2017 Highlights -St. Jude’s New Church, Fundraisers, Public Education Forums
BISHOP JOSEPH BAMBERA, Diocese of Scranton, is shown prior to entering St. Jude’s new church at the Mass of Dedication held on September 17, 2017. Shown at far left is Rev. Joseph Evanko, pastor, as long-time parishioner Dan Frascella looked on.

Last year in Mountaintop, the faithful celebrated the long-awaited opening of a new church and the charitable continued to work effortlessly to help the less fortunate and suffering members of the community. Forums were also held, in the hopes that public awareness and education would be achieved to make us better-informed citizens.

Giving community

In mid-September, after years of hard work, planning, and praying, St. Jude’s new church became a reality and its walls of worship were filled with joyous parishioners, giving thanks for a larger, more modern place to gather. The priest who spent nearly a decade making the new church happen, Father Joe Evanko, related just before the opening, “There is a tremendous feeling of joy to be at this point. We have a spirit-filled community that’s celebrating an important, happy time in our history as a parish.”

In July, the old church –much too small for an ever-growing Catholic community on the mountain and L-shaped, making for a split congregation –was torn down, replaced with much-needed additional parking spaces. While Father Joe and parishioners have mourned the church that saw countless baptisms and funerals, sacraments and holidays, their excitement for the birth of a new house of worship erased any grieving.

And while the building is brand new, features of St. Jude’s old church and other closed Catholic churches being incorporated into the new facility made the event all the more special. “One of the great realities is that we were able to get very treasured, sacred elements from closed parishes to use here,” Father Joe said, from the stained-glass windows to the altar to the stations of the cross. Of the new church, he added, “We can now support the continued growth of the parish, have an appropriate liturgical space to give greater worship to God, while securing the future of the parish.”

In April, another spiritual event of sorts happened when many gathered for a walk held in the memory of Ken Malkemes Jr., a man of dedication and determination. He fought hard in his battle with ALS, never giving up, all while continuing to lend unwavering support to both his family and his community. The event, meant to raise money and awareness that may someday lead to a cure for ALS, was successful and meaningful to those that loved Malkemes.

“As we’re approaching the first anniversary of Kenny’s passing, I wanted to do something,” his wife, Cathy, related in April. “The day is going to be sad, that’s understandable. But for me and my boys, I wanted to find a way to get them through it on a positive note and to celebrate their dad’s life.”

In a different fundraising event in July, a Mountaintop woman, seasoned in cycling the many trails and country roads in this area, bicycled from the white mountains of New Hampshire back to Pennsylvania. Physically pushing herself to the limit, Stephanie Grazio covered 500 miles in less than a week, all to raise money for cancer patients.

“We’re doing it for the people who fought cancer and lost, who fought it and won, and who are still fighting it,” related Stephanie, who rode with her boyfriend, Don Sensenig. Both avid cyclists, a friend suggested the Pennsylvania Perimeter Ride Against Cancer and the couple was enthusiastic, wanting to raise money for those who are suffering.

Reaching out to those in need is a way of life for Angela McNally and one she cherishes, as she’s journeyed from being a homeless child stealing food and eating from garbage cans to a spiritual guide helping those in need. Earlier this year, Angela spoke of her mission to collect and distribute shoes to thousands of homeless people. She also told her own personal story that led to her charity work, of a painful childhood living on the streets of Uganda, shoeless, hungry, and alone. “I give because I know what it’s like not to have. I know what it’s like to have no shoes on your feet. That’s the reason I do what I do,” Angela related.

Mountaintop resident Miriam Turner has been working along Angela’s side, hoping to shoe as many homeless as possible. Together, the two have been spreading the word of Angela’s non-profit, Friends Can Make It Happen, in the hopes that those who need their charity will find it. Miriam described her mission teams, along with Angela, giving shoes to grateful homeless who are living under

bridges in Wilkes-Barre and other nearby areas. “It’s been a real blessing to do this work,” Miriam related.

Public education

Throughout the year, community organizations in Mountaintop held various informational seminars, educating residents about topics that affect their personal safety and welfare.

With opioid drug abuse on the rise and not just affecting those residing in cities, but people in areas like this one, the Mountain Top Rotary Club organized a community forum to discuss the opioid crisis in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The discussion, held in October, allowed residents to not only become educated about opioid abuse, but also to question two knowledgeable physicians about the epidemic. “It’s for education and prevention,” related Jo Gulvas, president of the Rotary Club. “We need to get people educated and, in doing that, we’re helping our community.”

The idea for the forum occurred to Rotary Club members after Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis spoke of the opioid crisis at a Rotary business mixer earlier this year. The DA gave advice on how residents can deter drug dealing in their neighborhoods, such as by reporting suspicious vehicles and heavy traffic at homes late at night.

In April, Salavantis and Wright Township Police Chief Royce Engler spoke to The Eagle about their efforts to tackle opioid abuse here. Salavantis, who heads the Luzerne County Drug Task Force, stated then that community education is very important for overdose prevention. Residents who see unusual activity or other suspicious circumstances must report it, she said, adding, “Speaking up is the most important thing you can do. I know people are scared to provide their name. If they want to remain anonymous, they can.”

Also in April, about 200 residents packed the Wright Township Firehall, eager to hear a panel of experts discuss a variety of topics pertaining to a citizen’s right to use firearms for self-defense. The message they received, from law enforcement and legal experts, was basically the same –if using deadly force could be avoided, it should. Sometimes, however, deadly force is necessary to protect oneself if threatened in a grave manner. The panel addressed how one should handle the aftermath of a shooting if one occurs.

The free seminar, held by Mountaintop on the Move, included not only attorneys, but also Wright Township Police Chief Royce Engler and Gary Tredinnick, firearms dealer, owner of Mountain Top Outdoorsman, and NRA firearms instructor. The event was moderated by Dr. Mark Bohn, a retired NRA firearms instructor. He and other MOTM members came up with the idea for the event largely because they had heard so much misinformation about firearms and self-defense. “We’re here to discuss the facts and myths and dispel the rumors,” Bohn told the crowd at the event. “Virtually all laws are open to interpretation by the police and the district attorney… You are responsible for all actions you take by a firearm.”

A different public-education seminar, this one on ticks and Lyme disease, also drew a nice crowd. At the M. S. Kirby Library, residents gained insight into how ticks grow and feed, their habitat, the particulars of Lyme disease, and how to prevent it. Forensic microbiologist Nicole Chinnici, who has experience researching ticks and testing them for infectious diseases, also dispelled myths about the parasites and provided valuable information on the best ways to prevent bites and how to react when bitten.

“The more outdoor activities you engage in, the higher the risk you have for being bitten,” Chinnici, who works at the Northeast Wildlife DNA Lab, explained. This doesn’t mean one shouldn’t enjoy gardening, hiking, biking, and other outside activities, she said, but rather they should be more informed about ticks and how to check for them on the skin.

Lyme disease is the most-diagnosed infectious disease in Pennsylvania and the state has led, by a huge margin, all other states in the number of cases here since 2011. Because of this, in 2014, the state created a task force on Lyme disease and related tick-borne diseases. Funding for that task force covers educational workshops, like the one held at the Kirby Library, from a CDC Preventative Health block grant.