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We can improve our community through just some little things: Susannah Gal

gal susannahMy older daughter is working on a certificate in nutritional health counseling and suggested a book to me and my husband called the “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.

The book talks about how people often have different ways they express and hope to receive love, differences which can sometimes create conflict between couples. The love languages described in the book include words of affirmation, acts of service, sharing quality time, physical touch, and giving gifts. It’s been an interesting read, so I recommend it. 

What I was thinking about is how might we express love for our community. There are actually lots of ways I’ve seen already in the short 1 ½ years I’ve lived here. I’ve seen how much people rallied around the Middletown Area High School football team. There were signs in many windows and on many lawns; blue and gold streamers and bows on posts and banisters. The parade was a huge draw to cheer the team on. Those speak to a love of this community. 

Cleaning up trash in our community also shows a love of our town. One of my sisters-in-law living outside of D.C. is a wonderful tender of her neighborhood, going around picking up trash for everyone. She really values that activity so much that I think it sets a high bar for others in her area. 

So how could we re-interpret the love languages for our community? “Words of affirmation” might suggest we should say positive, constructive things about our community in the Press And Journal or on the streets; we should also greet people with a “Hello” or a wave, even people you don’t know. I know I try to do this a lot so don’t be surprised if you hear me say “Good morning” when I see you around town. 

“Acts of service” could be translated as picking up trash (yes, even our neighbor’s) or volunteering at the library or other community organizations that need your help or shoveling someone else’s walk for them if they haven’t gotten to it that day. (I’ll thank you as I’m sure others will, too!) 

“Sharing quality time” might be interpreted as participating in one of the neighborhood or community events such as the Halloween parade, the Christmas tree lighting, the summer community craft fair or the National Night Out event at Hoffer Park. 

“Physical touch” might translate into shaking hands with your friends and neighbors when you greet them, or patting someone on the shoulder or back when you meet on the street. 

Finally, the love language of “giving gifts” might be represented by contributing to the neighborhood Christmas tree or by putting out flowers to make your area look particularly nice. 

In Switzerland, people take decorating their homes and tending their gardens very seriously. The postcards you may have seen of that country with the perfectly groomed lawns and immaculate gardens are real life there. I think this indicates a pride in your space and sharing it with your neighbors. It’s a visual gift to everyone who walks by.

What other things could we do to show a sense of love for our community? We could have a few more events to draw people together. In September, the Middletown CAN group had a picnic event that was modestly attended. Maybe that could be repeated. Maybe we could host a series of porch events with different bands or art in areas of town. I heard about this happening in communities such as Mapleton Hill, Colorado. In that case, there were 20 bands on 20 porches over a three-hour period one day. We have some lovely large porches around town including our own that could be the site for some nice music group. 

We could host walking garden tours, or a community clean up day. In Binghamton, New York, where we lived before, there was a neighborhood yard sale on our block and then a block party in the evening. It was a great way for us to get to know our neighbors. 

We could respect a neighbor’s request to quiet our dogs so that our town is an enjoyable place for people. We could show we care for others in town by opening doors when you see someone coming to Karns or by providing directions if someone needs help finding the Brownstone Cafe or the library. We could frequent neighborhood business and say hello when we see people on the streets. 

All these little things add up.

What might having people express the love of their community do to those living in that town? I think it would make us happy and proud to live here. I think it would draw more people to the town to enjoy the shops and restaurants and maybe encourage them to move here. 

We opened our home to the community for the Middletown Home Tour in December and had more than 70 people come. Last year, we attended the tour and really enjoyed meeting some of our neighbors and hearing about the history of their homes and their journeys to live there. There were many people from other communities so this event in Middletown drew people here. I’m guessing other community events have brought people from out of town.

These ideas aren’t for everybody, although it could bring more positive spirit which I for one would look forward to. My husband once saw the adage “You don’t have to move to live in a nicer neighborhood” which I think is so true. What are your ideas for showing love to our community? Let’s make them happen together!


