be an explosion of fantastic things here, and that we can see it already happening. “I’m just excited to be a part of it,” Cliff concludes.
Local filmmaker and business owner Phoebe Frear discusses her love for collaboration and artistic expression, as well as how she gives her gifts back to the community of Williamsport.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Phoebe Frear in the studio for her business, Elephant Trunk Films, located in the Pajama Factory. When you go on her website, her mission statement concludes, “Each story has a purpose and a motivation behind it to help make the world a better place. Every film has the collaboration of other talented people with vision and dreams. Together we can help each other grow hopes, dreams and spirits,” which she discussed at length in our conversations, revealing how she administers her gifts in order to better the community she grew up in.
Growing up in Williamsport, Phoebe says she has always loved going downtown and to the Little League World Series.
She discovered her love for filmmaking in high school, and now works out of the Pajama Factory where she is able to collaborate with a community of writers, photographers, and other creative individuals.
One of her other favorite things about Williamsport is First Fridays. “It’s not just incorporating art, but the people behind the art,” she says. She also says she loves the idea of leaving one’s own table or studio in order to meet other artists and hear their ideas. “It’s like saying ‘hey, you matter and so does what you think and so does your art,’” she explains.
One of the ways that Phoebe uses her talents and work ethic is by helping make promotional videos and other works for groups like Family Promise and Thrive. She says that she loves being able to create films and videos for people in her own city, rather than always having to reach outside of it.
“That’s how I show my support in the community,” she says, “by giving my gifts back.
Father John Manno tells stories from his past, present, and uses those to gage his hopes for the future of Williamsport and the deep love he has for the community.
‘I Love Williamsport’
With one of the most familiar faces and engaging energy in Williamsport, of course we had to sit down and talk with Father John Manno, recently retired Pastor for the Roman Catholic Church, about his belief in the future of Williamsport.
Although born in the area, Father Manno did spend some time in Brooklyn, NY.
“I mean that’s a city, but this is my city,” he comments about how Williamsport always stayed connected to him despite his travels.
Something that resonates with the community of Williamsport regarding Father Manno is his authenticity, colorful humor, and the way he can tell a story. He relived some great memories for us (ask him about the time he got “arrested” as a kid), as well as his admiration for people like Vanessa Hunter and Mr. Chasey of the city who work with different programs to better the community.
Father Manno spends a portion of his ecumenical life teaching youth about positive sexuality and other healthy concepts.
“I would like to see us approach drugs and other things from the experience of knowledge,” he explains, “how we stimulate people’s minds.”
He says that in order to solve certain issues, it starts with the people and their mindset. He also talked about his belief in engaging with people in the community from a simple “hello” on the street to more in-depth conversations in order to bring unity in the already present diversity he finds.
He also, in relation to those conversations, would like to see more people out on the streets of Williamsport. He says that he walks the streets at night and he knows he has people looking out for him; that it is a safe community that people should enjoy.
All in all, the most beautiful and profound story that Father Manno shared was about visiting Bill Picklener in the hospital towards the end of his days.
“I went to visit him and on my way out he said, ‘Oh fudge, John,’ I turned around and he just looked at me and said, ‘I love Williamsport.’”
What did Father Manno have to say in reply? “I love Williamsport. What else could you say?” he concludes.
By joining together over similar interests for common good, we can produce change. No matter who you are or where you live we all make up Williamsport, and we all want to see it thrive.
I have this spot on Lycoming College’s campus tucked up behind the quad by the Sterling Gates. On the hill sits a small wooden bench dedicated to the memory of “Ginny,” which connects back to my grandmother’s name, and I’ll bring a small gray blanket to lay across it.
I like to sit there in the summer about thirty minutes before the sun will set with headphones in, a blank page of a legal pad, an iced tea, and bare feet. It’s not the best view, but I like how secluded I feel underneath tree canopies, watching the sun move through the silhouetted leaves.
The sunset might look a little different there than from the Scenic Overlook, driving 15 South, from the parking lot of Hanna, on the roof of the American Rescue Workers, but it’s still the sunset. The orange hue still glows from behind paved highways or the mountain ranges. We can all still see it.
I think that’s something that transitions into how we view our city. You might live in Newberry, an apartment on West Fourth, a small suburban home in Loyalsock, but you still could potentially view something the same way as someone who lives on 2nd Street, Grampian, or Millionaire’s Row.
When it comes to politics, school district decisions, involvement with organizations, we all have different opinions. People’s values are naturally going to differ and some voices are going to sound louder than others, but that doesn’t mean we all don’t have them.
My values are just as important as the persons who lives down the street from me or in the room across the hall. Just because we all look different: skin tones, hair length, clothing choices, cars we drive, does not mean we don’t have commonalities.
