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All the news that doesn't fit in print
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    I put my money on 20 minutes for Thursday's Township Commissioners meeting as the agenda was so light.

    The ever-wise Joe Zlomek, publisher of the Sanatoga Post, said because they were considering three new ordinances it would be more.

    But I would have won if Commissioner Ray Lopez had not raised the idea of changing the title of Code Enforcement Chief Joe Groff to the head of the Licensing and Inspections Department, similar to what was done in Pottstown a few years ago.

    There was a lot of hemming and hawing and no decision was made, but it made me lose my bet and I'm pretty sure I owe Joe Zlomek a drink.

    Otherwise, the most significant discussion -- no votes were taken -- was probably the updating of the peddling and solicitation ordinance.

    Solicitor Charles Garner Jr. noted that it had not been updated since the 1970s and offered such waivers as the ability to sell meat and dairy products from the back of a truck, not something that happens much nowadays.

    So in the interest of being proactive -- the justification for draft sewer holding tank and blasting ordinances also discussed Thursday night -- Garner and Township Manager Ed Wagner offered some "tweaks and updates."

    Primarily, they include such practical suggestions and shortening a the term of a peddling license from a year to six months, applying it primarily to for-profit enterprises and requiring background checks for the issuing of a license.

    Non-profits wopuld still be required to obtain a permit (thought not a license) under the current draft, but fees would be waived.

    Commissioner Robert Molhollen was particularly insistent that the ordinance should not interfere with such regular occurrences and selling Girl Scout cookies and Salvation Army solicitations at Christmas.

    He was assured they would not.

    Here are the Tweets from the meeting.

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    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by West Pottsgrove Elementary School.

    West Pottsgrove Elementary School celebrated Healthy Kids Day with an evening families, fun and fitness. 

    West is in it’s third year of looking at how to incorporate wellness and student well being into the culture of the school and this year we took it a step further and added an evening event to include our families into the initiative. 

    Through the work of the building Wellness Committee we reached out into the community and brought a variety of community organizations on board to provide resources to our families on opportunities for fitness and wellness outside of school.

    During the event, families could take part in an Escape Room Fitness Challenge where they had to complete several challenges and unlock the code to “escape”.

    Next Level Martial Arts instructors were on hand to give a demonstration for students. An instructor from Premier Dance Studio engaged students and parents a dance lesson and 422 Sportsplex engaged children and families in a soccer demonstration. 

    McCormick Chiropractic was on hand to provide information and consultation to interested parents.

    Cindy Hontz, our food service director from Chartwells served up smoothies that can be made without a blender. Cindy had samples to try and the students were also able to try their hand at making their own smoothie. We had other snacks and water on hand provided by generous donations from Wawa, Giant Food Stores and the Pottstown Health and Wellness Foundation. 

    PMSI Comprehensive Healthcare was the generous sponsor of the event. Through their generous donation, we were able to provide an inflatable obstacle course for the children to enjoy. This was a big hit for all in attendance. 

    JAMB party rentals supplied the obstacle course and they were generous enough to leave the course for all of the children to enjoy during the school day on Friday. We were also able to offer fitness themed door prizes throughout the event.

    Other community organizations were on hand to provide information for the families:
    • Art Fusion offered a make and take art workshop. 
    • The Pottstown Library provided families with information on summer programs and how to get a library card. 
    • Community Health and Dental Care brought along their mascot to share information about the many services they offer. 
    • The Pottstown YMCA shared information about their summer programs. 
    • Head Start shared information on their program for the children of the community. 
    • Creative Health was on hand to share information about their programs and services.
    Plans are already underway for next year’s event and the team is looking forward to expanding our relationship with the many community partners involved. If success can be measured in smiles, the event was an overwhelming success.

    The West Pottsgrove Wellness Committee members are Tom Yenchick, Julie Farris, Jean Randall, Melissa Holloway, Marianne Harrison, Matt Pawlik, Leah Quigley and Terri Koehler.

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    Pottstown Middle School's Environmental Club in the Poconos.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Foundation for Pottstown Education.

    Through funding provided by the Foundation for Pottstown Education, the Pottstown Middle School Environmental Club attended the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) from May 17-19.

    Students learned about stream ecology.
    Twenty nine students along with teachers made the trip to Dingman's Ferry for three days of educational experiences and fun.

    The students and chaperons camped in the Yurt village, which are domed tents on a platform. 

     They hiked over seven miles in two days, participated in team building activities and a confidence course.

     The students learned about stream ecology and the sustainable practices that PEEC has implemented.

    They went canoeing and had a campfire complete with smores. Each student took a turn in the cafeteria setting the tables for the group, clearing everyone's plates, wiping the tables and sweeping the floor. 

    The students were also required to journal about various experiences throughout their time at PEEC.

    This is an annual trip for the club, however, this year’s trip was in jeopardy of being cancelled due to a loss in funding by a grant that no longer provided funding for trips such as this. 

    Mrs. Angelo, Middle School Teacher and Club advisor approached the Foundation for Pottstown Education requesting assistance in paying for the trip. 

    The Foundation provided $2,500 to support the Environmental Club in this effort. The Foundation received a donation from an anonymous donor providing funds for Environmental Programs and was able to support this Club.

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    Photo courtesy of The Hill School
    Gene Chung, a sophomore from McLean Virginia, records his story for children battling cancer at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by The Hill School.

    Children battling serious diseases face countless challenges in addition to the taxing treatments they must endure. Mentally, they must deal with fear, anxiety, and social isolation, among other concerns. 

    Long waits at the hospital for treatment, often while confined to waiting areas, only add to their stress.

    This spring, students of Mark Pearson, Ph.D., an instructor of English and Director of the Humphrey Family Writing Center at The Hill School (Pottstown, Pa.), participated in a service learning project they hope will bring healthy diversion and inspiration to children at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

    Pearson, a graduate of The Hill School’s class of ’78 and a published author, asked two of his English classes to write “porquoi tales” for young children. 

    Porquoi means “why” in French, and the stories typically answer a question such as “why is the sky blue?” or “how did the moon learn to ‘fly’?”

    Furthermore, the classes collaborated with Hill’s Director of Electronic Media Andy Skitko, who facilitated recording sessions using the School’s media production studio, where students read their own stories. 

    The end result will be production of a professional-quality CD with compilations of the original folktales. The CD will be given in May to children at CHOP for their listening enjoyment as they are waiting for treatment and recovering.

    “Part of my students’ assignment was to learn about writing for a specific
    Hill School teacher Mark Pearson
    audience,” Pearson says. “We also spent some time studying Native American stories. Through this assignment, the students have a real audience for their own creative folktales.”

    Pearson led a similar project when he taught previously at the Kinkaid School in Houston, Texas, for children at Texas Children’s Hospital. In that case, Pearson worked with a company called Reading For The Blind to create the recordings.

    At The Hill, Pearson mentioned the story writing-and- recording idea to a friend, Linda Zitkus, a CHOP pediatric nurse and the mother of two current Hill students and a recent alumna. Zitkus then connected Pearson with Rebecca Rector, a certified child life specialist in CHOP’S oncology and bone marrow transplant division. 

    Rector was thrilled to learn about the project and is eager to share the completed results with patients at the hospital.

    “Our students are really excited about this project,” Pearson notes. “I know from my work with Texas Children’s Hospital that children really like listening to stories read by other ‘children.’ And our Hill students like the idea of doing something special for the children at CHOP, specifically.”

    The completed CD will contain stories written and read by the 22 students who participated.

    The students’ porquoi story topics range from why there are four seasons and why trees grow to be so tall, to why the turtle has a shell.

