Bloomsburg Downtown Revival

Walking through downtown Bloomsburg today is a much different experience than it was four years ago in the heart of the recession when many of the glass storefront windows sat dark and dusty with “For Rent” signs taped up. Today you can walk that same route and many of those same storefronts have new life and new ownership.

Some of the new businesses that now call Bloomsburg home are Frank’s Trattoria, the Crimson Lion Hookah Bar, the Capital Bar and Grill, and many more that took advantage of the spaces while they were still available.

In an attempt to ignite interest from perspective employers and inject new economic life into the downtown area, a group of volunteer members formed Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. to work in conjunction with the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce to help with the revitalization process.

“We do our advertising mostly through our website, along with handing out literature to surrounding areas to try to bring in business,” said Tim Wagner, the Chairman of the Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. Board of Trustees. “Businesses want to locate here now. Usually when you see one move out, it doesn’t take too long for it to fill up.” Wagner is also the owner of Wagner’s Trophies downtown.

A big draw for prospective employers looking to set up shop downtown is the ten thousand students up on the hill who attend Bloomsburg University.

“Having the university here influences the downtown somewhat heavily,” said Wagner. “Many shops cater to the students; we wouldn’t have as many sub shops, bars, and pizza places otherwise. We look for a good mix though for the students and town, as well as for parents when they come to visit.”

Although the recession may have had an impact on the number of vacant storefronts downtown, findings from the 2009 Town of Bloomsburg Comprehensive plan suggests that “Competition from new growth in the surrounding townships has hurt the downtown business district. Big box retailers on Route 11 are causing a shift of consumers away from the downtown. This is a greater erosion than was caused in the late 1980’s with the development of the Columbia Mall.”

Stores like Cole’s Hardware have relocated to Route 11, while other chain stores like Starbuck’s and Quizno’s Subs disappeared within the past few years, due to falling short of their corporate quotas.
Despite the official manager position of Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. being empty, and the vote for a replacement still a few weeks away, the influx of new stores and new faces appearing on Main Street doesn’t appear to have slowed.

“The properties are worth more when they’re filled, and the gross receipt tax fees go towards helping the town,” said Wagner. “Although I can’t give any names for competitive or monetary reasons, I will say a few businesses are coming in that are looking pretty good.”

[box type=”bio”]Zack Sterkenberg is a Student in the Mass Communications program at Bloomsburg University[/box]

Local Volunteers Prepare for TreeFest ’11

Members of Bloomsburg University’s Alpha Tau Omega fraternity Cub Scout Pack 33, and other volunteers help set up TreeFest Saturday morning, 19 November at the Caldwell Consistory.

TreeFest will be held November 25, 26 and 27, and December 2, 3 and 4.

TreeFest Heralds Holidays’ Beginning

Tree FestCelebrating the unique connection between the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble’s commitment of bringing live, professional theatre to our region and the Town of Bloomsburg, TreeFest once again heralds the beginning of the local holiday season. This year, TreeFest will be held November 25, 26 and 27, and December 2, 3 and 4 at the Caldwell Consistory, located north of the town fountain at 150 Market Street.

Tree FestThe celebration begins with the area’s growers donating over 140 trees, then hundreds of people including community volunteers, youth groups, florists and garden clubs set up and decorate the rooms and trees which are each sponsored by area businesses or individuals. TreeFest ends with the trees, decorations and other gifts going to area families in need, as identified by local social service agencies.

Throughout the event, a variety of entertainment is provided including school choirs, dance groups and folk musicians performing in front of a seasonal mural. Story times and art experiences for children are scheduled throughout both weekends. Visitors will be able to start their Christmas shopping at the dozens of professional craft artisans displaying their wares for sale.

But TreeFest has grown into so much more. A special Chinese auction, a children’s coloring contest and the raffling of a spectacular quilt are some of the other highlights. The gala Chamber After Hours is set for Nov. 29 beginning at 4.30, and the Rotary Christmas party takes place Dec. 1. TeaFest, an elegant Scottish high tea, will be presented by Sharon Duff at the Caldwell Consistory on Monday, Nov. 28 at 1:00 p.m.

