By David Lindenmuth
SHENANDOAH - After volunteer crews spent months working on improvements to Shenandoah's parks, the borough's largest park, Bicentennial, was rededicated in front of its new welcome sign on Saturday morning.
The project was spearheaded by Healthy Shenandoah, a program of Schuylkill County's VISION.
"Last year, we had an opportunity, because we were working with Robert Woods Johnson, and the University of Wisconsin with a coach from the county health rankings, and there was an invitation extended to our group specifically to apply for a grant." Kay Jones, executive director of Schuylkill County's VISION said on Saturday. "We applied. We didn't expect to get it. They were only doing 20 of these grants nationwide, and Shenandoah, Pennsylvania got it."
According to Jones, Shenandoah is the most rural area in the nation to receive such a grant, which was for $10,000. She says that, through focus groups and interviews, it was determined that better parks would improve the health of the region.
The goal moving forward, according to Jones, is to maintain the park improvements, which included park clean-ups, new picnic tables, perennial gardens, and a new welcome sign at Bicentennial Park.
"One of the ways that's being done is through the fire companies in town adopting a park, and we're going to try to get other people to adopt a park too." Jones added.
"The only fire company that did adopt a park - and they adopted Vine Street Park - was the Polish American, and they spent a lot of time down there, painting, resurfacing, we were able to purchase new swings, it's the first time swings have been there in a very long time, and Mike Vernalis spearheaded that. He's the Vice President of the Polish American, so we'd like to thank the Polish American." Renee Buchanan, Healthy Shenandoah, said.
BB&T Bank was a significant part of the park improvement project, as part of the company's Lighthouse Project.
"What it does, is it allows all the associates to give back to the communities that we work in and that we live in" Beth Cataldo, Cluster Market Leader for BB&T's Shenandoah and Mount Carmel Branches, said Saturday.
According to Cataldo, BB&T sponsored 1200 projects throughout the east coast. In Pennsylvania, there were 40 sponsored projects.
"Our particular project was to beautify the parks" Cataldo added. "We had 52 volunteers from our branches. Our small business lender, and our area operations officers were all part of the team. We spent five days, from 8:30a to 5:00p. In this park, we built the wall (surrounding the entrance sign), the perennial gardens, which means they'll come up every single year. We also have, over by the other tree, which is the other entrance, some perennials in there, and then, as you'll see, there are perennial bushes throughout the park."
"It was a lot of hard work, it's a little different than doing your banking work every day. We had a lot of manual labor, so it was hard, but we all feel very well achieved, and that's like what I said, BB&T strives to help the community, so we look forward to future projects." Cataldo concluded.
The Shenandoah Valley Football Team also assisted the project, for which Schuylkill County Commissioner George Halcovage commended them.
"I want to tell you guys, you're making a difference, and what everyone's doing from this standpoint, as far as all of the adults that are involved, they want to make it even better, and because of what you do, you charge their batteries in order to keep things going to get something done, and that's what it's about, that's what this community is about." Halcovage said. "I just want you to know how much I'm appreciative of what you do. I'm appreciative of what Home Depot's doing, what BB&T's doing, it takes a community to do things together. Between the Polish American, between fire companies and our leadership in town also, you do a great job."
"Again, thank you, and thank you to Shenandoah. That's on behalf of Frank Staudenmeier, Gary Hess, and myself. We truly believe in this community, and I think that Shenandoah has a bright, bright future." Halcovage concluded.
"Growing up in Shenandoah over 40 years ago is not like growing up in Shenandoah today, and it's because of people like you (park volunteers), who are taking the time, who are going around and cleaning up the parks, going out there and finding grant money to buy playground equipment, making the town parks look beautiful is a phenomenal job. You are doing great. Thank you. And on behalf of the entire borough council, our borough manager, you guys are wonderful." Mayor Andrew Szczyglak said. "You're making the town parks look beautiful. They are important to our community. The parks are important. As mayor, you wouldn't believe the number of phone calls I get during the week: 'The kids are riding their bikes on my sidewalk. The kids are with their skateboards on my sidewalk. The kids are hanging out on the corner in front of my house'. By you guys bringing these parks back to life, you're actually giving them a place to go, a place to play... By your efforts, you guys are doing a great job for the youth of Shenandoah."
"There are great people in Shenandoah. We get a lot of negative feedback from a lot of other municipalities, from other areas of the county or the state. I don't believe it. I don't believe it one bit. We have great people here. We have people who want to be involved. We have people who want to do things. Shenandoah has a great group of people, and I stress that. Don't get discouraged. Don't listen to people who say 'Ehh, what's the use?' Don't listen to them. You guys are doing great, and on behalf of myself, council president Leo Pietkiewicz, and the rest of council, again, thank you. Thank you for everything you have done." Szczyglak concluded.