    Sine Polcharoen, a student from Thailand and author of the pepper story, says she enjoyed the creative process of “animating inanimate objects” and knowing that the result may help to brighten a child’s day.

    Madeline Kollar of Spring City, says she crafted her story about how trees came to bear fruit to include a moral about never giving up. Interesting, she adds, “I always wanted to work somehow with kids from CHOP, so knowing that I can have an impact, even an indirect one, makes me feel like I’m contributing to the ‘greater good.’”

    In writing her folktale about the moon, Brittany Bardman of Oley, wanted to create a story about “inner beauty” and to convey that “outer beauty is not nearly as important as inner beauty.”

    “I love knowing that my English project will be used in a wonderful cause,” says Madison Kershner, a student from Gilbertsville. “I hope the children love it!”

    As for Dr. Pearson, he hopes to make the English class project an annual assignment and to continue this meaningful collaboration with CHOP.

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    Photos by Evan Brandt
    The Pottstown Memorial Day Parade began as it should, with veterans groups and representatives of the local ROTC.

    Yes there were no Clydesdales.

    At least, not out in the open.

    The much-anticipated appearance by the Budweiser Clydesdales was a muted success Monday when cold wet weather persuaded their handlers to keep them out of the elements.

    Don't blink, you might
    miss them!
    So instead, a truck carrying the Budweiser Clydesdales went by with the doors open, and if you looked sharply, or were lucky enough to be near one of their stops, you could get a peek inside.

    But the weather is the weather and rather than flood Sound Off with complaints about how things turned out, I hope people will understand that for the owners, these horses and the equipment that accompanies their visits, is worth hundreds and thousands of dollars and not to be risked lightly.

    In other words, it rained and we should grow up and get over it.

    Let's remember why we were there folks.
    Yeah, and then I woke up.

    Hello Sound-Off.

    But if I might, would it not be better to consider what this day is truly meant to commemorate?

    It's about remembering those who died in service to their country.  That's the thing to focus on here.

    And let's face it, the fact that it was announced the Clydesdales would be in the parade was a big draw (and thanks to Chip Smale and Marcia Levengood for making it happen, even if it didn't happen as we all might have liked.)

    Pottstown High School Marching Band
    The Clydesdales brought people out in droves, perhaps reminding us that they should come out in such numbers every year, even for just an hour.

    I would think that those who died in service to their country deserve at least that much consideration -- particularly from a crowd of people at a Memorial Day Parade.

    And it is more than a parade. Ceremonies take place at cemeteries and war memorials all over the country on this day.

    The ceremony at Memorial Park was, as always, solemn and respectful.

    No idea what's
    going on here ...
    And honestly,  I think that if more people attended that ceremony, they might realize the fact that the Clydesdales could not be out in the open pulling their wagon is of less consequence than the reason they had come to Pottstown in the first place.

    Also consider what the parade represents in terms of community; how many different groups come together to ensure that commemoration and memorial is worthy of the sacrifice we are all bidden to remember on this day.

    The are veterans groups, school bands, a dizzying array of fire trucks, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, twirlers, even the strange and unexpected (not really sure why I saw llamas -- or alpacas -- in the parade but everyone's welcome).

    When Pottstown stages a parade like this, it is literally putting itself on display, showing off just some of the many things happen here all the time -- usually while we're complaining in Sound Off -- that don't happen in other places.

    Sanatoga Fire Company's Crooked Hill Ridge Runners, 
    arguably, had  the best view of the parade.
    These things happen because people, most often volunteers, are quietly giving of their time and expertise to try to make their community better, or safer, or more aware, rather than stomping their feet while sitting on their sofa complaining about why things can't be better.

    We should respect and celebrate that and perhaps ask ourselves:  "Is there something I could be doing to help out? To make Pottstown a better place to live?"
    Photo by Karen Maxfield
    Take for example, the regalia worn by Ben Hayes,
    director of the Pottsgrove Middle School Marching Band,
    and, apparently, a fashion-forward patriot. He's all in.

    I have come to love the parades here in town, if only for that reason, that it puts our best face forward; it's Pottstown in display.

    And when it's for the Memorial Day Parade, that effort could not be undertaken for a better cause that I can think of.

    Here are the Tweets from the parade.

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    Photos by Evan Brandt
    Roger Eppehimer, right, addresses a panel gathered by Pottstown Schools Superintendent, standing, to discuss why school taxes are so high. Seated, from left, are Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg and Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center and state Rep. Tim Hennessey, R-26th Dist.

    If the only thing we can be sure of in life is death and taxes, almost as assured is kaleidoscope of answers you'll get if you ask a related question: "Why are my taxes so high?"

    Nevertheless, out of foolishness, bravado or a genuine desire to break the status quo log jam that is choking opportunity in Pottstown Schools, Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez put that question front and center Tuesday night at a special forum of the same name.
    Here are just a few of the reasons.

    To provide the nuanced answer that rejects the knee-jerk responses of "administrator salaries,""teacher salaries,""Harrisburg," he assembled several speakers to provide context.

    Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg and Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center and state Rep. Tim Hennessey, R-26th Dist. provided that context and it quickly became obvious that there is on one thing that is the cause.

    Similarly, Rodriguez was quick to point out that "there is no villain, no demon we can go after."

    Instead, he said, what's needed is a way to lessen the burden on the local taxpayer, either through more aid from the state -- which is warranted under the Fair Funding Formula -- or fewer unfunded mandates.

    Pottstown Schools he said, not only produced the third consecutive budget with no tax hike, but also cut costs. Nevertheless, because of things out of their control, like pensions, costs still went up.

    "There are only two ways to reduce the tax burden, increase our revenue from state aid, or reduce the things we have to do, but are not paid to do," he said.

    Urevick-Ackelsberg and Churchill focused primarily on the state revenue side of that equation, pointing out that the state Legislature has never asked "what do we need to provide for schools?" instead taking the position in a current lawsuit that Pennsylvania's only obligation "is to keep the lights turned on."

    This comparison shows that even with more state aid 
    per student and a higher tax rate, Pottstown still has
    less available to spend 
    per student than a wealthier
    district like Colonial.
    Because only 6 percent of state education funding is distributed according to the year-old "fair funding formula," poorer school districts continue to struggle; pay the highest taxes and even labor under a racial bias in how funding is distributed, they said.

    "Pennsylvania is considered one of the worst, if not the worst, state in the nation for the gap in funding between rich and poor districts," said Urevick-Ackelsberg.

    For example, Pottstown Schools would get $127 more per student under the budget proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf, but the formula indicates Pottstown needs $3,765 more per student, said Churchill.

    That adds up to $13 million more per year Pottstown would receive if all state education funding were distributed through the formula.

    For his part Hennessey noted that 37 percent of every tax dollar Pennsylvania takes in goes toward education. He noted that for the most part he agrees with the activists about schools in Southeast Pennsylania not getting a fair shake.

    That is brought about by the political reality of control of the leadership by central and western lawmaker who not only have a "bias against the Southeastern region," but are never going to vote to take funding away from schools in their districts to send to the Southeast.

    Nevertheless, said Rodriguez, Pottstown and similarly affected districts, must continue to advocate for fairness.

    That effort is scheduled to continue this morning at 10 a.m. 

    That's when Pottstown High School will be one of several locations statewide where the Campaign for Fairness in Education Funding will stage press conferences to highlight the inequities in Pennsylvania's school funding.

    In the meantime, here are the Tweets from last night.

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    From left, Scott Detar, Foundation treasurer; Tracey Brown, foundation president and Howard Brown, chair of the Pottstown Pride Society.

    Blogger's Note:The Following was provided by the Foundation for Pottstown Education.

    The Foundation for Pottstown Education recently showcased a few memorabilia items that were donated to the Pottstown School District Alumni Gallery at their May Board Meeting. 