First-year TreeFest chairperson Bonnie Crawford has enjoyed her learning experiences. “Seeing all that goes into putting this together, I never realized how many months of preparation it took,” she said. “Now I am just excited to see it all come together.” Crawford is quick to thank the many volunteers who contribute to TreeFest’s success. “I am also extremely appreciative of the fantastic people on the various committees. This is a truly dedicated team of volunteers who work countless hours to make this happen.” 

TreeFest counts on hundreds of volunteers over the two-week period, and children continue to be actively involved. Local schools participate in a Gingerbread house building contest, guides take young children on special tours, and students from Bloomsburg, Central Columbia and Bloomsburg University help in a variety of ways but most especially as part of tear down, clean up and tree distribution which mark the end of TreeFest activities.

Official parking behind the Columbia County Court House will be available on weekends. Bring your $2.00 discount admission coupon and visit www.treefest.org for specific hours.

Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble is celebrating 34 years of bringing live, professional theatre to the Bloomsburg and regional community. All TreeFest proceeds benefit BTE.

Article by Sam Bidleman
Photos by Marlin Wagner

Town Announces Public Meeting on Flood Buyouts

Bloomsburg SignBloomsburg Town Administrator Carol Mas issued a press release this morning announcing that an informational meeting will be held on Wednesday 23 November at 5:30PM in the Town Hall’s Council Chambers for Town residents interested in participating in the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). This meeting follows up on the presentation FEMA made to the Town Council on Monday night.

All residents interested in possibly participating in the HGMP program, or who are curious about its requirements, scope, and limitations, are encouraged to attend.

The complete text of the press release follows:

PUBLIC INFORMATION SESSION
HAZARD MITIGATION GRANT PROGRAM

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 @ 5:30pm

Those residents that have suffered substantial damage to their homes due to Tropical Storm Lee and are interested in being acquired through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program are asked to attend a public information session in Council Chambers on second floor of Town Hall on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 5:30pm. The requirements of the program will be presented and the paperwork for voluntary participation will be distributed.

Town Hall
301 E. Second Street
Bloomsburg, PA 17815-1870
Phone: (570) 784-7123
Receptionist: (570) 784-7703
Fax: (570) 784-1518

Hours of Operation:
8:00am to 4:30pm, Monday-Friday

FEMA Addresses Bloom Council on Buyouts

Representatives from FEMA addressed the Bloomsburg Town Council last night, reviewing the particulars of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and stressing that people who wish to apply for Acquisition (commonly referred to as Buyouts) should do so quickly. The deadline for submitting a Letter of Intent/Pre-Application has been extended to Wednesday, 30 November. The Application packet submission deadline has been extended as well, to Friday, 30 December.

The Letter of Intent/Pre-Application form can be downloaded from The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. This is a direct link to PEMA’s downloadable PDF of the Letter of Intent.

In light of the deadline extension, Mayor Dan Knorr suggested that a meeting be held with interested Town residents early next week. No date has been set at the moment, but it will likely be held next Tuesday or Wednesday. The Bloomsburg Daily will update this article as soon as that information on the time and place of the meeting becomes available. Update, 16 November: The meeting will be held on Wednesday 23 November at 5:30PM in the Town Hall’s Council Chambers.

FEMA representative Michael Vath stated that 75% of the funding would come from the Federal government with the remaining funds provided by the State. 15% of the provided funds must be used for hazard mitigation projects. Mr. Vath estimated that at the moment $60-65 million is available through the HMGP, but suggested that due to the extent of the damage this number is likely to increase.

Mr. Vath explained that the HMGP is completely voluntary and no private citizen will be included without their consent and application. Mr. Vath also encouraged people who may be considering elevating or repairing their homes to apply as well since applicants may withdraw their application at any time.