Susannah Gal is associate dean of research and outreach and a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg. She has lived around the world and made Middletown her home in July 2015. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 February 2017 09:56

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Protect Sunshine Law for everyone’s benefit: David A. Atkinson

atkinson davidMuch has been written about the vengeful misdeeds that marred and ultimately short-circuited the tenure of former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane. For everyone appalled at her self-inflicted fall, it may be hard to believe another damaging blow to the public interest was delivered after Kane departed office.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the implementation of Pennsylvania’s modern Sunshine Law. This open meeting law guarantees citizens the right to attend and participate in the multitude of meetings held by the thousands of state and local government entities. Unlike many laws, Sunshine is written in plain English, in hope citizens and officials have a common understanding of what is allowable and what is not. January could have been occasion for celebrating and for renewing efforts to further strengthen this fundamental pillar of open and accountable government.

Unfortunately, the corks are staying in the champagne bottles. Unaccompanied by public explanation, a December determination by the attorney general’s office has severely undermined the compliance and enforcement aspects of Sunshine.

In late January 2016, the Manheim Township school board (Lancaster County) met in executive session. The purpose was to plot avoiding public discussion of hiring a superintendent search firm. How do we know, since this board typically does not bother to offer justification for their frequent executive sessions, an acknowledged violation of law? Well, someone dismayed by the subterfuge leaked an incriminating audio recording, confirming public suspicions of misuse of executive sessions.

District residents were furious. Media coverage turned up the heat. The county district attorney dutifully began investigating, but after four months forwarded the matter to the state attorney general. Months later, word came back — no charges. The unreleased letter was characterized as deciding there was no intentional violation because the board consulted their solicitor. Uh, right, the paid counselor who provided the script the board president used to dodge public disclosure.

This seems contrary to logic, common sense, and understanding of what the Sunshine Law says and means. How does mapping out steps for evading the requirements for public deliberations get written off as unintentional? Why does seeking legal guidance for sidestepping the public interest get rewarded with an immunity card?

In the 1960s, professor and humorist Tom Lehrer spoofed liberal church trends in the song “Vatican Rag.” One line says: “Do whatever steps you want if, you have cleared it with the pontiff ... .” Here, the attorney general’s decision essentially signals decisionmakers: “In secret you can duck and bob and weave, as long as your solicitor gives you leave.”

Several years before, the General Assembly finally approved a measure increasing the penalties for intentional violations of the Sunshine Law. 

This came in response to another Lancaster County situation, an egregious multi-month violation by county commissioners. Prosecutors had long complained it was not worthwhile pursuing Sunshine complaints, given the minimal penalties. Increased penalties would improve the deterrent value of the law, if the prospect of enforcement proved real. Now the attorney general’s office has essentially nullified the value of that action, by making it nearly impossible to establish intent.

In the NBA, when officials swallow their whistles, the lament is: “No harm, no foul.” But there is documentable damage in shoving Sunshine aside, so the sad situation becomes: “Public harm, but no official foul.”

The problem is apparent. Without effective enforcement of the law, it does not matter how much thought and effort state legislators pour into tightening definitions or strengthening penalties. Because it will be just words on paper that officials and solicitors can play cat-and-mouse with.

It is true that in this age of the opioid crisis, terrorist acts and deadly shooting incidents, law enforcement is being pressed from many serious directions. Yet, in the midst of the community carnage and mayhem, the focus on public integrity has not been lost, as the parade of public corruption cases underscores. But cloud over Sunshine, and the likelihood of improper or illegal official action increases.

There is an intriguing potential solution for this confounding problem, one floated many years ago, unsuccessfully. Make solicitors equally culpable with board members when their advice provides a roadmap for violating Sunshine requirements. If errant legal advice results in penalties in other areas, why not in this foundational good government arena?