    Among the items were three report cards from 1915-1918, a brick from the Pottstown High School when it was located at Chestnut and Penn Streets, a pin and class ring from 1949.

    These items will be placed in the Alumni Gallery for visitor to view when touring the center. 

    The Alumni Gallery is located in the Pottstown High School and was funded by donations to the Foundation for Pottstown Education. 

    The Gallery, a one of a kind facility for school districts, showcases the history of the Pottstown School District.

    These items were donated by Edith McAllister and Twyla Miller. Our thanks go out to them and to their families for the donations helping to preserving the history of the Pottstown School District.

    Howard Brown, chair of the Pottstown Pride Society a committee of the Foundation for Pottstown Education, will be developing a committee of Pottstown Alumni for the Gallery. 

    People interested in volunteering for this committee should contact the Foundation at 610-970- 6616.

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    Ryan Costello, left, meets with local firefighters at
    the Sanatoga Fire Company.
    Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the office of U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist.

    U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist., visited Sanatoga Fire Company May 6 to announce an Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency

    The announcement was attended by first responders from Sanatoga Fire Company, Empire Hook and Ladder Fire Company, North End Fire Company, and Philadelphia Steam Fire Engine Company.

    The regional grant in the amount of $282,273 will provide resources, such as coats, boots, gloves, and fire-resistant hoods that will benefit approximately 120 firefighters in the Pottstown area.

    “Firefighters and first responders work tirelessly to keep us safe. We must ensure they are equipped for their operations,” said Costello. “I am pleased to see fire companies in our community will benefit from this grant, and I will continue to advocate for measures that support their hard work.”

    “By having properly measured and fitted bunker gear for our firefighters we will dramatically reduce the risk of injuries in and of itself. Coupled with the new PPE's advanced materials that will better protect against blood-borne pathogens, cuts, bruises, and of course burns from fighting fires, we will have the lowest possible risk of injury that a fire department can have,” said Derek Dry, Assistant Chief, Sanatoga Fire Company. 

    “The fundamental goal of this grant reward is the increased safety factor it will give our firefighters. We would like to thank, not only FEMA for affording our companies this grant opportunity, but Congressman Costello for his support of these grants," he said. "These grants invest in the safety of our communities and their volunteers that serve them.”

    Since coming to Congress, Rep. Costello has signed onto funding requests for the AFG program, as well as for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant program. Both of these grants are awarded through a competitive process to career and volunteer fire departments, and both grants are intended to help meet equipment, training, and staffing needs.

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    Pictured are: (first row) Brianna Gosnell of Evansburg, Zoe Kelly of Gilbertsville, Michael Kealy of Quakertown, Elijah Miller of Royersford, (second row) Medha Balaji of Phoenixville, Louis Martin-Labille of Phoenixville, Caylie Zigner of Pottstown, Madame Ida Fauth, and Connor Paulus of Harleysville.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by The Wyndcroft School.
    Eight Fourth Graders from The Wyndcroft School received recognition from the American Association of Teachers of French for their performance on the National French Contest/Le Grand Concours. 

    These students all placed in the top 12 percent of students across the county.

    “We are so proud of progress our students make with the French language during their time at Wyndcroft,” said French teacher, Ida Fauth of Collegeville. “And to have so many of our 4th graders receive honors in this first competition is wonderful. One student even finished in the top 3 percent, which is an amazing accomplishment.”

    The National French Contest/Le Grand Concours is an annual competition sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of French. Students of French in all 50 states and abroad take a written test and compete against students with similar educational background for prizes.

    “The study of the French language is a tradition at Wyndcroft,” says Head of School Gail L. Wolter of Pottstown. “French is one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn and is used in many ways around the world. Every student at Wyndcroft, from our pre-school through 8th grade, becomes a global citizen through their studies of the French language and culture.”

    The Wyndcroft School is an independent day school for students 3 years of age through 8th Grade. Located in Pottstown, the mission of the school is to offer a rigorous academic program enabling the child to establish a firm foundation for a happy and successful future with confidence to succeed in an ever-changing world.

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    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottstown Regional Public Library.

    Pottstown Regional Public Library is ready for Summer Reading 2017, inspired by the theme of “Build a Better World”.

    The Summer Reading Kick-Off Party is scheduled for June 13 at 6 p.m.

     The library and its community partners will be having a building workshop, a planting table, recycled crafts, games, door prizes and snacks to celebrate the beginning of summer.

    During the summer, free family programs are scheduled at the library on Tuesday evenings at 6 p.m. and Wednesday mornings at 10:30 a.m. Registration is not required to attend. A full schedule of events for all ages is available on the library website and printed fliers are available in the library.

    It's easy to be a part of the Summer Reading Program! Starting June 12, children ages 0-18 may pick up an activity log in the children’s department at the library. There are three different participation levels to choose from:
    • Pre-Readers - children who cannot yet read on their own
    • Elementary Readers - children who are in elementary school 
    • Teen Readers - children who are in Middle or High School. 
    The children's section is in the library basement.
    As participants mark their progress on the activity log they earn prizes for their efforts. All children who complete and return their entire activity log before Aug. 19 will be entered into grand prize drawings.

    Traditionally, summer reading programs are designed to encourage children to keep reading during summer vacation. Preventing the “summer slide” continues to be the main objective of summer reading programs. Students can lose two months of reading achievement in the summer. For many families the public library is the only community space available during the summer months where they can access free educational and cultural enrichment activities and programs.

    The benefits of summer reading programming for children:
    • Children are motivated to read.
    • Children develop positive attitudes about reading, books, and the library.
    • Children maintain their reading skills during summer vacation.
    • Children have access to experiences that further their sense of discovery.
    • Children have access to experiences through which they can learn to work cooperatively.
    Summer is a great time to build and create and have fun with friends! Your local library is the perfect place to help your imagination take off! Join us this summer for books, movies, music, activities and fun… And together we can build a better world.

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    Photos Courtesy of Pottstown Schools
    Kerry Pidcock-Lester with this year's Peacemakers, Julia Smith and Joel Rubincam. Barth Principal Ryan Oxenford is at the podium.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by The Pottstown School District.

    Recently, Pastor Kerry Pidcock-Lester from the First Presbyterian Church of Pottstown presented two students from Elizabeth B. Barth Elementary with Peacemaker awards.

    Joel Rubincam and Julia Smith, were named Peacemakers by their classmates for being exceptionally kind and considerate to their peers.

    Julia Smith and her family
    “I commend you for being chosen as Barth Elementary School Peacemakers of the year. Your classmates have seen in you honorable qualities: kindness, respect, courage, and a willingness to solve problems in a peaceful way,” Pidcock-Lester said.

    Several fourth grade students read remarks about the positive traits of the award
    winners, including:
    • “I nominate this girl for Barth Peacemaker award because she is fantastic. She stood out since she came to this school. She is brave and honest with everybody. She is a role model not only to younger kids but to older kids as well.”
    • “I nominate this person for the Barth Peacemaker award because whenever I get hurt, she asks me if I’m okay. When we are out at recess and I am not playing, she asks me if I want to play with her. She is always kind to everyone. She is always truthful to me.”
    • “I nominate this person for Barth Peacemaker award because she treats people how she wants to be treated, she solves fights fairly, and she stands up for what she knows is right. She is kind to all.”
    • “I nominate this boy for Barth Peacemaker award because he is very forgiving. He helps me out very often. He is a very good friend to a lot of people. I don’t remember him ever being rude to me or anybody else.”
    • “I nominate this boy for Barth Peacemaker award because he is very kind and respectful to others. He is also responsible. He is truthful and he is a good friend. For instance, he let a student in front of him because the student was feeling down.”
    Joel Rubincam and his family.
    Both Pidcock-Lester and Barth Principal Ryan Oxenford noted that the “Peacemaker” trait as particularly important in navigating today’s world.

