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Five people were honored this month for upholding the “McKeesport Message” of “Respect, Dignity, Hope and Love.”
At McKeesport City Council’s regular meeting, proclamations were presented by Mayor Michael Cherepko to Rachael Richter, LuEthel Nesbit, Alison K. Piccolino, Jackie Flajnik and Stu Wilson. Biographies of the honorees follow.
Nominees for the next round of awards are due by Nov. 2, said Jennifer Vertullo, assistant to the mayor. For details, call (412) 675-5020, ext. 605, or email email@example.com.
Respect: Rachael Richter
Rachael Richter and Cherepko. (Special to Tube City Almanac)
Through Project HEART, the Human Services Center Corp. is reaching out to youth across the Mon Valley to teach lessons of health and wellness as they relate to self-care and self-respect, as well as health of the community as a whole.
With a strong focus on promoting HIV-awareness and breaking down the stigma that often creates barriers around HIV education, students engaged in lessons that encourage healthy choices and open discussions in personal relationships.
This summer, Human Services Center intern Rachael Richter met weekly with students, primarily from the McKeesport Area School District, to review an interactive curriculum that encouraged students to share their own perspectives on teenage life choices.
Throughout the course, students learned the value of respectful language in interpersonal communication —- not only in romantic relationships, but also in platonic friendships and in professional settings such as school or the workplace.
“It is essential for teens to be able to talk to each other about sexual health and relationship health, not only because they can then advocate for their own health and well-being, but because they can be resources for others who may not feel comfortable talking to adults about these topics in the same detail,” Richter said.
As a teen, Richter participated in a youth peer sex education group through Planned Parenthood while attending Lehman Alternative Community School in Ithaca, NY.
The experience inspired her career path; and today, she is a joint Master in Social Work and Master in Public Health student at the University of Pittsburgh. She is an Evans Fellow, which places her in a fellowship for training leaders in social work and public health, and she coordinated Project HEART as a part of her Evans field placement.
On Oct. 6, Project HEART participants were part of McKeesport’s 18th annual HIV/AIDS Awareness Walk.
Dignity: LuEthel Nesbit
McKeesport City Councilwoman LuEthel Nesbit and Cherepko. (Special to Tube City Almanac)
For the past 35 years, LuEthel Nesbit has been helping Mon Valley residents on fixed incomes protect their homes and their budget with energy-efficient weatherization projects. Nesbit has worked with Action Housing for the past four years, and prior to that, she led the weatherization assistance program within Steel Valley OIC.
“Our programs work very well will LIHEAP’s emergency heating program, which begins on November 1,” Nesbit said. “We check their furnace to make sure it’s operating correctly and efficiently, and if not, we replace it. If they qualify for LIHEAP assistance, then we go in after to do the weatherization so that our clients get the biggest savings and support.”
While the weatherization industry involves plenty of paperwork and technical information, Nesbit said the “feel-good moments” make that tedium worthwhile. She said it’s rewarding to help individuals on fixed incomes, most often the elderly, make connections that improve their daily lives.
The cost of utility bills can make or break a household, especially during the winter months, and weatherization is a valuable resource in helping to curb those costs. Mon Valley residents seeking more information on the Action Housing Weatherization Assistance Program can contact Nesbit at (412)678-8622, ext. 4.
“This is my job. It’s what I do,” Nesbit said. “But when you hear some of the stories, when people call back to tell me what a difference these projects have made in their home, it’s a wonderful feeling just to know they are doing well.”
In addition to her work with Action Housing, Nesbit is an active member of the McKeesport community. She is a city councilwoman, secretary/treasurer of the McKeesport Housing Authority, education chair of the McKeesport NAACP Unit, a trustee of Zion Baptist Church, and a member of the McKeesport Lions Club.
Hope: Alison Piccolino
Alison Piccolino (Special to Tube City Almanac)
This summer marked the tenth anniversary of McKeesport’s Village for Kids, which precedes International Village with a day of free food, entertainment, games, and other activities for children of all ages.
For the past ten years, Alison K. Piccolino has co-chaired the event, making sure children from across the Mon Valley are the center of attention for a full day of fun in Renziehausen Park.