And there is another rectifying possibility. A new state attorney general has been sworn in, pledged to restoring integrity and reputation to the office. Start here. Repudiate this affront to accessible and responsible governance. Send the message that open government still matters. Stuff the evil genie of secret shenanigans back in the bottle. And reinforce that rehearsed ways to dodge open government requirements are neither unintentional nor well-intentioned. They are illegal, and will be prosecuted when warranted. Chalk up a big win for the public interest, worthy of celebration.


David A. Atkinson is an associate staff member of The Susquehanna Valley Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank in central Pennsylvania. The writer is not an attorney, but as an aide to former Sen. Robert C. Jubelirer was involved in the five years of developing the state Sunshine Law as well as subsequent amendments. The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Susquehanna Valley Center.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 February 2017 09:59

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Penn State Children’s Hospital, Eagle Scout impressive: Tom Mehaffie

On Tuesday, Jan. 3, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives convened so that the oath of office could be administered to House members. The House is now comprised of 121 Republicans and 81 Democrats, including 23 first-term members. 

The day also included certification of election results, election of the Speaker of the House and the House Parliamentarian and adoption of rules that will govern the chamber. To learn more about my goals for the new session, visit  


PSU Children’s Hospital tour

I recently had the opportunity to take an in-depth tour of the Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey, and it was quite an amazing experience. 

We all pray our children never need the care of the Children’s Hospital, but if they do, we should all take comfort in knowing we have one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals right in our own backyard. This hospital and its remarkable team of doctors, nurses and medical professionals are dedicated to providing the best possible care for children and their families. 

I look forward to working hand-in-hand with the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the Children’s Hospital, the College of Medicine and all of its components to ensure this incredible community resource is able to continue to provide high levels of care. The hospital’s pediatric trauma and injury prevention program manager, Amy Morgan, BSN, RN, took me on my tour.


Impressive Eagle Scout

We have some very impressive young people in the 106th District! I recently had the chance to meet one of them and present him with a citation for obtaining the highest rank in scouting. 

Congratulations again to Peter Michael Gingrich of Troop No. 203 of Hershey for achieving the coveted rank of Eagle Scout. For his Eagle project, Peter landscaped around the new Hershey Food Bank and built garden beds to grow additional food for the organization. His proud parents are Shawn and Laura Gingrich.


Farm Show attracts thousands

The 101st Farm Show wrapped up recently, with hundreds of thousands of visitors having walked through the doors at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. 

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is the largest indoor exposition of its kind along the East Coast. On my visit to the Farm Show, I had a chance to talk with the Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, take in the entertaining and educational displays and taste some of the hundreds of different food items made right here in Pennsylvania. 

Locally, the 106th District boasted a lot of blue-ribbon entries in this year’s Farm Show. Be sure to check out the list of winners on the Farm Show website at The site also includes hundreds of photos from the week, categorized by competition, and recipes from the award-winning baking contests.


LIHEAP helps with energy bills

Residents who are struggling with their home heating bills can apply for assistance from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program this winter. 

LIHEAP is a federally funded program that helps individuals and families pay their heating bills through home heating energy assistance grants. It also provides crisis grants to help in the event of an emergency or if a resident is in danger of losing his or her heat due to broken equipment, lack of fuel or termination of utility service. 

The income eligibility guidelines for LIHEAP are set at 150 percent of the federal poverty level income. For an individual, the income limit is $17,820; for a couple, the limit is $24,030; and for a family of four, it is $36,450. 

Residents may apply for LIHEAP online or by contacting the Dauphin County Assistance Office at 717-265-8919. Find a link to apply online on my website,


Rep. Tom Mehaffie, R-Lower Swatara, represents the 106th House District, which includes Middletown, Lower Swatara Township and Royalton. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . His Capitol office telephone number is 717-787-2684.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 January 2017 21:16

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Here's to celebrating football, yesterday, today and tomorrow: Joe Trojcak

fixed Pitt Panthers  7 Sor Headed by Tony Dorsett, the University of Pittsburgh helped highlight the All Sports Banquet at Seven Sorrows Church Hall in the spring of 1976. Front row from left are Middletown football coach Dave Yohn; Al Romano, All-American noseguard from Pitt; Jim Corbett, all-east tight end, and the Rev. Andrew Marinak of Seven Sorrows Church. In the back row are Matt Cavanaugh, first string quarterback at Pitt; Dr. Mark Cackovic, who was instrumental in getting the Pitt athletes to the banquet; Ed McConnell, banquet toastmaster; and Tony Dorsett, three-time all-American running back.