    “In a world that is often hurt by violence, these are very important qualities because peace is precious and peacemakers are people we like to invest in,” Pidcock-Lester stated. 

    Pottstown School District is thankful for the First Presbyterian Church’s partnership and generosity in providing both students with $100 awards. According Oxenford, the church also donates $3,000 to the school for student educational field trips.

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    The first class of Pottstown Works.

    Blogger's Note:We have a guest blogger today, former Mercury Editor Nancy March, now the Program Director of Pottstown Works offers her thoughts on the first class to move through the program.

    Pottstown Works, the new program at The Salvation Army of Pottstown to help the under-employed find sustainable jobs, is up and running. We graduated our first class of job seekers two weeks ago and are actively pursuing jobs for them.

    Since being introduced to Pottstown area community leaders last fall, this program has been embraced by many people, churches and organizations. Every week, there are connections that come our way. Call them “God moments,” or miracles, or acts of kindness – these coincidences are tearing down obstacles and opening doors.

    This first class was something of a miracle itself. The founders of Pottstown Works – four women who comprise the majority of our advisory committee – and me, as director, decided in April to set May 22 as the date for a first class, even though we had no qualified applicants at the time. Last fall, we said we’d be active by summer, and we wanted to keep that promise.

    As a startup program, we knew it might be difficult to find people matching our criteria. Our program is part of the replication of Cincinnati Works, a model founded 20 years ago that has generated jobs, improved retention for employers, and taken people off assistance programs to the tune of $15 million. The Cincinnati model sets initial membership criteria that applicants are drug-free and have no criminal background. Our goal is to benefit businesses as well as people in need, and that raises the bar for applicants. We needed to be selective, particularly with this first class.

    We put out flyers, posters on Pottstown Area Regional Transit buses, and talked to local and county agencies who deal with people experiencing poverty and joblessness. Our referrals came from county employment and training case workers, housing resource managers, and the Pottstown Area Cluster of Religious Communities, among others.

    The result of this recruitment was our First Class: Four people – three men and one woman who are unemployed and seeking to get out of poverty.

    The foundation of Cincinnati Works is its Job Readiness Workshop, a 40-hour curriculum intended to instill in members standards of professionalism and confidence needed to succeed in getting and keeping a job. Not only does it teach and practice interview skills, it also works on resolving conflict and other barriers to continued employment.
    Nancy March retired as editor of The Mercury last year.

    The curriculum is fast-paced and interactive, both for class and instructors. Throughout the week, I learned from them, witnessing grace, humor, courage, tolerance and a remarkable capacity to accept and give, whether it’s a compliment, a criticism or an affirmation.

    The four of them are from very different backgrounds and circumstances but they have in common that life’s pitfalls have caused a downward spiral into joblessness and poverty.

    One of the class members once owned his own business; another was a salesperson in a high-end department store. One is a Navy veteran. The fourth worked in health care. Three are loving parents of young children, from infant to fifth grade. All share a strong desire to rise above circumstances and create a better life for themselves and their families.

    They are not looking for an easy way out. They want to work. For five days, they worked on themselves. They changed their appearances from down-and-out to up-and-coming. They changed their speech and their demeanor. They gave each other a little bit of courage and a lot of support to overcome a sense that each is in this journey alone.

    They gave me a lot, too. Watching them work together reinforced the value of team work. Their affirmations not only of their own convictions but also of their classmates demonstrated the power of empathetic understanding.

    Now, they are off to a job search with the help of our advisory committee serving as Employment Coaches. If we’re successful, local employers will soon have the benefit of these fine people in their workforce.

    During the two months that I’ve been working in this program, I’ve also had a fresh exposure to some of the positives in this community. Visiting manufacturing sites – Jacquet Mid-Atlantic, American Keg, Precision Polymer, among others – has been enlightening to see the progression of manufacturing and new outlets for jobs.

    Our goal in this program is to bring together the skills and work ethic of our first graduates with the opportunities in the local workplace. We have no doubt that with the confidence of our community, it will happen. Our next class will be in August, with more to come.

    We believe Pottstown works, and so far, it’s working toward results.

    Nancy March is program director of Pottstown Works for The Salvation Army of Pottstown. She is the former editor of The Mercury. To learn more about Pottstown Works or to refer someone for class or as an employer partner, email

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    From left, Pottstown High School students Nyles Rome, Deja Butler, Khaleah Jeter, Elenor Leonards (Upward Bound staff member), Chaunte Wright, Tamatara Bennent and Edward Butler.

    Blogger's Note: Last night was Pottstown High School's baccalaureate and my son Dylan is the salutatorian. I am, therefore, taking the rare opportunity to participate in an event as a parent, instead of covering it as a reporter.

    So if you're wondering why there were no Tweets from last night's borough council meeting and no blog post today, that's why.

    Also, tonight is the high school graduation, so again, forgive the absence of coverage. I was enjoying it instead.

    Nevertheless, I want to give the class of 2017 their due, particularly as the students I have met from that class are a great bunch of kids. So here is yet another accomplishment to add to their list. Thanks to John Armato for providing it. 

    Congratulations to Pottstown High School Seniors who completed the Montgomery County Community College Upward Bound program.

    Upward Bound is a college readiness program that helps prepare students for the challenges of college.

    All of the students have been accepted at multiple post secondary schools.

    We wish them the best of luck in the future. They are another reason we say Proud to be from Pottstown.

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    Photo by Evan Brandt
    Pottstown High School Class of 2017 Valedictorian MaSofia Sosa, left, and Salutatorian Dylan Brandt after commencement Thursday evening.

    Today we continue our tradition of publishing the commencement speeches of Pottstown High School's valedictorian and salutatorian.

    This is a particular pleasure to me this year as I know them both, one of them being my son Dylan, this year's Salutatorian.

    He and MaSofia have been on the same academic track for a few years now.

    Both were in the gifted program (still getting used to talking about their high school careers in the past tense); both took classes at Penn State Berks Campus, a slew of AP classes, an on-line college English class from Brigham Young University and both participated in the TRIP Initiative -- a joint outreach effort of Fox Chase Cancer Center and Temple University.

    Both spent a good part of last summer riding on the train from Norristown to do do real research in Temple science labs and learning how to be better scientists -- an experience they both speak about often.

    Photo by Steve Anspach
    Dylan and Kenny were the only seniors on this year's tennis team.
    So my wife Karen and I had the pleasure of spending time with MaSofia often and she is a smart young woman with a great sense of humor. Pottstown could not ask for a better valedictorian. 

    And, perhaps more importantly, she is one of Dylan's best friends.

    So the rivalry between them, what there was of it, was very friendly -- so friendly that they were even sharing their final speeches ahead of time looking for pointers from the other.

    In the end only about a point separated their final GPAs. 

    I'm told by those in the know this was one of the closest years in recent school history in making this decision and I would be remiss without also mentioning Kenil Patel -- "Kenny" to the rest of us -- who crossed the line just a half point behind Dylan, as well as class President Nyles Rome who was close on Kenny's heels.

    Photo by Danielle McCoy
    Kenil Patel, left, and Nyles Rome, both student members
    of the Pottstown School Board, also had GPAs high
    enough to be considered for the two top spots.
    Kenny and Dylan were both the only seniors on the tennis team this year and both participated in a leadership program at Gettysburg College when they were just out of middle school.

    We first got to know him on the ride out to Adams County and have enjoyed his company and his work ethic ever since. 