It was also noted that if a property is approved for buyout under HMGP, that particular property must thereafter remain vacant, and is considered Open Space. In addition if the Army Corps of Engineers would use the property for the flood wall, then that property is not eligible for buyout under HGMP.

Live Blog: Bloom Town Council Meeting, Mon. Nov 14

8:58 Meeting adjourned.

8:57 CMSU grant accepted, replacing a PLCB grant that is used to help pay over time and cover other expenses during other spring and summer festivities.

8:54 Discussion about allowing a single parking spot for clients of David Ruckle, Lincoln Investments at 724 E. 5th., Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm

8:51 Free Holiday Parking approved for Main St. 25 Nov. – 30 December, Two Hour limit still enforced. Free Municipal lot parking 19-30 December.

8:49 Public Safety Commission report. Mr. Telesky request for handicapped parking at 150 W. First Approved.

8:45 Public Works Commission recommendations as posted in Council agenda read by John Barton all passed unanimously, including all repairs and projects at the Bloomsburg Airport

8:42 Bloomsburg Univerity Foundation / Presbyterian Senior Living Subdivision approval passes unanimously subject to conditions outlined in the Planning Commission minutes are met

8:40 HARB recommendations on repairs on Jefferson St. Property and 161 east Main pass without objection.

8:37 Motion to approve the HARB Recommendation passes 4-3, Council Members Kinney, Costa, and Howell vote No

8:35 Council discussion revolving around changing the zoning for the property or definitions of what constitutes a commercial district.

8:29 Resident Oren Helbok, 5th St., objected to the general sense of the discussion that the building would be permitted because the parking on the first floor would make the building mixed use.

8:27 Discussion on at the Property at Whiteman & 3rd and whether the building would be mixed use

8:22 Code Enforcement reporting on Historical and Architectural Review Board (HARB) and the construction at 3rd St. and Whiteman Ave. There are local resident questions about the building being too close to the sidewalk.

8:18 Discussion on reduction of Flood related permit fees by 50% through the end of the year. To date no fees have been collected pending decision on this issue. To date, permits are being issued pending fees. Motion to reduce fees fees passes 6-1 with Council member Kinney voting No

8:16 Revised Policy on use of recording devices approved 6-1 with Council Member Kreisher voting No

8:15 Notice will be placed on Council Chamber door to the effect that discussions inside may be recorded by members of the public or media.

8:12 Solicitor Mihalik stated that the public has the absolute right to record all meetings openly, and believes this applies to hidden recording devices *during* a meeting. Recordings before and after a meeting is illegal without the permission of the individuals involved.

8:06 Town Solicitor Mihalik noted that secret recording before or after a meeting may be illegal (misdemeanor) but recording during meetings is legal.

8:05 Approve use of recording devices at Council Meetings. Original proposal paired down due to some objections from the Press Enterprise.

8:04 Administrative & Budget committee report. A few items listed in the agenda were restated to bring the items to attention. Minutes passed unanimously.

8:03 Approval of minutes of previous council meetings.

8:03 DBI is doing their Ocktoberfest at the Moose Exchange from 7-11 this Saturday night

8:01 Mayor Knorr reported that Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner toured Bloomsburg today to view flood damage.

8:00 Congratulations to newly elected Council Members Trump and Bower as well as Council Member Levan on her reelection.

7:57 A meeting to encourage applicants will likely be held early next week.

7:56 If the Army Corps of Engineers would use the property for the flood wall, then that property is not eligible for buyout under HGMP

7:54 Council Members Howell and Costa asked about parking as a possible use of the land. FEMA responded that this is an acceptable use.

7:51 Mayor Knorr asked if a meeting should be set up with interested homeowners, or if the list should be narrowed down. The list of possible eligible homes was closed off late last week, but since the relief should come quicker than previously expected, the possibility of encouraging further interested applicants is being discussed.

7:47 Council Member Renninger asked about the time frame for learning what the state and federal share would be. FEMA responds that it is being discussed now and decision could come any time.