By Joe Trojcak

It was a clear, cool evening in mid-October. The scene was the 8 yard line near the north end zone at Middletown’s Memorial Field. The team was pushing toward the Acme where Aaron’s is now located in the Giant Plaza.  

JS the QB takes the snap and hands it off to TB. TB grabs the ball and is taken down three yards into the end zone. Touchdown! Now they are lined up to go for two. Once again, QB JS hands off to TB, but he gets hit real hard and fumbles. Suddenly the ball was on the ground in front of JT and it looked as big as a beach ball. JT dives on top of the ball and gets crushed by two defenders, but the two-point conversion is good!  

This was not just another touchdown. This was the only touchdown and two-point conversion that the Seven Sorrows Eagles Pony team scored that entire season. 

The year was 1975. Father Andrew Marinak, our pastor, had finally gotten a football program started. The quarterback was John Sheaffer. Running back TB was Tim Brought (Bishop McDevitt, Class of 1980) and yours truly was tight end JT (McDevitt, 1980). Our coaches included Sol Swartz, Ron Matinchek and Dr. Kolley.

As you can imagine, starting a football team from scratch was tough. The coaches did the best they could to prepare us, but each game was like war against a well-schooled and seasoned army. Most of us had never strapped on a helmet before.

Starting a football program from scratch was an intense life-learning experience. My dad Andy understood that I was not built for football and that I was more suited to play baseball and tennis. He did like the fact that there was a summertime conditioning program to get us into shape for the fall. But he pulled me aside and said: “If you sign up you are not going to quit.” This turned out to be one of his best lessons that he taught me. I still have my trophy. It was not an award for winning, it was a reminder and a thank-you for staying with the program until the last game.  

They even had a banquet for the Seven Sorrows basketball and football players. They brought in Tony Dorsett (who would win the Heisman Trophy later that year, 1976) and Matt Cavanaugh (promoted this week to offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins) from Pitt. It was great to meet these contemporary sport legends in the same cafeteria where we ate Sloppy Joes and thousands now enter to enjoy our fish fry.  

Let’s fast forward to the recent months of football triumph for Middletown. The Blue Raiders had an amazing season. I was sitting at mass at Seven Sorrows when Father Ted Keating pointed out the happiness and pride of our community for the Blue Raiders playoff run right up to the edge of winning the final to become state champions. I ran into Mark Shipkowski, who informed me that the Blue Raiders had a solid contingent of Seven Sorrows Eagles on the team. It brought a smile to my face. The program that we started years ago had truly flourished.

It was great to have the Seven Sorrows Eagles win the championship at their level as well! The competition in the Catholic Youth League is always intense. Congratulations to these young players and to their coaches and parents.

I’m a big Pittsburgh Pirates fan but was too nervous to watch Game 7 in the 1971 World Series when the Bucs beat the Orioles. Where was I? Playing two-hand touch football with a group of friends next to the Jednota swimming pool. I was way too small to play, so they made me and my friend John Lucas the centers. Hey, we got to snap the ball every time and they found out that we could run a route and pass to us as a safety valve. These games taught us the basics of football, teamwork, and they kept us off the couch and outdoors running and breathing fresh air. These pickup games are missing in the lives of too many of our kids. They need to be encouraged. They build up fantastic memories and cost almost nothing to take place.

This was pickup football. A group of neighbors and friends who met, choose up sides and played for the fun of it. The final score is not as important and the quality time of playing, imagining being a professional athlete and enjoying the chance to be alive and kicking.