    I will confess I was quite surprised -- pleasantly so -- when I interviewed him about his time as a student member on the school board and lobbying for fairer education funding in Harrisburg recently. His passion and frustration at the unfairness of it boiled up and it was evident he cares for his school and wants the best for it.

    As for Nyles, I don't know him well, but I have seen his leadership abilities on the school board and among his peers and, perhaps more than most, he seems to have taken advantage of the opportunities with which he has been presented by Pottstown Schools.

    Part of me wanted them to all give speeches as they are all poised to make great contributions to a world that sorely needs thoughtful, educated people. But that was not my decision and I'm glad I didn't have to make it.

    But enough reminiscing, here are the speeches, along with video recordings of them for those who didn't have tickets ...

    Valedictorian Speech by MaSofia Sosa

    Good evening. Teachers, students, parents, relatives, friends, and the Class of 2017, It’s an honor to be here with you all.
    MaSofia delivers the Valedictory Address.
    I want to start off by thanking everyone who has helped me get this far. Thank you to my family for shaping me to be the person I am today. Thank you to all my teachers and mentors, especially Mr. Benfield, Mme Cherneskie, and Mr. Decker, who’ve put up with me for all 4 years of high school.
    Shoutout to all my friends, and my second family: Yuliza, Heather, Dylan, Kim, Ashley, Gia, Courteney, and Zoe. They say that the friends you make in high school aren’t the friends that stick with you forever. So what. If I had to choose a group of people to always be with me, it would be you guys. You have believed in me and encouraged me endlessly when I couldn’t do it myself. You’ve helped me open up and laugh louder and harder than I ever have before.There’s nothing I can say that can sum up how indispensable all of you are to me, except that, if you don’t keep in touch, I swear I will actually hunt you down.

    Finally, I thank everyone here for their time.
    Now, I address you, Class of 2017.
    Look at how we’ve changed. No longer are we tiny kindergartners, antsy middle schoolers, squirrelly freshmen. We have collectively become smarter, more mature, and more confident. Through the years we’ve all cried, laughed, gained and lost friends, experienced the lowest of failures and the loftiest of successes.
    Honestly, what could I say, that would do justice for all those years of growth, of hardships, of triumph, of meaning?

    And now, many of us look forward to an uncertain future. We come from different walks of life but what unites us today is that same uncertain yet limitless future that is finally here within our grasps. It is now up to us to take this fresh glob of clay, this unchiseled piece of marble, and mold it into a masterpiece, a life of meaning.
    Some of you may be wondering: What do I want to do now? Doubtless, all of us have been asked what we wanted to be when we “grow up”. Over the years, our answers to that classic question--dermatologist, scientist, artist, whatever it may be--have changed and evolved at the same pace that we ourselves have evolved. With time comes clarity. Like the rain, time washes away the grit and grime of the mind to reveal deep and profound truths about ourselves. When I was younger, I wanted to study mythology, then become a vet, an artist, and now, an engineer.
    Standing here now, with all of you, it’s suddenly become clear to me what it is I want more than anything else… to go home and sleep. For 3… weeks.
    Of course, I’m half-joking. Right now, I aspire to be an engineer. If it were to change in the future, I wouldn’t be surprised. To absolutely know what you want to do in high school is exceedingly rare. Many of you likely don’t know--and that’s perfectly fine.
    Class of 2017, you do not need to be worried about what lies ahead. Class of 2017, you are resilient, charismatic, and brave.We have sacrificed much and outlasted everything life has thrown at us thus far-- and we came out victorious. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Be proud of who you are.
    Class of 2017, if there was one piece of advice I could humbly give to you, it would be to be unafraid to do what makes you happy and proud. To do what makes you capable of looking every morning at that person in the mirror, or into the eyes of the important people in your life and proudly say “Look. I did that.”

    For all of us, today is a day we can look proud and say “Look. I did that.”
    Let’s celebrate. We’re graduating! It’s finally here! Go out and thank everyone who made this possible.

    Sleep, yell, sing, shout, binge-watch netflix and drink all the juice boxes you want. You deserve it.
    Remember: History has its eyes on you. Stare back unflinchingly and march fearlessly into a future filled with happiness. Thank you and CONGRATULATIONS TO POTTSTOWN HIGH SCHOOL’S CLASS OF 2017.

    Salutatorian Speech by Dylan Brandt

    Good evening everyone, let’s say some thank you’s. Firstly, thanks to everyone for coming out.

    Thank you to my family, my neighbors, my classmates, everyone out in the audience and anyone who helped me along my way.
    Thank you to my parents for waking me up and making sure I’m only a little late to school. In all seriousness, Mom and Dad, you give me the motivation I need to keep going and challenge myself. I appreciate everything you do for me, even if my messy room may not show it.
    Dylan at the podium
    Now, in preparing for this part of the speech, I tried to list all my teachers, but all I really succeeded in doing, was getting sad and missing them already.
    Whether I was learning the days of the week, arguing over every single question I got wrong, or even crying in your classes (yes sometimes from the class itself, Mrs. Mohr I’m sorry Thermochemistry got me), I would not be standing behind this podium if not for my teachers. Each of you is a role model to me in different ways and taught me an incalculable number of things. I don’t know how to adequately thank you for everything you’ve done, so I will go out in the world and try to make good use of your hard work.
    And of course, there are my friends. To all whom I call my friend: I love you, you are family to me and always will be. The friends who I have made in my high school years are just that – my family.
    I may not have any siblings or Sunday dinners at grandma’s house to look back on, but I have family in all senses of the word. Those who will ask what’s wrong because they care, who will cheer you up when they see you’re down, who you will fight with half the time and want to hug the other half. Is there any better definition of family? A sentiment which I hope every graduate shares tonight.
    I have made so many memories in my fourteen years that I will treasure for the rest of my life, be it in Italy, Disneyworld, or right down the street at Lincoln Elementary. So, thank you to my family, both blood and bonded, whether you are in the audience, a member of the class, or out in the world, you will always remain in my heart.
    I now speak directly to the members of my class. Congratulations guys, we made it! We too few, who lost a third of our class along the way, are finally at graduation day. I have long admired the unity that I have seen in our class. Despite any petty squabbles or difference of opinion, when it matters, we band together. During spirit week, athletics and in getting our lights back (even though we’re just a little late) we set aside difference and worked together.
    This is a trait our country needs now more than ever in its divisive political climate. Our generation is being handed a patch-work world coming apart at the seams, rife with hatred, hunger, and hardship, and it’s ours to fix. We must prove wrong the adults whose favorite past-time is bemoaning our generation, “millennials this, millennials that.”
    I’m not asking you all to run for president (except maybe you Emmanuel), or to start a non-profit, but I am asking you to keep doing what you already do. Work together, work hard, be kind, help your neighbor, and we will succeed. I wholeheartedly believe this because I wholeheartedly believe in all of us.

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    Photo shamelessly lifted from Erika Hornberg-Cooper's Facebook Page
    ArtFusion 19464's new home will be in the former Fecera's furniture warehouse on Beech Street.

    Everyone knows, moving always marks the beginning of a new chapter in life.

    But actually moving? that just plain sucks and the only thing that makes it any better is when friends lend a hand.
    Judy Memberg, Executive Director of Genesis Housing,
    gave The Mercury a tour of the apartments in April.

    And that's what ArtFusion 19464 needs this coming weekend.

    After years of planning and months of preparation, the non-profit community art center is ready to move to its new home.

    Now located in the 200 block of High Street, ArtFusion 19464 will move into space in the recently renovated building at the corner of Beech and North Evans streets that was most recently home to the Fecera's Furniture warehouse, but had stood empty for about a decade.

    As most of you no doubt read in the April 16 edition of The Mercury, work on the 43 apartments aimed at artists is complete and rental applications have been open since last month.

