By Tom Ragan
Published: August 28, 2015
Why would two Chicago Cubs fans care about kids in Hazleton who may have never seen a baseball game before?
Jason Gilley and his brother, Ryan Lamar, are two die-hard, lifelong Cubs fans who, for the love of baseball, want to reach out to small kids and give them the experience of watching a baseball game between the Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies and meeting Cubs Manager Joe Maddon, a Hazleton native.
Gilley and Lamar jumped at the chance to help underprivileged kids from the Hazleton Integration Project attend a Cubs-Phillies game in Philadelphia on Sept. 11. They already have an Elite Cubs Fan Club page on Facebook and a big following of Cubs fans who visit the site on a regular basis. In fact, the brothers recently helped a deserving family attend their first Cubs game at Wrigley Field.
The Elite Cubs Fan Club was started on Facebook by Lamar, and at first was only for family and friends. Lamar coached in high school, little league and even umpired at one point. He says that for himself and other members, the club is like a religion, a way of life to become better Cubs fans.
“That’s what our group is about,” Lamar said.
When Gilley and Lamar watched “Just an Average Joe,” a 7-minute feature on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” about Maddon, and the clip about his desire to bring the new folks who moved into Hazleton over the past decade together with the Hazleton residents who have lived here most of their lives, one word stuck out with them — “trust.”
“When I heard the word trust used by Joe Maddon, it resonated with me. When Joe Maddon said it would build trust and teach people to trust and be trusted, that meant a lot to me,” Gilley said.”I’d like to reach out and get involved.”
And they have — in a big way.
The Elite Cubs Fans will help fund a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Hazleton’s youth to attend the game. The tickets cost $75 each and include:
ELLEN F. O’CONNELL/Staff Photographer Nine-year-old Gabriel Tejada sits in the driver’s seat of a fire truck as Ronnie Floyd, a firefighter with the Hazleton Fire Department, explains what it takes to be a firefighter during the Hazleton Integration Project’s annual Unity Day held Saturday at the Hazleton One Community Center.
ELLEN F. O'CONNELL/Staff Photographer Children gather around a carnival game while attending the Hazleton Integration Project annual Unity Day held Saturday at the Hazleton One Community.
About 1,000 people attended the second annual Unity Day celebration hosted by the Hazleton Integration Project on Saturday, according to Mann Shoffner, the organization’s president.
In addition to the food and festivities at the Hazleton One Community Center on East Fourth Street, the results of voting for the name of the Hazleton Police Department’s new dog were announced.
His name will be Justice.
Fire trucks from the Hazleton Fire Department filled Hayes Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, allowing children to see the vehicles up close.
The day began with a Unity Walk in the general area around the center. About 100 people walked nearly a mile demonstrating their peaceful alliance and hopes to build a better Hazleton.
Activities were held inside the newly refurbished gymnasium and outside, as occasional clouds threatened a shower. However, sunshine and cooler temperatures ultimately prevailed, and the show went on.
Primary sponsors Cargill and Giant Food Store donated food for the occasion, which included hot dogs, hamburgers and roast beef sandwiches.
Bob Curry, founding president of the Hazleton Integration Project, said their aim was to keep the cost of a meal low with a burger or hot dog, drink and chips at just $1. Pastel cotton candy weighed in at just a buck, too, and thrilled many kids, as they held their cones high like furry torches.
“This is not a fundraiser,” Curry said, “although we may make a little money. The aim of this event is to get the community together for a great day.”
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.