7:45 Council Member Howell asked about what home owners should do in the meantime, if they should fix their homes. FEMA said that it was up to the individuals and should get guidance from local code officials.

7:42 Mayor Knorr wondered about encouraging all possible applicants to apply, but the FEMA representative reemphasized that this process is completely voluntary and any applicant can with draw the application at any time.

7:40 Up to 15 homes may be included on each application b the community. The State encourages that each application be submitted with the maximum number of applicants.

7:37 Mayor Knorr asked about upfront costs. FEMA responded that there would be upfront costs for certified appraisals but if the application is approved, then that money would come back to the community. Up front costs are the reason that some communities choose to use assessment values.

7:34 Council Member Kreisher asked about homes that would be elevated instead. FEMA responded that those people should apply as well, since the application can be withdrawn at any time.

7:31 Council Member Kreisher asked if Landlords would be eligible for the HGMP program. The FEMA representative answered that they are eligible under this program.

7:29 Letter of intent/Pre-Application available at http://www.pema.state.pa.us

7:28 FEMA representatives will be available in local communities to help facilitate the application process.

7:27 After letter of intent is approved, then applicants may submit the application proper and the State prioritizes the applications.

7:25 For application, Letter of Intent/Pre-Application (available on PEMA website) must be submitted. Letter of intent date moved back to 30 November. Application packet submission date moved back to 30 December.

7:23 Either Appraised or Assessment value must be used for all homes.

7:22 The property on which the demolished homes sit must thereafter remain vacant. The land thereafter remains open space.

7:20 The Local Government is the applicant who applies, not individual homeowners. Community is the entity that files the application. Must also be voluntary on part of communities applying as well as all individual homeowners.

7:18 Substantial damage is defined as 50% of the home’s value before the damage occurred

7:17 Estimated 500-600 homes destroyed state-wide. In terms of damage and cost, this is likely to be the largest disaster relief and mitigation project in the State’s history.

7:16 Program Priorities: Acquisition/Demolition of substantially damaged, or destroyed homes. (Commonly referred to as Buyouts)

7:13 Current estimate is that 60-65 Million will be available

7:13 FEMA provides 75% match funds to States. 15% of the funds must be used for hazard Mitigation projects.

7:11 All counties are elegible for relief From Hurricaine Irene or Tropical Storm Lee

7:10 Representative from FEMA regarding the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program addressing council.

7:07 Possibility discussed of splitting any and all collected change between AGAPE and the local chapter of the Red Cross

7:05 Bottom of Fountain would be covered with a tarp to both protect the fountain and make collection of change easier.

7:04 Plans discussed to safeguard decorations as well as any change collected. Also possibility of refreshments served, t-shirts sold as additional source of fundraising

7:00 Citizens to be heard: Council being addressed by Gary Vadakin regarding the decorating of the fountain for the holidays. Instead of the regular decorating and idea has been discussed that the fountain will be decorated as usual but people would be encouraged to “fill the fountain with change” with change donated to local charities for flood relief.

7:00 Meeting Called to Order.

6:53 All set up and waiting for the meeting to being

Town HallRefresh this page in your web browser, beginning at 7:00pm tonight, Monday, Nov. 14th to follow the Council meeting live.

The Bloomsburg Daily will be present to Live Blog the event for those unable to attend in person.

A live blog is “a blog post which is intended to provide a rolling textual coverage of an ongoing event, similar to live television or live radio.” (Wikipedia)

The top of the post will have the most current update and then you will be able to scroll down the page to see all of the previous updates in reverse chronological order.

The Agenda may be downloaded directly from the Town of Bloomsburg’s website.

The tentative agenda includes:

Citizens to be Heard: Thomas Telesky, Handicapped Parking Space Request, 150 West First St.