    Work is just about finished on the new art center interior.
    The other half of the $13 million project is a new home for ArtFusion19464, to offer a place for those artist tenants to work and collaborate.

    And the time for them to move in has come.

    "We need volunteers who can carry boxes and go up and down stairs. Or if you have a truck that can carry lots of things, we can use your help too! We have two scheduled times for next weekend, but if you can help out for an hour or two outside of those times, or during the week, that would be amazing as well," the center wrote in a bulk email to supporters.
    "We will be making our big push on Saturday, June 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m."

    If you can help them out, email them at

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    Photo by Evan Brandt
    A proposal to lease 20 of the 78 parking spots in the Park and Shop lot at High and South Charlotte streets generated the majority of the discussion at council Monday night.

    This being a Monday, there was a course a borough council meeting.

    And there being a borough council meeting, they were of course talking about parking.

    For a town that was designed before there were cars, we sure seem surprised to discover that accommodating cars can be a daunting enterprise.

    Nevertheless, we are.

    You can read all about the parking issues in today's Mercury and in the Tweets below, so I will give you another little piece of news instead that may help you enjoy your summer that much more.

    New Fire Marshal Donald W. Stiteler
    Some of you, no doubt, like to have a fire pit or "chimney" flaming in your back yard as the hot day gives way to cool evening, both to create atmosphere and to keep the bugs away.

    But until last night, it also could create headaches because, under the borough ordinance, they were illegal unless you were cooking on them.

    Enter new Fire Chief Michael Lessar Jr. and really, really new Fire Marshal Donald W. Stiteler.

    Lessar, who was appointed last month, and Stiteler, who was appointed last night, both think this is a little silly.

    The International Fire Code covers this sort of activity just fine, without the vague and contradictory language of Ordinance No. 2084, Lessar told council.

    In his formal written proposal, Lessar indicated "staff review of open burning regulations in light of numerous residents' complaints finds that repeal of Ordinance 2084 would remove restrictive and confusing borough regulations that are already covered by the International Fire code."

    And no, this does not mean you can burn leaves and trash in your backyard in the borough.

    However, it does mean you can go out and buy any commercial outdoor fireplace and use it in your backyard so long as it is 15 feet away from any structure of combustible surface.

    And no, you won't need a permit.

    But don't run out and buy one just yet. The vote means the rescinding of the ordinance will be advertised. Another vote is needed.

    Here are the Tweets!

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    Seven years and counting for the closure of the Keim Street bridge.

    Do I need to say the words?

    The Montgomery County Commissioners made their annual pilgrimage to Pottstown Tuesday night and had lots of good things to say about the county and Pottstown's place in it.

    Sure, I could tell you about the growing population, the growing jobs, the low unemployment rate or the high financial rating from Moody's.

    But I know what you want to read about. Three words: "Keim Street Bridge."
    Photo by Evan Brandt
    Montgomery County Commissioners, from left, Ken Lawrence,
    Val Arkoosh and Joe Gale address a crowd of about 45 at a
    town hall meeting Tuesday night in Pottstown.

    Last year when the commissioners visited, we asked and they said construction would not begin until 2019.

    This year, the start date they offered is 2020.

    The bridge was closed in October of 2010 after being declared structurally unsound and since then, it seems to be the unenviable task of whomever is the vice chairman of the commissioners to deliver this update.

    That means that this year, the task fell to Kenneth Lawrence, the board's newest member.

    Preliminary design work is going on right now, said Lawrence. Final design work will apparently take until the end of 2019 and shovels won't hit the first until 2020.

    Here is some video of what he said:

    He said the vehicle registration fee enacted by Montgomery County last year raises money that can only be used for roads and bridges in the county -- "including the Keim Street Bridge" -- and that it helps speed things along.

    But somehow, the county's version of things being speeded along results in the the start date for construction being pushed back by another year.

    Was it ever thus.

    Anyhoo, here are the Tweets from the rest of the meeting.

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    Photos by Evan Brandt

    VIPs gather Wednesday afternoon for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Beech Street Factory.

    A major thing happened in the neighborhood in Pottstown Wednesday where major things don't happen too often.

    A veritable crowd of people want to live in the former

    Fecera's warehouse, despite a recent shooting near there.
    After more than a decade of sitting empty and slowly deteriorating, the 105-year-old brick building built as a shirt factory began its new life as an art center.

    Once a symbol of the work that was once easy to find in Pottstown, it will now stand as a symbol of what determination can accomplish in a much more complicated world.

    That building will be home to 43 apartments and ArtFusion 19464, and stand as an example of what it means not to give up on Pottstown, particularly in the neighborhood all too many feel is beyond help.
    Judy Memberg with lobby furniture donated

    by Fecera's Furniture, which once owned
    the warehouse.

    It's already working.

    Judy Memberg, the steadfast hand on the tiller of Genesis Housing Corp., said the property behind the former Fecera's Furniture warehouse at the corner of Beech and North Evans streets has already been rehabilitated.

    And a long-vacant home adjacent to the new parking lot has been purchased for rehab.

    It didn't happen overnight, and it didn't happen in a vacuum.

    It took a lot of people with their own agendas (and kingdoms) giving up a little territory and control and believing in something other than "what's in it for me?," or to be more Pottstown-specific -- "I'm not doing anything to help (fill in the blank)."
    Erika Hornberg-Cooper, in green dress, 

    welcomes visitors even as work on the space
    continued Wednesday.

    I guess $13 million can do that.

    Congratulations to all and to ArtFusion 19464 for successfully pivoting from its long-held property on High Street into this space, located even closer to the population director Erika Hornberg-Cooper is focusing on helping.

    Here are some Tweets from the ribbon-cutting Wednesday. Look for full-coverage in an upcoming edition of The Mercury.

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    Photos by Evan Brandt
    Air Force Col. Jake Porter, commander of Pottstown High School's Air Force JrROTC Unit PA-951, left, helps Pottstown School Board President Amy Francis affix the 19th consecutive distinguished unit ribbon to the units colors at the beginning of Thursday night's board meeting.

    As the school year winds to a close, its not unusual for a school board meeting to be awash in awards and year-end accomplishments and Thursday's meeting was no exception.

    The honor guard at work.
    In what has become an almost routine accomplishment, remarkable for nearly 20 years of consistency, is the recognition now earned 19 times in a row by the high schools Air Force JrROTC program.

    It's called a "distinguished unit" award and is provided to those which have performed above and beyond normal expectations, and that have distinguished themselves through outstanding service to their school and community while meeting the Air Force Junior ROTC mission of producing better citizens for America.

    All too often, at school events, community events, it is the  ROTC cadets who are volunteering, setting up, cleaning up and very often providing a note of dignity with a presentation of the flag and the colors.

    Keep up the good work cadets!

    Also on hand for kudos were graduates of the district's Early College program.

    Joe Ruscewicz, executive director of the Foundation for Pottstown Education, which sponsors the program at Montgomery County College, said this is the third year of the program and that 11 students graduated with their freshman year of college under their belts.
    Six of the 11 graduates of the Early College program, from left,
    Kenil Patel Alivia Lopez, Yuliza Cruz, Kaleah Jeter, Devonna Douglas
    and Nyles Rome, 
    were at Thursday night's board meeting.

    Nyles Rome, president of the Class of 2017 and a student member of the school board, was among them and told the board members that the program gave him confidence he didn't know he was lacking and helped him understand what to expect at college.

    Also significantly, "it saved me thousands of dollars," said Rome.

    But a dark note wormed its way into the otherwise sunny board meeting -- the potential loss of nearly $1 million in tax revenue.

