JAMIE PESOTINE/Staff Photographer The Hazleton One Community Center’s after-school enrichment program in conjunction with Penn State University recently held an end of the year celebration at the Center where students displayed a mural in honor of the places and people in the community that make a positive difference in their lives.
JAMIE PESOTINE/Staff Photographer Mia Cabrera, front center, a student of the Hazleton One Community Center’s after-school enrichment program, performs a song she wrote during an end of the year celebration at the Center.
A crowd sat in awe, smiling as their eyes widened.
Young Franklin Nolasco was the source of their amazement, thanks to his back flips and floor spins. He dropped to the floor and his body moved as if to make a squiggly line, or a living boiled noodle.
Nolasco’s dancing was the final act of the Maymester course, a two-week Penn State University class that has students serve as mentors to after-school students in kindergarten to 12th grade at Hazleton One Community Center.
The course was designed to give future teachers experience with English Language Learners (ELL) and other multicultural students.
Nolasco was one of the students being mentored.
The night began with a warm-up performance by Nolasco in dance-off-like atmosphere.
Then, the guests arrived one by one. First, it was Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi, then Police Chief Frank DeAndrea, then representatives from Hazleton Little League, CAN DO Inc., and others.
ELLEN F. O’CONNELL/Staff Photographer Joe Maddon mingles with the crowd during the grand opening of the Hazleton One Community Center, located in the former Most Precious Blood School on East Fourth Street in Hazleton, on June 17, 2013.
BRIAN CASSELLA/Chicago Tribune (TNS) Joe Maddon speaks during a press conference in Chicago on Nov. 3, 2014, after being named the 54th manager in Chicago Cubs’ history.
BY CHRIS HINE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Published: February 8, 2015
Cubs manager Joe Maddon often speaks of his hometown with a folksy flair.
Take his opening news conference as Cubs manager when he told the bartender at the Cubby Bear to get everyone “a shot and a beer, the Hazleton way.” It was a nod to the blue-collar town built by immigrants tucked away in the hills of Northeastern Pennsylvania where coal miners would frequent neighborhood bars after their shifts. Maddon, 60, grew up there in an apartment over his father’s plumbing store.
His mom still works at the Third Base Luncheonette, a popular hoagie-haven that has been in the Maddon family since 1949.
But as Maddon will tell you, Hazleton was a town in distress.
“My city was dying,” Maddon said.
So he set out to save it.
The Hazleton of 2015 is much different from the town Maddon knew in his youth. It was a melting pot of families from different European countries that had arrived in waves around the turn of the 20th century.
Then the population began to shift. The 2000 census showed that 94.7 percent of Hazleton’s 23,329 people were white, only 4.9 percent claimed Hispanic heritage. In 2010, the total population increased to 25,340. The proportion of whites decreased to 69.4 while Hispanics rose to 37.3 percent.
The growth reflected what was happening around the country, though Hazleton’s Hispanic population surge outpaced that of the U.S. In 2010, the Hispanic population in the U.S. was 16 percent, up from 13 percent in 2000.
Some were Mexican, some were Puerto Rican but most were Dominican. They came looking for jobs.
At the juncture of interstates 80 and 81, Hazleton, once a mining town, had become attractive to manufacturing and warehousing companies in the 2000s because of the ease with which companies could ship goods into and out of the area. That meant low-paying blue-collar jobs were available.
The Hazleton Oral History Project is a joint effort between adult ESL learners taking adult ESL classes at the Hazleton One Community Center through the Concerned Parents of the Hazleton Area English as a second language program and first-year rhetoric and composition students at Penn State Hazleton Over the course of several weeks, adult ESL learners and Penn State Hazleton students met to co-author a story about the adult ESL learner coming to America and/or living in Hazleton.
JAMIE PESOTINE/Staff Photographer Jackie Getz, leader of the local MSG. Paul Karpowich Memorial Chapter of “Stitches of Love”, stands behind a mound of hand-made items to be given out to infants, children and families at Sundayâ€™s annual Thanksmas dinner at the Hazleton One Community Center.
JAMIE PESOTINE/Staff Photographer Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon talks with volunteers and families during the annual Thanksmas dinner at the Hazleton One Community Center on Sunday. Visit standardspeaker.com to see video from the event and a special holiday message from Maddon.
JAMIE PESOTINE/Staff Photographer Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon signs a shirt for a fan during the annual Thanksmas dinner at the Hazleton One Community Center Sunday.
Wearing a blue Chicago Cubs hat, t-shirt and, of course, his notorious black-rimmed glasses, he walked casually into the final event of his fourth annual four-day tour of Hazleton with good news.
Progress was being made in Hazleton, said Joe Maddon, Hazleton native and new manager of the Chicago Cubs. In between overseeing the workings of his free Thankmas meal for the needy at the Hazleton One Community Center, Maddon, gentle with his time despite having a head cold, met with diners and volunteers. He shook hands and took pictures with smiling fans, too.
Maddon’s Thanksmas meal has been feeding the needy for a few years now and is held between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Maddon family’s recipes for spaghetti and meatballs and pierogies were featured along with “jerk” chicken and roasted pork, beverages and desserts.
It was 26 degrees outside under the cold gray hue that winter casts upon northeastern Pennsylvania, but inside the center it was a warm place where guest and volunteers from all walks of life were welcomed.
Maddon said this year’s events really put the spotlight on the center and all the amazing things accomplished there, most importantly being integration. He said he’s also seen a change in Hazleton. Those that once doubted the success of HIP and the community center are now complimenting their efforts and successes.
“There are a lot of grassroots efforts like this that were met with resistance but they made it work,” he said.
Several Major League Baseball stars came to Hazleton to support Maddon’s trip as part of the fourth annual Hazleton Integration Project holiday celebration. Those notables included Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., Orlando Cepeda from the San Francisco Giants, Tommy Lasorda, Orlando Cabrera and the Tampa Bay Rays’ Chris Archer.
Thursday, Maddon held a press conference at the center that was coupled with a “Fireside Chat” between Maddon and Ripken, who, through the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, presented a check to the center for $180,000. Bob Curry of HIP said the Ripken Foundation’s gift will provide for state-of-the-art, hydraulic indoor batting cages that will be installed in the center’s gymnasium. The cages will be lifted from the gym floor when needed to make room for basketball or other events in the gym.
Curry said this will allow young baseball players to practice indoors where it’s warm when it’s too cold outside. The installation of indoor cages, according to Curry, will also give kids in our area the same advantage children living in warmer climates have — practice year-round. He said the center is allowing the children to know what community really means through its activities and that economics shouldn’t deprive them of opportunity.