Approval of Monthly Reports:

  • Police Department Report
  • Police Officer Report
  • Police Vehicle Fuel Milage Report
  • Highway and Sewer Monthly Reports

Report of the Administrative & Finance Committee minutes and payments, Including:

  • Recommendation to Approve Reducing Flood Related Building Permit Fees by 50% until 31 December, 2011

Code Enforcement & Zoning Officer’s Reports, Including the monthly report and Planning Commission Minutes regarding the Bloomsburg University Foundation Senior Living Subdivision

Report of the Environment Committee, including the monthly summaries of the Recycling Center

Report of the Public Works Committee, including approval of various maintenance agreements and Recommendations on the Airport Extension and Realignment Project

Public Safety Committee minutes and Aproval of Free Holiday Parking on Main St. from Friday, 25 November – Friday 30 December (2 Hour Limit enforced). Free Parking in all Municipal Lots from Monday 19 December – Friday, 30 December.

Reports of the Town Solicitor, Fire Department, Community & Economic Development Committee, Airport Advisory Committee, and Downtown Bloomsburg, Inc.

BHS Panthers take on Mifflinburg in D4 Class AA Playoffs

TBD’s Biggest Panther Sports Fan, Shelly Lee, Reminds us all of The Big Game tonight at 7PM.

The complete Class AA bracket can be found at Easternpafootball.com.

“As we head into the District 4 – Class AA High School Football playoffs tomorrow night in Mifflinburg, watch out for Bloomsburg’s QB, Blake Rankin at the helm of their offense. After last week’s big win over long-time rival, Central Columbia, this team is FIRED UP and ready to go! and to that I simply say, HERE WE GO PANTHERS, HERE WE GO!

Make sure and tune your radio to WGRC for the live action!

107.7 FM Bloomsburg
91.3 FM Lewisburg
90.7 & 107.1 FM Williamsport
90.9 FM Lewistown
91.9 FM Pottsville
101.7 FM State College”

Bloomsburg Natives Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (Part 2 of 4)

Kilimanjaro ClimbKilimanjaro. Africa’s highest mountain. Wishing to raise money for health care and education for the children of Kenya, the sister and brother team of Veronica and Richard Smiley, in partnership with the March to the Top Foundation, climbed Kilimanjaro this past August, raising $25,000 in the process.

Kilimanjaro ClimbThis is Part Two in The Bloomsburg Daily’s Four Part series on Bloomsburg natives Ronnie and Rick. This second installment recounts their climb to the top and the difficulties faced along the way.

Kilimanjaro ClimbPart One of this series details the inspiration and preparation for the climb and can be read here.

Part Three looks at the New Hope Orphanage and the Children that Veronica and Richard were inspired to help.

A complete Photo Gallery of the trip is available as Part 4

Kilimanjaro ClimbThe Bloomsburg Daily – What were the biggest challenges during the climb? How long did it take? What happened?  What images or moments from your climb stick with you the most?

Kilimanjaro ClimbVeronica Smiley – One thing I learned was that you should never be overly confident! On the climb, I almost felt guilty that the first 5 days were so easy for me! Then, the day of the last summit, I met my match. My steps were painstakingly slow, and reinforced by a sweet Tanzanian guide who stabilized my shoulders with every step so I didn’t fall back. It took everything I had to make it up.

Kilimanjaro ClimbWhat kept me going was the thought that quitting was not an option. I wasn’t throwing up due to altitude sickness, and I wasn’t injured, so I had to work through the discomfort and haul my body up that mountain. Sure it’s just a tiny bit of strife compared to the lives that these kids have led, but it was a wake up call that just seemed to fit with the theme of the trip. And wow, it felt amazing to reach the summit!

Richard Smiley – We took the Machame Route up the mountain, which is a 30 mile trek to the top. So it was a bit of an adjustment and all of the guides stressed “pole, pole”, which is Swahili for “slowly, slowly”. This was the best way to acclimatize for first time climbers.  From the first day, we walked at a very measured snails pace. One foot in front of the other.

