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Nominations being accepted through Feb. 17
Recipients of “Living the Message” awards pose with state Sen. Jim Brewster during the Feb. 5 McKeesport City Council meeting. From left, Jordon Payne (“Hope”); Brian Dinkfelt (“Respect”); Jamie Brewster-Filotei (co-recipient, “Love”); and, JoAnne Rodgers (“Dignity”). Not pictured: Mindy Sturgess, co-recipient, “Love.” (Nick Zurawsky photo for Tube City Almanac)
Four times per year, McKeesport honors community members who exemplify the words of the “McKeesport Message” of ”Respect, Dignity, Hope and Love.”
“Living the Message” awards are presented by the McKeesport Message Committee, Committee, a subgroup of McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko’s Select Committee on Crime and Violence, which invites the public to nominate community members.
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 Feb. 17.
JoAnne Rodgers (see story here)
(Tube City Almanac photo)
Brian Dinkfelt remembers the first time he was called upon to play Taps for the LaRosa Boys and Girls Club's Veterans Day ceremony, which honors club members who were killed in action while serving in Vietnam. It was Nov. 11, 1995. Brian was in the eighth grade, and he was learning to play the trumpet in school.
"It was my first time at the club, and I saw what a great program this was for our community," he said. "I met Sam LaRosa for the first time, and he told me what it meant to him to have this program twice a year for the families affected by this loss and for our community."
Dinkfelt has played Taps every year for the club and has filled in at city-sponsored ceremonies when current students were not available — most recently on Veterans Day of this year. He enjoys participating in veterans programming because he feels it's a proper "thank you" to those who have served.
"You can't thank them enough for what they've done for our country," Dinkfelt said. "You don't realize the toll their service takes on them until you sit down and talk to them about their lives. The same can be said for our police officers today. They need thanks and recognition, and they need our respect."
Dinkfelt developed his sense of respect and community service as a member of the Boy Scouts of America in his youth. He spent a lot of time helping at the American Legion post in White Oak, and particularly enjoyed preparing for that borough's Memorial Day parade.
Today, Dinkfelt is employed as a code enforcement officer in White Oak. His background is in civil engineering, having studied at Penn State University with a focus on maintenance and construction jobs. In his free time, he enjoys hockey and baseball.
(Tube City Almanac photo)
Jordon Payne is sending a message to McKeesport Area students that life after high school can take you anywhere if you make the right choices. A little guidance and inspiration, he said, was all he needed to establish a path toward success through education and athletics.
”Growing up, I had a bad temper,” Payne recalled. ”I always loved basketball because it was an outlet for getting out anger, frustration, or any other pain. Playing sports helped me get my head on straight. It taught me to focus and keep my head in the game - to finish, to stick with it.”
Payne carried that vibe into other areas of his life: schoolwork, family, and friendships. He attributed much of his success to eighth‐grade teacher Mr. O’Neil, who left the district several years ago in a move to North Carolina.
”He made me realize that l was letting my anger get the best of me and that I shouldn’t be going that way,” Payne said. ”He taught me to take my time, to be patient. Don’t rush things. Take a look at every opportunity, because you never know what could come your way.”
Today, Payne is taking a semester off from studying criminal justice at Penn State University in hope of landing a basketball career with an overseas league. Helives with his mother and younger siblings, and he's working in retail while still playing basketball with the JCC League in Squirrel Hill and the Grit League in Swissvale.
Years from now, Payne said, he hopes to have enjoyed a successful basketball career overseas and will return to his community as a juvenile probation officer, who can mentor at-risk youth and set them on a better path.
"In McKeesport, we are all together," he said. ”Even when we are far apart, we stay behind each other.I would love to come back here to be a positive role model for this community.”
(Tube City Almanac photo)
Members of our community know Jamie Brewster Filotei as a teacher and city councilwoman, and they know Mindy Sturgess as a member of our elected school board. What they may not know is that these women are the driving force behind a toy drive among friends to provide full Santa service to a handful of local families in need.
Each year, Filotei and Sturgess reach out to Twin Rivers, Francis McClure and Founders Hall schools in the McKeesport Area district and choose one family from each building to serve. They talk with parents about their children's interests, hobbies, and needs. From there, they band together with friends and go shopping.
”When you hear people say, ’It feels better to give than to receive,’ that's true,” Filotei said. ”When we get together, and we are able to get whole stacks of gifts to families who need them — whether it's clothing or toys ‐ we know we are doing something good.”
Sturgess and Filotei said their vision would not be possible without the generosity and support of their longtime friends, who are fellow educators and parents themselves. For these individuals to give what they can to help others during the holiday season, they said, is heartwarming.
”The McKeesport Area School District family has rallied behind us, and we've been able to add another family each year,” Sturgess said. “It’s become a tradition, and it's a fun opportunity to get together and celebrate the holidays by helping others.”
Sturgess and Filotei each have more than 20 years of experience in the education field, and they know how much of an impact the holiday season has on students, especially those in need.
”We know our families, and we know they appreciate this,” Filotei said. ”They will remember this experience, and maybe someday they can pay it forward to someone else in need.”
Originally published February 12, 2020.