In order to produce real change we have to understand that perhaps one person might want the basketball courts reestablished at Memorial Park and another wants more low-income options for summer activities, but together they both want the same thing: a safe space for the next generation to learn and grow.
By joining together over similar interests for common good, we can produce change. No matter who you are or where you live we all make up Williamsport, and we all want to see it thrive. Communicate with people who seem different from you, listen and absorb their ideas, share yours.
Regardless of how we decide we want to get there, we all want to get there. We all see the same sunset.
Members and founder John Meyer of the Pajama Factory’s Community Woodshop discuss the opportunities Williamsport has given them and their love for the woodshop.
The Pajama Factory encompasses many different creative facets from small business owners, to entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, coffee lovers, but tucked in the back part of the building past the courtyard is a special place for people to use their hands and learn a new skill.
The Community Woodshop was started by John Meyer, who originally came to the Pajama Factory to rent a space for his own woodshop. When he mentioned wanting to bring in other members and perhaps teach some classes, he rallied a couple guys together to convert the space into a non-profit woodshop.
“It’s a kind of labor of love for me,” John says. He wanted to create a space that allowed residents of Williamsport to come in and learn how to use tools in a safe environment while also giving them the freedom to experiment with their projects.
When we sat down with John, he was joined by Robin Cupp and Diane Sennet. Both wanted to come to the woodshop because of their love for the craft and didn’t have the right space in their homes to create their own.
“I can come over here and create and if I have any questions there is always a monitor here so it’s like having your own private lesson,” Diane says.
The Woodshop is run by membership and each one is a different package with various benefits, which you can choose to pay for based on your needs in the woodshop. Even more than gaining the skills and knowledge of woodworking, the Woodshop is really a community of people who want to create things with their own hands. “Here, you get to visit with people and exchange ideas,” John comments.
All three agreed that what makes Williamsport so wonderful are opportunities like the woodshop, the wine and design, and other do-it-yourself establishments that can teach the community skills that they can then take home.
“It’s unique,” John says about the Woodshop.
“You can do almost anything here,” Diane concludes.
Tommy Grieco is an artist from Lock Haven who uses the Pajama Factory for his studio space to create his paintings and chalk pastel pieces. “It’s great to get together and share ideas and creativity,” he comments about the atmosphere at the Pajama Factory. Tommy says that he feels a sense of community within the Pajama Factory, but felt an even greater sense of it when people from across the Williamsport and Lock Haven area donated to his GoFundMe site for a new wheelchair.
Tommy had posted a photo on his Facebook account of a wheelchair that he would love to have, but couldn’t afford. is friends put together a GoFundMe site in order to gain donations. However, to everyone’s surprise, within 24 hours they had the amount for the $3,500 wheelchair. “I just couldn’t believe it,” Tommy says. Even after they reached that amount, people kept donating towards the fund even after the goal was reached. “It just show you that no matter what, a lot of people around here really do care,” he says.
Along with his close friends at the factory, Tommy has also found a community at The Center for Independent Living. He recently joined the board in order to do some arts and crafts program and maybe start a basketball league and other activities for the community to participate in. The center works towards making sure the disabled members of the community can easily move around the city and can interact with other people who understand their lifestyle. “I think that I would be lost without them,” he concludes.
Jason Fitzgerald, president of Penn Strategies, a consulting company in Pennsylvania, is a great example of someone who is growing in the place in which he was born. He has lived in Williamsport his entire life and stayed because of his family. His children are sixth-generation residents. “Some of the best and brightest in my class moved away, and if you can do good in the place you are from, you should,” Jason says, “I wanted to restore that.”
Bloom Where You Are Planted
He says he feels especially close to City Hall and the building itself, representing his ideal aesthetic for a place of power and pride in the city. He says he has always been fascinated by city government because he could directly see the change they produced. He hopes that the region’s elected officials and members of Chamber of Commerce can address the concern of having family-sustaining jobs in the area so young people will be attracted to the area and want to remain. “I would love for my children to be able to stay here, but I would understand if they had to leave,” he says from a personal take on the issue. He expressed his hopes for this to change so that Williamsport can continue growing.
Jason also talked about how he believes in a balance between tradition and being more open-minded to change. He said he would like to see the motto of the city change from “The Will Is in Us,” to something more vibrant and engaging. “We need to do more to promote the concept of Williamsport as a city that is winning and one people want to be in,” he says.
Through his work, Jason has seen other cities and how they operate, but says he still feels the Williamsport is the place to be and that it has a lot to offer in terms of culture, nature, and history. Outside of his work, he also involves himself with the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership and serving on the Salvation Army board of directors. He says that he believes in the potential of Williamsport and feels a responsibility to work towards that, and to bring others in. “Maybe when people feel their mobility no longer stifled by old ideas and institutions, then we will start to get better,” he concludes.