The crew however would speed past us to set up camp, carrying 45 lbs. of camping gear balanced on their heads. The crew was amazing, and they were doing this with not nearly the level of hiking equipment that we had.  Some wore sandals, sneakers, even dress shoes! Each day started very early to beat the crowds, each evening we had simple but satisfying meals waiting for us at the camp.  By nighttime, we were exhausted and slept early to prepare for the next day.

Along the way we experienced a very diverse landscape.  We began in rain forests, but that quickly switched to a more mountainous terrain.  One of the most challenging and interesting days was scaling the Barranco Wall, where you had to navigate around the “kissing rock”.  The ledge around it was so small that you had to hug (or “kiss”) it was you carefully stepped around it.

I’ve been holding off until now to get to this, but I started to experience altitude sickness about three days into the climb.  If you’ve never had this before, it’s not something I’d wish upon anyone. The worst moments were at night, when the headaches were so severe and the nausea was weakening.  I would have to get up multiple times during the night to unzip the tent and throw up.  Many times I’d have to ask Ronnie to unzip the tent before I sat up, so I could make it out in time.

After the first night of this, I thought I would not continue.  Ronnie, on the other hand, did not get hit at all, at least not until the last day.  Everyone in the camp would hear me, and every morning they were surprised that I was ready to keep going.  The problem was that with all the nausea I found it difficult to eat or drink the recommended amount of water each day.

Finally, on summit day, I started off with the group, but realized I was too weak and dehydrated to continue to the peak.  Ronnie and I had always had the agreement that if one of us could not continue, the other would still push ahead, so that’s what we did.  So, I started to make my way down the mountain while Ronnie kept going to reach Uhuru Peak.  I waited at the final camp until Ronnie returned with the great news that she had reached the top! I couldn’t be more proud of her.  At least one of us made it to our goal.  As for me, I have absolutely no regrets.  I did what I could to prepare, but the mountain affects everyone differently.  It took nothing away from the fact that it was an amazing experience.

VS – In all, I learned a lot about how you can be so passionate about a cause, but everyone has their own cause they care about so it isn’t so easy or straightforward to get others to care in the same way you do. I had a lot of friends who did support us, and it wasn’t about the amount of money but about the support.

I also had many friends who offered only emotional support which was what they had to give. You cant be judgmental with these things, you just think that others will have their moment and have their eyes opened like I did. Even if people just went on the website and learned a little that they didn’t know before, that’s a win.

Kilimanjaro Climb
Veronica Smiley at Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak, The Highest Point in Africa

Part One of this series detailed the inspiration and preparation for the climb and can be read here.

Part Three looks at the New Hope Orphanage and the Children that Veronica and Richard were inspired to help.

A complete Photo Gallery of the trip is available as Part 4

Founded in 2006, the March to the Top Foundation was established by the March family in order to help the less fortunate in Africa, focusing on improving education and healthcare, specifically with regards to HIV/AIDs and Tuberculosis. Veronica Smiley is a member of the March Foundation Advisory Board.

Bloomsburg Natives Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (Part 1 of 4)

Veronica and Richard SmileyKilimanjaro. Africa’s highest mountain. Wishing to raise money for health care and education for the children of Kenya, the sister and brother team of Veronica and Richard Smiley, in partnership with the March to the Top Foundation, climbed Kilimanjaro this past August, raising $25,000 in the process.

This is Part One in The Bloomsburg Daily’s Four Part series on Bloomsburg natives Ronnie and Rick. This initial installment tells of the inspiration and preparation for their climb.

Part Two, detailing the difficulties of the climb can be read here.

Part Three looks at the New Hope Orphanage and the Children that Veronica and Richard were inspired to help.

A complete Photo Gallery of the trip is available as Part 4

The Bloomsburg Daily – What led you to the idea of climbing this mountain?  Was it the challenge of doing it, the reward of who you might benefit, or a combination of both?

Veronica Smiley – I’d always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, since I was in college. A few years ago, I was looking into a job in global children’s health with non-profits supporting Africa. A couple years later, as luck would have it, the two interests would collide. I meet Barbara March [of the March to the Top Foundation] at a girlfriend’s dinner and, poof!, the idea became reality for our “Smiley Climb To The Top”.