    For a school district already under-funded by $13 million by Pennsylvania's disgrace of a public education funding system -- the most unfair in the country by most measures -- losing another $ million is a hut they literally can't afford.

    Board member Thomas Hylton raised the specter and said the district had better begin to prepare for the impact of the pending sale of Pottstown Memorial Medical Center to Reading Health Systems.

    Because Reading Health Systems is a non-profit businesses, there is some concern that they may apply for a tax exemption for the hospital property, which is the school district's biggest taxpayer and provides more than $900,000 a year in tax revenue.

    Hylton called that loss "a potential catastrophe for this community."

    Stay tuned for more on that. 

    In the meantime, here are the Tweets you crave.

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    This blog crossed the million-views mark sometime on 
    June 14 with a post about delays in the replacement of
    the Keim Street Bridge.
    When you've covered the Pottstown area for nearly 20 years, you get an idea for what interests readers here and what doesn't.

    (20 years will be on Nov. 7 of this year)

    So it came as no surprise to me that the posts that put this here Digital Notebook blog over one million views were two back-to-back posts about two of Pottstown's favorite subjects -- parking and the Keim Street bridge.

    Or perhaps I should say subjects Pottstown loves to complain about.

    Before I wrote them, I noticed I still needed about 10,000 views to reach the million mark, and figured it was a few weeks off at least.

    But the parking post garnered almost 2,500 and the bridge post nearly 9,000, so there you are.

    There is no better example I can think of to drive home the point that local news matters. No one in Arkansas cares about the long delays in replacing the Keim Street bridge.

    But here in Pottstown, another delay was news enough to draw nearly 10,000 eyeballs.

    I am mindful of this milestone in that its significance is only what we place on it. Any mathematician worth his or her salt will tell you the difference between 9,999,999 and one million is simply one more.

    Nevertheless, humans have ever looked for ways to measure relative progress and the same mathematician would also have to concede that 1 million views is 999,999,999 more than the first view on the first post.

    That was 1,842 posts and 67 months ago.

    It was Nov. 9, 2011 when I launched this blog. To this day, that post, titled "Hello and Welcome," has received exactly 66 views. Not exactly a bold and exciting start.

    But in looking back and reading it, I find the mission has remained largely the same -- local news.

    The motto at the top "All the news that don't fit in print," applies as much today as it did then.

    Space in the print newspaper is not infinite and some things just don't get in. In our heyday, local newspapers were pages thick and things like local school awards or special programs at the local arts center or historical society had their place.

    The success of this blog (if one million views is to be interpreted as such) suggests that has not changed. Whatever else people may think or feel about The New York Times, The Washington Post or CNN for that matter, they still want to see pictures of their kids doing well.

    What's more, they want other people, their neighbors preferably, to see it too.

    And like the newspaper, that's what this blog provides, a platform and delivery method to get local news to your neighbors.

    I was reminded of this important lesson early on.

    The first couple posts were written pieces about land preservation, a local political endorsement in a national election. Important certainly, but not the sort of thing people turn to a local news blog for.

    Yes, I indulge myself writing about those types of subjects when the spirit moves me. But when I saw that the fifth post received a whopping 329 views (respectable even by today's numbers) it was obvious I had to ask myself why.

    The answer was just as obvious.

    It was about local people, specifically an announcement of a performance of "Mother Goose," at Pottsgrove High School.
    In 2014, when the company still cared about such things,
    Digital First Media awarded this blog the Blog of the Year

    That chance that announcement would make it into The Mercury before the
    show was slim. But when I posted it in this blog, it reached 329 people largely, I believe, because it included pictures of the student performers.

    There's a reason that the joke about local newspapers is that the typical headline reads "Local boy makes good."

    Because that's exactly what it should say.

    As Tim Gallagher, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor wrote in a June 16 post in Editor and Publisher, local newspapers:
    "are vital in their community because many are the only source of local news. While national media struggles with claims of bias and fake news, they are trusted by their local communities who rely on hard
    copies of the print edition. Small market newspapers are a beast entirely different from their metro/national counterparts — in terms of their communities of readers, their advertisers, and their content. Local journalism is rooted in a specific community in the way that national journalism cannot be.”
    He was citing soon-to-be-released studies by researchers at the University of Oregon and the University of Virginia who looked at local papers with circulation
    under 50,000. By the way, they comprise 96 percent of America’s 7,071 daily and weekly newspapers.

    A key finding of the studies, Gallagher reported, is the unique nature of local journalism:
    “These papers understand that they are a part of and not separate from
    their communities, and with that comes a level of responsibility to doing your part to help the community succeed (again, without compromising journalistic integrity). It’s a challenging balancing act and we do not give nearly enough credit to those reporters and editors whom perform it.”
    For more than 30 years, I've worked at local newspapers and despite their eternally scarce resources; their small town entanglements, their often-underestimated value, I know the importance they have to their communities, even if the community doesn't always.

    "The proof," as they say, "is in the printing," or, in this case, the blogging.

    Local news matters to the people who live locally.

    This old dog has learned a few new digital tricks.
    And what matters is more than just Johnny starring in the school play, which, as the father of this year's salutatorian at Pottstown High School, is not something about which I am ever dismissive.

    But local people also want to kn ow what is going on with their local government.

    This blog lumbered along under its own power, reporting select items from local meetings too small to garner a newspaper headline, along with the announcements and the goings on at local schools and community organizations.

    But the boost in views it received from live-Tweeting meetings is undeniable.

    After I adapted my reporting methods to live-blogging local government meetings (and just about everything else), I found a way to gather them the Tweets together and post them in the blog the next day.

    Although we can't always get that night's news into the next morning's print newspaper, this was a way to do exactly that, as well as include things that would not normally receive a headline.

    For example, I often Tweet out the amount of the month's bills for the various boards I cover when they are announced. That would never generate a news story unless something unusual was going on, but it is public information that, I have found, people are interested in knowing.

    It also provided a level of reporting transparency to the community: These were the things that happened, but we will be writing about just a few of them in the newspaper.

    I have met many people who get their local government news almost entirely from my Twitter feed and don't get The Mercury, something I need to convince them is in error.

    But those who don't use Twitter can see it all gathered together in the next day's blog post.

    This combination of ease (and the fact that its free) has driven views significantly like some sort of evil news scheme.

    There are two other relevant factors in our success and both have to do with circulation.

    The blog, sitting on its own in the World Wide Web generates few views. After all, the blog has only 32 direct followers and one of them is my dad, so that's not getting you to a million views in five years.

    The two things are, Facebook and John Armato.

    In The Mercury newsroom, we can see the views on our web site shoot up as
    soon as we post something on the newspaper's Facebook page. For reasons people smarter than me will have to explain, it's the platform our readers prefer.

    Twitter may have a wide reach geographically, but when we want to drive local traffic we just post it on Facebook. Needless to say, I try to make sure the day's Digital Notebook post is one of the first things out readers see there.

    In 2012, John was named the Pottstown Rotary Club's
    Citizen of the Year.
    As for John Armato, as most of you already know, he is the Pottstown School District's director of community relations. He is also the ultimate community booster and, he likes to collaborate.

    Over the years, he has sent me countless press releases with an accompanying photo and helped to fill the pages of this blog.

    I make it a rule to always inform the reader that the post is taken, usually verbatim, from the release the district has sent out, everything from the local ROTC successes to the epic travels of Pottstown's ubiquitous Trojan Man mascot.

    If he sent these press releases out as simple emails to the impressive email list of community and educational contacts, they might get read or they might not.

    But one of the strange this about this business is when he sends the same information out as a link to a blog post, it gets people's attention.

    As a separate engine of local information, run by a journalist, the information seems more authenticated to readers, one step removed from bragging and one step closer to reporting.