The pickup experience in certain areas is getting pushed under by a huge increase in organized sports and traveling teams. Soccer was barely starting back in the 1970s and no one even heard of lacrosse. But both of these sports are taking up youth football fields. You can’t forget the allure of today’s video games, either. They are much more interactive and realistic than my Joe Namath Electric Football Game.  

Next up is the wonderful turnaround with the Penn State Nittany Lions. It is such a pity that the horrible actions of one coach, Jerry Sandusky, turned into punishments to so many students. Penn State is back, which is a good thing for Pennsylvania!

So where is football headed in the future? That is a good question. 

The biggest concern going forward is highlighted in the movie “Concussion.” Are we going to need huge helmets like the characters wore in Mel Brooks hit movie “Spaceballs”? The NFL is slowly addressing head-to-head hits and concussion protocol, but they are decades behind on this issue. And then there is mom, dad and the rest of the family who may decide that football is just too dangerous. Injuries from the game are one thing, but permanent brain damage is a much bigger issue. 

Pennsylvania has its two NFL cathedrals with Heinz Field for The Steelers and The Linc (Lincoln Financial Field) for the Eagles. The Ravens are a short drive into Maryland as well. Sellouts at all three are common but less so in cities such as Jacksonville and Cleveland. 

The NFL is a huge economic engine. I have a huge poster in my woodshop put out by DirecTV that has a block for every NFL game that season. Beyond the tickets and the food and beverages at games, factor in the money spent on tailgates, gas for travel, hotels and NFL wearables.  

Then there are forces — some of whom are just envious “good-doers” who don’t even know about the sport —who want football banned and eliminated for a variety of reasons. I do not see them succeeding, but they are out there.

My hope is that the game continues to move forward with improvements toward player safety, and that friends and family continue to gather to watch all ages play the football in organized leagues. I dream that a new generation of kids head out the backdoor, hop on their bikes, ride down to side field at Oak Hills or Little Hollywood Park in Lower Swatara, choose up sides, run some routes, fall down and get dirty, and build memories to share with their kids.

During my first visit to Heinz Field to watch the Steelers play the Cleveland Browns, I sat high in the end zone and saw the Ohio River in the distance. Then I looked down and saw the gridiron as a chess board in front of me. As Big Ben Roethlisberger dropped back for a pass, my mind dropped back to playing pickup football with the Bosnaks, Mosers, Krasjas and Magaros, Johnny Lucas and the others at Jednota. It truly was the same game, just on a much bigger scale. None of us Jednota athletes made it to the pros, but almost every pro learned something about the game by choosing up sides and playing pickup football until they were called in for dinner.  

Here’s to many years of good football in the future and that a few of our Blue Raiders and Seven Sorrows Eagles get to play on Saturday in college and eventually on Sunday in the NFL. Play and enjoy the game while you can and realize the immortal words of Jerry Glanville that NFL also stand for “Not For Long.”


Joe Trojcak is the owner of Progressive Enterprises Sound Studios in Elizabethtown. He gives motivational presentations to encourage career building and entrepreneurship under the title “Fire Up Now.” Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 January 2017 08:56

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Life is short, but it was more than people that passed away in 2016: James Miller

When historians look back upon 2016, they’ll designate it the year of death. No year in recent memory gave us so many gravestones.

Countless celebrities, musicians, artists, and athletes left us in 2016. The list is long, but here’s a smattering: former heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali), actor Gene Wilder, David Bowie, Prince, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, actor Alan Rickman, country music artist Merle Haggard, Abe Vigoda, TV psychic Miss Cleo, BMX legend Dave Mirra, novelist Harper Lee, legendary music producer George Martin, R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker, Princess Leia actress Carrie Fisher, conservative talk show host John McLaughlin, golfer Arnold Palmer, PBS Newshour anchor Gwen Ifill, Hollywood socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor, and a big personal loss for me, A Tribe Called Quest rapper Phife Dawg.

(Seriously: Listen to “Buggin’ Out” from Tribe’s highly influential album “The Low End Theory” to witness the great talent lost.)