Richard Smiley – For me, the idea began when I was considering joining a friend who was planning a climb to the base camp of Mt Everest.  This may have been a bit ambitious as a first climb, but it got the wheels churning for a more adventurous type of vacation.  Then, when I shared my idea with Ronnie last Christmas, it turned out we had the same idea, except that she substituted the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro instead.

Similar to Ronnie, I had also been considering a career switch where I could combine my job with something where my efforts could help others.  I had already been looking at various non-profits to see if there was a fit for my skills.  To be honest, the idea of merging the two only came about with Ronnie’s ‘serendipitous’ meeting of Barbara March at a dinner. We’ve used that word quite a bit in reference to the whole experience, because so much of this trip just seemed to come together as if it was something we were supposed to do.

TBD – Who did the climb benefit?  How did you make the connection with that group and what will the money you raise do for them?

Veronica Smiley at New Hope OrphanageRS – The climb was organized by March to the Top Foundation, whose goal is to help underprivileged people of Africa by providing support in health care, education and conservation.  The specific project we were focused on is the New Hope Orphanage, which provides shelter and health care to children living with HIV/AIDS.

The orphanage itself is operated by AINA (the Italian Association of Nomades of Love), with March to the Top being the primary benefactor.  The money raised would go towards various initiatives for New Hope.

TBD – Were you both on board from the beginning, or did one of you have to talk the other into doing it?

VS – I did a lot of volunteer work at Georgetown University but then got whisked into the working world and was limited to making donations here and there. For me, this trip was all about living it and seeing it for myself, not just reading weepy articles or hearing other people talk about the need.

Lo and behold, my brother said he wanted to do it together!  Well no doubt about it, the trip would never have been the same if we hadn’t done it together. Fate works in funny ways and I really believe this was in our cards.

RS – Yes, we were both on board from the beginning!

TBD – How long did it take to plan?  What did that involve?

RS – So, the initial idea to climb Kilimanjaro evolved last Christmas, 2010.  Over the next couple of months, we started to research different outfitters who would organize the climb.  It was in April that Ronnie made the connection with Barbara March and the March to the Top organization. That is when everything started to fall into place.  However, even with Barbara’s help, there was a lot to coordinate.

We had to organize the standard stuff such as flights, lodgings and visas, but also get numerous shots (yellow fever was a must, typhoid, Hepatitus A & B, etc.) and various medications (Cipro, malaria pills, Diamox for altitude sickness).  Plus, we had to gather our equipment for the climb.  The outfitter supplied a recommended list of what we’d need, but it was still a big task in and of itself to gather all the items we would be dependent on once we were on the mountain.

And finally, there was the training for the climb itself!

TBD – What kind of training did you have to do to prepare?

RS – Ronnie and I approached the training a bit differently.  Ronnie already does a lot of cardio, so she was more focused on training hikes to become accustomed to terrain and to help break in her boots.  I was also focused on cardio, but being based in Florida, I had the disadvantage of having virtually no access mountains for hiking.  I was basically left with doing all of my training at sea level.

I had researched a great deal on combating altitude sickness, and all of the advice pointed to using Diamox (which does not always help) and doing everything I could to make sure I was ready physically.  I could not train for altitude, but I could at least do what I could to remove fitness from the equation.

TBD – When did you make the trip?  What did you do while you were there and when did the actual climb start?

RS – The overall trip was from Aug 12th to Aug 29th this year, and the climb itself was from Aug 21st to Aug 26th.  The trip was really divided into three amazing experiences. The first part of the trip was when we flew from Nairobi to Meru to visit New Hope and saw firsthand the facility and children we would be helping.