    These email cycle was an early booster to this blog's and remains a key element to its success and I thank him and enjoy the partnership tremendously.

    It's a win/win because my views go up and more people see the good news about Pottstown Schools he is forever working to promote.

    One more thank you and I'll shut up.

    Thanks Nancy.
    Former Mercury Editor Nancy March encouraged me to start this blog and convinced me to use it to focus on local news and less on opinion, which was my first intention.

    As always, this was good advice from someone else who has, for her entire professional life, understood the importance of local journalism.

    She should feel free to take this one million views milestone as further evidence that she has always known what she's talking about.

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    On this tour, you can learn more about historic Pottstown buildings that are still standing ...

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottstown Historical Society

    The next tour in the ongoing series of the Pottstown Historical Society Walking Tours will be Thursday, June 22, 2017, from 6 p.m to 8 p.m. The free tour will cover a portion of the 200-block of High Street, between Hanover and Penn Streets which, although a short block, encompasses more than twenty historic addresses.

    All history buffs are invited to learn about two major fires on High Street, one of which destroyed five buildings. 

    Try to guess the oldest building on the block, look for the building with its owner’s initials on the edifice, find Pottstown’s first Sears & Roebuck, and learn about the contributions to Pottstown by local notables Bunting, Beecher, and Drinkhouse.

    Those interested should meet in the lot at 220-222 High Street. Groups will depart approximately every 15 minutes, depending upon attendance. 

    Arrangements have been made for parking to be available in the parking lot, accessible on Queen Street along the railroad tracks, via North Penn Street or North Charlotte Street.

    The tour is being held again this year in conjunction with the downtown Pottstown FARM program. Attendees will have the opportunity to purchase fresh produce and locally made products directly from the producers, like townspeople in the 1800s.

    The Pottstown Historical Society was founded in 1936 under the direction of Mrs. Marjorie Wendall Potts to restore the Pottsgrove Manor. Since 1999, the Society has been headquartered at 568 High Street after purchasing the old Oliver Christman Gift and Flower Shop building. 

    The Society’s mission is to collect and preserve archives pertaining to Pottstown’s past. The Society houses hundreds of old photographs, along with records on churches, early families, newspapers, local forges and other businesses. The headquarters building is open on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of each month from 1:00 pm-4:00 pm, and other times by appointment. It remains an all-volunteer organization, welcoming everyone to participate, visit, support, and learn.

    ... as well as buildings which are no longer standing.

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    Issues at Pottstown Middle School were front and center again at Monday night's school board meeting.

    At this point, it hardly bears mentioning that the Pottstown School Board adopted its third consecutive final budget without a tax hike Monday night. It hasn't changed much since it was first presented more than a month ago

    Monday night there were no questions or comments from the public, or the school board for that matter -- at least the school board that was there.

    One might suppose that adopting a $62 million budget -- the single most important act a school board undertakes -- might at least attract interest from the board members themselves.

    But only five of the nine members showed up Monday -- the absolute bare legal minimum for passing a budget.

    It is surely a coincidence that none of the four who were absent -- Kim Stilwell, Polly Weand, Emanuel Wilkerson or Ron Williams -- are up for reelection this fall.

    But on to more important things.

    Michael DiDonato, middle school teacher and vice president of the Federation of Pottstown Teachers, triggered an overdue public conversation when he said the union is concerned about behavior problems at Pottstown Middle School.

    Matthew Boyer, the principal of the fifth and sixth grades has left for greener pastures as principal of Pottsgrove Middle School and Thursday's agenda revealed that David Todd, the principal for the seventh and eighth grades has also tendered his resignation.

    No word on where he is headed.

    DiDonato pointed to a 50 percent staff turn-over in recent years; sky-high referrals to the guidance office and nurse; a record number of staff injuries "in the line of duty" and rampant disrespect and violence among the student body.

    Board member Kurt Heidel even said his daughter's pending entry to the middle school "is a fear for my entire family."

    DiDonato said the teachers appreciated the appointment of Beth Berkhimer as "dean of students in the middle of the year," which helped, and said the staff remains pledged to helping improve conditions any way they can.

    I guess we'll see where it all goes from here.

    That said, here are the Tweets:

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    Peggy Lee Clark was in an unusual spot Tuesday night.

    As the new executive director of Pottstown Area Industrial Development, Pottstown's economic development arm, she was obligated to give a report on the activities of her predecessor, Steve Bamford.

    The occasion was the quarterly joint meeting of Pottstown Borough Council and the Pottstown School Board, a meeting of such import only three members of the school board bothered to show up.

    Nevertheless, there was some news to be found amid the reports.

    Clark reported that for the second time, a grant application to the state for the refurbishment of the former Ellis Mills building on High Street was turned down. Now the owner, Scott Bentley, who spend a fair bit of change trying to clear the interior, is now interested in selling.

    On a brighter note, she said a deal for the purchase of the former Prince's Bakery on South Washington Street is close to closing and the new owners aim to transform the space into a restaurant.

    But perhaps the best news of all is that Cedarville Engineering LLC, has not only moved from Chester County to Pottstown, but brought 35 jobs along the way, projected to expand to 50 by next year.

    The will move into what is now the BB & T Bank building at the corner of High and North Hanover streets. The top three floors of that building have been vacant for 20 years, but Cedarvill will occupy the top floor and has right of first refusal for the two floors beneath it, Clark said.

    "We want development that provides living wage jobs," Clark said.

    Both boards also talked about the need to prepare for the pending sale of Pottstown Memorial Medical Center to Reading Health Systems and the loss of nearly $900,000 in tax revenue for the school district and less for the borough should the property come off the tax rolls because the new owner is non-profit.

    Here are the Tweets from the rest of the meeting:

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    The Pottsgrove High School winners of the Sanatoga American Legion Post 244 "Americanism" awards were Ryan Finn and Anthony Catanzaro

    Sanatoga American Legion Post 244 recently presented its "Americanism" School Awards to four Pottsgrove students.

    They were asked to define "Americanism" in their own words.

    The American Legion defines Americanism as: "the love of America; loyalty to her institutions as the best yet devised by man to secure life, liberty, individual dignity, and happiness; and the willingness to defend our country and flag against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

    The Pottsgrove Middle School winners of the Sanatoga American Legion Post 244's Americanism contest were Riley Simon and Rocco Achuff

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    YWCA Tri-County Area is offering two day camps this summer at Fellowship Farm outside of Pottstown.

    YWCamp Adventures, for boys and girls ages 4 through 12, begins July 5 and runs through Aug. 18. Campers can attend one or more weeks, Mondays through Fridays. 

    Campers will explore the outdoors on the farm’s 126 acres of woods, fields, and pond, will take part in games, crafts, and sports, and will have swim instruction and free time in the pool.

    Camp tuition is $200/week; CCIS child care subsidy is accepted.

    For information about YWCampAdventures, call Sheri McDonald at 610-323-1888, ext. 203.

    Girls entering grades 4 through 7 can “Nuture Your Nature” at You Grow Girl! camp, focusing on health and well-being, including yoga, healthy meal preparation, hiking, swimming, STEM projects, team-building projects, and special outings.

    You Grow Girl! camp runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 26-30, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 17-21. Girls may attend one or both weeks. Camp tuition is $50 for one week, or $90 for both weeks.

    For information about You Grow Girl!, contact Kelly Grosser at, or call 610-323-1888.

    Pick-up and drop-off for both camps will be at YWCA Tri-County Area, 315 King St.t, Pottstown.

    YWCA Tri-County Area is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. YW3CA is a leader in advocacy for women and girls, works to eliminate racism, and empowers women through quality affordable childcare, adult literacy, and a host of programs to support the health and vitality of women, girls, and families.