The WE In Northeast Pennsylvania

Visiting Lackawanna, Bradford, Luzerne, Sullivan, Monroe, Wayne, Pike and Wyoming Counties

On March 12, we traveled north, spending our first day in Scranton—with our lovely hosts, Laura Ducceschi and Jenny Blanchard from the Scranton Area Community Foundation.  Early on March 13, I headed north and west, through the cold, beautiful rolling Endless Mountains in Bradford County to Towanda, a beautiful little town along the Susquehanna River that makes me think of my all time favorite movie, Fried Green Tomatoes.  We were hosted by the lovely Kerri Strauss of United Way of Bradford County and Jen Swain of the Keystone Theatre.  After a 3-hour training on volunteer management, a group of 17 people stayed to talk about the strengths of Bradford County, along with the challenges faced.  On March 14, after a second night in the lovely retro-fitted train station turned hotel in Scranton, we engaged in a third conversation hosted by Kurt Bauman, Executive Director, of the Northeast Pennsylvania Alliance (NEPA) and Melissa Turlip at Junior Achievement in Pittston.


When asked what they love most about their community, the various groups noted:

Lackawanna County Focus Group


  • They take pride in their heritage—in their roots.
  • Strong sense of family
  • People are good-hearted and wan t the best for their community
  • They work together collaboratively for the greater good.
  • Because they are a mid-sized town, people know each other and can “get the job done.”
  • They are tenacious and make the best with what they have.
  • People are generous—regardless of income.
  • They seek justice—with everyone having equitable access.
  • Their growing diversity  provides them opportunities to be more welcoming

Bradford County Focus Group


  • Strong sense of community; passion of people living in the county
  • Commitment of both volunteer and paid staff
  • Collaboration that occurs within community
  • Generosity at all levels
  • Safe place to raise children
  • Strong sense of family
  • Youth involvement (e.g. in theatrical endeavors)
  • Rural area, farming
  • The great outdoors, wildlife
  • Respect that people have for each other
  • History of the region; historical preservation
  • Diversity of talent
  • Small community where everyone knows you
  • Ability to buy local, wholesome food
  • Various theatres and places to go for entertainment (e.g. Arts Fest)
  • Schools

 Luzerne County Focus Group

Anne and Kurt - Pittston

  • The genuine sense of community—people truly care
  • Their growing diversity
  • Their strong work ethic
  • Philanthropy starts at home
  • Have universities and colleges in the area
  • Strong sense of family
  • Natural beauty
  • History and Heritage of the Arts
  • Time is preserved—pace of life is a little slower which lends to feeling of safety
  • Strong support network of nonprofit organizations
  • Strong healthcare and educational systems


Following are the challenges faced by the three groups, listed in no particular order:

Need economic vitality

  • Need to make aggressive attempts to attract industry, as employment has decreased

Need to increase community self-esteem

  • Coal miners have felt weighed down for years
  • People need to be given a voice for themselves—as it is hard to dream when trying to survive
  • Need to increase confidence in knowing what CAN be changed

Need to be more welcoming of diversity 

Need more donations from a community that is tapped out

  •  Though these leaders are not certain about how much is left to give.

Need to invest in our children—to break the cycles of poverty and violence.

  •  High levels of poverty among children
  •  Need to provide good role models for children
  •  Need to provide better access to early childhood education

Ongoing healthcare improvement

  •  Need to increase healthy styles
  •  Increase the doctor/patient ratio
  •  Healthcare would be available for everyone

Need to increase access through better transportation

  • Both inside and outside county

Need to provide employment opportunities for young people to stay local (e.g. brain drain)

  •   Need workforce development
  •   Young entrepreneurs leave because opportunities do not exist locally

Need to address issues of homelessness—which is increasing


Large scale policy changes—as the policy itself can put up barriers

Examples could include:

  •   Significant public investment
  •   Higher minimum wages (to increase earning potential)
  •   State-mandated testing

Negotiate consensus among elected officials and among community leaders across sectors

  •   Local politics need to be diffused
  •   Small towns, boroughs and municipalities create too many local “fiefdoms”  to get the job done efficiently
  •   Need far-sighted governmental agencies-who think beyond this year’s budget
  •   Need consensus and open-mindedness among elected officials

 Grow new, young community leadership—that initiates projects and then implements them

  •   Make it OK to be to take a civil service job
  •   Need to increase community accountability for community problem (e.g.  holding batterers accountable as a community—rather than leaving it to law enforcement)
  •   Need to attached leadership that is focused on a broader vision

Highlight best practices/models around the state

  •   Would create the “sense of the possible”—which could lead out of the “siege mentality”
  •   This is a smart business strategy—not just a pie in the sky idea
  •   Capturing impact could be a step in measuring true community impact

Example model: Disaster recovery efforts

Increasing the capacity of nonprofits to think about collaboration and strategic affilitations

  •  Having someone from outside the community would be helpful
  •  Collaborating across all sectors may help get out of the “siege/survival mentality.”

 Marketing on behalf of the sector—for individual organizations and for the sector as a whole

  • Improve image of nonprofits

Build relationships with corporate leaders not located locally

  • People no longer know the people who work at corporate headquarters as those headquarters have moved out of state.
  • Relationships with real people no long er exist.

Talk about what did NOT work as well as what did work

  • In particular, funders should better understand how organizations can learn from mistakes
  • The group agreed that a lack of candor often exists in the philanthropic world because everyone is afraid of losing their funding if projects don’t move along perfectly
  • We need to “get beyond the numbers”

Increase innovative thinking

  • This innovation will assist the whole community in increasing/improving self-identity

 Learn from other, similar communities

  • What worked and what did not work
  • Would like to have a “knowledge collector”

Increase leadership capacity—giving leaders time to think about big issues

  • This is difficult to do when leaders are engaged in fixing computers, running to the bank, etc.

Help for-profit organization understand the nonprofit community

Community needs to be educated about what “overhead” really means

Understand how collaboration really works

  • Community needs to understand how we need to work for the good of the community as a whole—not just for own organization

Training and education on management topics such as:

  • Understanding Infrastructure
  • Board governance
  • Roberts Rules of Order
  • Paperwork needed to start nonprofits
  • Potential funding sources
  • How to recruit volunteers/board members
  • What the tipping point is for organizations to move to a paid staff model
  • Computer learning

Vetted list of consultants

Convening and facilitation services (for planning purposes and more)

Reconnect with vision/passion for thriving communities

Need to “sell” the community to potential, new employees and residents

Multi-generational, multi-level, integrated approaches for solving community problems

Provide a safe place to discuss tough issues (e.g. succession planning)

Build trust by modeling integrity

Back office support across multiple organizations

  • Accounting services
  • Human resource management–salaries, benefits, insurances


 A shout-out to PANO board member, Mike Cherewka, who reached out to people in his home town of Scranton, inviting them to attend the focus groups scheduled in that area.

And as always, a special thanks to Maher Duessel, CPAs for partnering with PANO to make this Listening Tour Possible!


If you want to see the results of other conversations, please visit blog posts for Pittsburgh and South Central PA.

If you want to join the conversation and participate in some way, don’t want to wait until we come to your community.

At PANO, WE are not interested in PANO—we are interested in what WE can do with all of you.  Join us.  Join the WE!

Anne L. Gingerich, MSW
Executive Director

One thought on “The WE In Northeast Pennsylvania

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