Piccolino’s passion for community service and government and politics started at a very young age as she watched her father, Phil Krivacek, former Mayor of Duquesne. She learned that being involved is an opportunity to help others, to make a positive difference in your community, and to be an example by staying honest, humble and proud of where you came from.
Piccolino is the District Director for state Sen. James R. Brewster, a role that combines her passion for community service with the government relations that make events such as the Village for Kids possible.
“Not only is the Village for Kids a fun, memorable experience each year, but I’m impressed with how strong the community support remains after ten years,” Piccolino said. “The upbeat atmosphere of the Village for Kids is contagious! It’s evident in every single person and activity throughout the day.”
Volunteers credit Piccolino with maintaining the event’s vibrancy —- calling her a dedicated volunteer and a natural leader.
In addition to her work with the Village for Kids, Piccolino serves as vice president of the McKeesport Trail Commission and a member of the Mon River Fleet. She served as volunteer coordinator for the Wall That Heals and event coordinator of Going for the Goal Sprint Triathlon. Past service includes the YMCA McKeesport, YMCA Greater Pittsburgh, YMCA Wilmerding, Carlow University Alumni Board of Directors, Healthy Start, Inc. and Steel Valley Authority.
Love: Jackie Flajnik and Stu Wilson
Rev. William Meekins Jr., senior pastor of the McKeesport Shared Charge Ministry of the United Methodist Church, with Stu Wilson, Jackie Flajnik and McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko. (Special to Tube City Almanac)
At Christy Park United Methodist Church, Jackie Flajnik and Stu Wilson operate a youth program known as Celebrity Kids Kitchen, which brings children from the community into the church for fellowship, fun, and food.
What began as a pilot program led by Dianna Smith, Flajnik and Wilson developed Celebrity Kids Kitchen as a means to encourage youth involvement in the church and an opportunity for families to share new, positive experiences.
“They’re learning everything from reading the recipes to making the products,” Wilson said. “They measure everything. We let them do everything themselves that’s appropriate for their ages.”
Participants have made pies, cookies, and other treats for church bake sales and special events. They’ve made pasta from scratch. In October, they will make the bread for World Communion Sunday events in the McKeesport Shared Ministries network of Methodist churches.
“God gave each of us a gift,” Flajnik said. “Stu and I are in the kitchen with these kids because that’s what we have to offer, but we aren’t just teaching them to cook. They’re doing something they enjoy that makes them feel good about themselves.”
Each month, participants are entertained by a celebrity guest. They’ve had visits from magicians, news anchors and community members. Flajnik and Wilson said they want to keep children and parents engaged in the program, especially if the cooking experience or guest speakers can help them find their paths in life.
“We’ve had people tell us their kids come home wanting to bake more,” Wilson said. “They share what they learned, and they talk about it with their families.”
Celebrity Kids Kitchen takes place each month. The Oct. 1 event featured Brenda Waters of KDKA-TV. For more information, contact Christy Park United Methodist Church at (412)672-2785.
Living the Message
The McKeesport Message Committee, a subgroup of McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko’s Select Committee on Crime and Violence, invites the public to nominate community members who exemplify the words, “Respect, Dignity, Hope and Love.”
McKeesporters of all ages —- from youth volunteers to senior citizens —- display characteristics of Respect, Dignity, Hope and Love on a daily basis in our community.
Whether through organizing community activities or offering a helping hand to those in need, everyday people are doing their part to make our city a better place. If we look within our schools, our neighborhoods, our churches and our service organizations, we will find acts of kindness for which we all can be proud.
Living the Message awards are intended to showcase these individuals and give the community an opportunity to share its good news. Awards are given quarterly.
Using 250 words or fewer, describe how the individual of your choice embodies one of the four words.
For more information, contact the mayor’s office at (412) 675-5020, ext. 605. Nominations can be mailed to the mayor’s assistant Jennifer Vertullo, 500 Fifth Avenue, McKeesport, PA 15132, or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for the next round of nominations is Nov. 2.
Originally published October 29, 2018.