Stars and starlets weren’t the only folks to burn out. Many figures of great political significance also passed on. 

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly in February, injecting more rancor into an already contentious presidential race over his vacated seat. To the dismay of militant leftists and delight of conservatives, former Cuban president and communist strongman Fidel Castro died. After a career of astounding accomplishment, astronaut, war hero, and former U.S. Sen. John Glenn passed away in December. Former first lady Nancy Reagan also joined the departed in March, a woman of elegance whose warnings about recreational drug use were laughed off too early, especially in light of the opioid endemic devastating Midwest America.

For me, the biggest loss of 2016 wasn’t the author of an iconic work of fiction, a showy sportsman, or a braggadocious rapper. It was the death of my mother. Not a day passes that I don’t consider her absence and how much I miss her.

When it comes to death, our memories home in on people. But individuals aren’t the only things that kick the bucket. Ideas, those nebulous creations that govern our perception of reality, have a life all their own. And in 2016, an idea many Americans take for granted was dealt a near-fatal blow. Specifically, the uniquely Western view of liberalism is now on life support after the walloping it received over the course of last year. 

Czech author and dissident Milan Kundera described the Western ethos as “founded on the individual and his reason, on pluralism of thought and on tolerance.” In the Western mind, faith, nationalism and duty should never impede on individual want.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that philosophy, which served as the basis for America’s founding documents, is no longer as sacrosanct as it once was. The people of Great Britain voting to leave the European Union was the first shot in the side of liberalism. The election of political outsider Donald Trump was the second. Right-wing nationalist parties are on the rise in Europe, and the Bernie Sanders Left now openly mocks neo-liberalism, the view of human beings as commoditized, pleasure-pursuing creatures.

All represented a rejection of reigning political orthodoxy. 

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was assumed we had reached, in the famous words of Francis Fukuyama, the “end of history,” and that the world was moving toward a more open, more accepting, and more connected place than ever before. 

Former President Bill Clinton gave a speech in Australia in 2001 expressing his desire to see all national borders eliminated so that all could experience the benefits of trade. His wife, in a speech to a Brazilian bank in 2013, described her “dream” as “a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders.”

Hillary never expected that comment to see the light of day (Wikileaks brought it, along with many, to the fore). And she certainly never expected it to elicit the backlash it did. 

For all his flaws, Trump’s unapologetic defense of country-first won him just enough support to claim the presidency. Even in his inchoate rambling, Trump never broke away from two main traits: a respect for borders and a respect for national character. His refusal to accept doctrinaire liberalism brought the accepted ideological consensus crashing down. 

Few saw it coming. Liberalism as an idea joined the body of loss in 2016. The heart beat the mind, and it’s anyone’s guess as to where our current trajectory will lead.

It’s customary to make pledges to betterment in the new year. And after the last 12-month roller-coaster ride, I think great personal reform is in order. 

Loss makes you reconsider what’s important in life. One 2016 death I failed to mention was that of pop superstar George Michael. After a life of excess, Michael passed away on Christmas Day. Rumors of suicidal thoughts and rampant drug use surround the as-of-yet determined cause of death. 

His partner in stardom, Andrew Ridgeley, lives on. Unlike Michael, Ridgeley lived a quiet life after the Wham! years, settling in Cornwall with his partner, spending his days surfing, tippling at the pub, and advocating for a clean environment. 

Michael embraced the spotlight; Ridgeley eschewed it for a small, secure life without the frivolities of fame.

May we all remember his example. Celebrity is fleeting. The people we love never live long enough. Ideas we think will last can vanish faster than Donald Trump when creditors come calling.

Life’s painfully short, and should be lived wisely. And humility should always be exercised in healthy amounts, because what you think is true now will not always be the case. Just take a look at the new resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Heeding those lessons should be everyone’s resolution for 2017.


James E. Miller, a native of Middletown, works as a digital marketer in Northern Virginia.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 January 2017 14:01

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