KilimanjaroThen, we flew to Amboseli, where Barbara and Roy March invited us to take part in another March to the Top project, the opening of the first Masai school in Amboseli – the Esiteti Primary School.  We took part in the Masai ceremonies for the opening, which was an experience in itself.  On a side note, we did go on safari in Amboseli which was also an incredible experience. While in Amboseli on safari, we had our first glimpse of Kilimanjaro, beckoning in the distance!

At that point, it was pretty hard to believe that in less than a week, we’d be well on our way to the top of that very mountain.

Part Two, detailing the difficulties of the climb can be read here.

Part Three looks at the New Hope Orphanage and the Children that Veronica and Richard were inspired to help.

A complete photo gallery will be published on Wednesday.

Founded in 2006, the March to the Top Foundation was established by the March family in order to help the less fortunate in Africa, focusing on improving education and healthcare, specifically with regards to HIV/AIDs and Tuberculosis. Veronica Smiley is a member of the March Foundation Advisory Board.

Occupy Bloomsburg: A National Movement Becomes Local

The nationwide protest known as Occupy Wall Street made its presence known in Bloomsburg this past Saturday, November 5th, with a demonstration in Market Square. Organized by Bloomsburg University students through their Occupy Bloomsburg Facebook page, the gathering consisted of local university students and citizens who are concerned with what they see as an improper relationship between corporations and government.

Attracting various numbers throughout the day, with an estimated 25-30 people attending over the afternoon, the demonstrators hoped to call attention to not only corporate influence over politics, but to raise local awareness over the perceived unfairness of society in which 1% of the population controls the majority of the wealth. In an article posted last week, The Bloomsburg Daily examined the Occupy movement as a whole, its goals, its decentralized structure, and the governmental violence it has faced in some locations.

Tyler Dockery, a Bloomsburg University student from Perkasie and one of the organizers of the event, commented on the explosive growth of the Occupy Bloomsburg Facebook group earlier in the week that led to this recent demonstration. “It boomed so quickly,” said Mr. Dockery. “We had 30 members and then in one day it more than doubled in size. [As of Saturday] we’re up to 165.” The group membership continues to grow, with the numbers reaching 264 as of Monday, November 7th.

With such rapid growth in a diverse movement Mr. Dockery commented that, while important, the purpose of Saturday’s gathering wasn’t any one message in particular. Rather the important factor was making people aware and letting them know that individual voices could be heard. “In the future we’re looking to have events with more of a set goal but as of right now we’re just looking to build up more support and just have more people following us.”

Although the group was focused on making their presence known and building support for future efforts, this did not detract from the message and cause that brought them together initially.

John Walker and his wife Sandy came to express their frustration and anger over corporate evasion of taxation. “Exxon and corporations like them are the ones who are getting big breaks on taxes, big loopholes,” stated Mr. Walker. “When you say you got to [eliminate loopholes, but] their lawyers will just find a way around it, well that’s giving up.”

“What has happened is that the corporations are thumbing their noses at the government, they’re saying we don’t want regulation, and if you regulate us we’ll do what we want to anyhow.”

Wendy Lynne Lee, Professor of Philosophy at Bloomsburg University, expressed her concern, touching a variety of issues that the Occupy movement encompasses. “I hope that a number of different but related things will be the outcome of this. I hope that we can see the overturning of the Citizens United [Supreme Court case] that allows corporations to count as persons in the sense that they can contribute unlimited numbers of dollars and effectively buy campaigns, candidates, and influence in Washington. I would like to see the banks regulated in such a fashion that we will not face another mortgage crisis. I would like to see CEOs pay their fair share of taxes. I would like to see the 1% in general pay their fair share of taxes.”

Speaking of the conditions that have sparked these nationwide protests, Dr. Lee said, “This is not democratic, it’s not consistent with the vision of our Constitution, it’s not consistent with the Bill of Rights.”

While these and other issues are at the heart of the Occupy movements, Mr. Dockery spoke to the modest, immediate goals of Saturday’s rally while keeping an eye to the future. “As of today I was looking for more of an awareness, getting people to understand that they do have a chance to speak out, they do have a chance to make a difference within our society.”