Friday, July 1, 2016

Herb Miller Wins Green Allies' Founder's Award

Upper Pottsgrove Counilman Herb Miller, center, with his family. At left is Todd Hillee, president of the board of directors of Green Allies and, at right, is Ken Hamilton, executive director of Green Allies

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by Green Allies

Upper Pottsgrove Commissioner Herbert C. Miller, Jr. was recently presented the Founder's Award by the GreenAllies organization for his outstanding commitment to preserving open space in the township and the role he played in leading the efforts to create the Althouse Arboretum.

It was Miller's tireless efforts that turned an idea of utilizing open space lands for educational and recreational purposes into reality. It was an idea that eventually evolved into the Althouse Arboretum.

In honor of Mr. Miller's accomplishments, the pavilion at the Althouse Arboretum was named the "Herbert C. Miller, Jr. Pavilion". He was also presented a special recognition plaque.

"It took several years of hard work and negotiations, led by Herb Miller, to turn my grandparents' property into this state-of-the-art outdoor education facility for everyone in the region to enjoy," said Todd Hilsee, President of the Board of Directors for GreenAllies

Mr. Miller now serves on the GreenAllies Board of Directors and remains a leader in the efforts to improve the Althouse Arboretum and its public programming.

Herb Miller speaks after receiving the Founder's Award from Hilsee.
In addition, Althouse Arboretum neighbor Gerry Yergey was presented the Outstanding Community Volunteer Award for her many hours of service to the arboretum and its programs.

Yergey has volunteered on numerouse occasions to assist with gardening chores and has provided assistance to several of the popular community programs provided by the GreenAllies organization.

GreenAllies is a national nonprofit organization that works to empower students to take leadership roles in promoting environmental sustainability. The organization manages the Althouse Arboretum in Upper Pottsgrove Township.

The Althouse Arboretum is a permanently preserved 17 acre wooded lot that has been converted into an outdoor education facility and community resource. It is a result of a unique partnership between Upper Pottsgrove Township and the GreenAllies organization.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Help Dartel McRae Make a Film in Pottstown

Dartel McRae is looking for investors to help him make his movie -- "Intermission."

They say you can't go home again, but don't tell that to Dartel McRae.

Because that's exactly what he's doing in an attempt to raise money for his first full-length feature film that will be shot mostly right here in his home town.

He's kicked-off a Kickstarter campaign that you can access through this link in an attempt to raise $87,000 to make "Intermission," a movie he wrote and hopes to direct and produce, as well as serve as the central character.

Good thing, since the central character, Chris, is based on him and the movie is based "loosely on my life."

"Intermission is a dramedy that takes a look at how a person deals with some of life's shortcomings and decides to choose happiness," is how the movie is described on the fundraising page.

Here is a sample of McRae acting in ABC's "Black Box."

McRae grew up in the First Ward, the oldest of five children and a single mom, Katherine.

He graduated from Pottstown High School in 2003.

While there, he spent time on stage in the school's productions of "Dracula" and "Oliver Twist, "but I never thought it would ever turn into anything."

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, McRae went to New York City "to go to law school, but things changed. I got inspired by some of my co-workers" and he has been working as an actor and stand-up comedian ever since.

Now he wants to make a movie about a character "is leading a monotonous life, and has a series of negative events occur. He realizes that he is missing something and that he needs a break with family and friends," said McRae.

McRae was part of the recent Pottstown "In-Focus" film festival, being interviewed on the third day at The Hill School in an "In the Actor's Studio" setting by John Armato, Pottstown's stand-in for James Lipton.

In the interview, he talked about his life in Pottstown, acting and his film and now he is hoping for help from his hometown to help him get it made.

You can follow progress on the film on Twitter @__intermissionindie, on Instagram @intermissionindie and on Facebook at

The Kickstarter campaign ends in 30 days, so don't dawdle.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pottstown Bids Good-bye to Jeff Sparagana

Photos by Evan Brandt
Pottstown School Board President Kim Stilwell, right, and board member Ron Williams, left, present retiring Superintendent Jeff Sparagana with a resolution thanking him for his service and a plaque to the same effect during Monday night's school board meeting.

Judging by the size of the agenda, one could be excused from thinking that Monday night's school board meeting would be a long one.

With presentations by the Foundation for Pottstown Education and the adoption of an historic second consecutive budget without a tax hike, one might have expected a long night.

But with brisk efficiency uncharacteristic to most school board meetings, things moved along quickly, helped perhaps by a single unanimous vote that took care of 20 items on the agenda in one fell swoop -- not that I'm complaining.

The budget was adopted unanimously and without comment for fanfare.

Here are a few of those Early College graduates.
The bulk of the meeting was devoted to the foundation's presentation, most particularly those students who have benefited from the early college program and are graduating high school with their first year of college under their belt.

But we would be remiss if we failed to mention the night's main event, saying goodbye to Schools Superintendent Jeff Sparagana, who retires in just three days after 23 years with the district. It was his last meeting.

As you can see in the photo above, the board adopted a resolution which, among other things, thanked him for bringing "his knowledge, passion and tireless to every endeavor undertaken for improving the education opportunities and overall well-being of the students attending Pottstown School District and their families."

 "Your commitment and dedication has made a difference and your legacy will live on through the many lives you have touched," read the plaque.

Board member Amy Francis complimented Sparagana by noting that one of his favorite sayings -- "the harder you work, the luckier you get" -- is now a mantra in her household.

As usual, coach that he is, Sparagana tried to reflect some of the gratitude and attribute that sense of accomplishment to the entire team.

(You can see the full content of his comments here:)

"Some of the comments this evening were really terrific and I really appreciate it, but I think that its about us; how we have functioned together for the last four years; how we have done some things collectively with borough government to bring people to the same table and sit together, listen and talk and solve problems," Sparagana said in his final remarks.

He noted that boredom was never an option, given that in his 23 years in the district, he changed positions 11 times, if you could the two "acting" posts he took one.

"I never expected to sit in this seat, I never planned on it. I didn't leave to go other places, because I loved the work I was involved in," he said. "Building the  PEAK program and some of the other things we were doing at the time, I just never really thought about anywhere else."

We here at The Digital Notebook wish Dr. Sparagana the best.

His motives have never been in doubt. He has always been, in our experience, fair-minded, took criticism in stride and never personally, and focused on the improvement of the school district and the community.

As he said when a reporter wished him well: "this is a good place."

Here are the Tweets from the meeting:

Monday, June 27, 2016

Bowling for Community Dollars

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Pottstown Rotary Club. 

Thanks to a successful June 15 fundraiser, Pottstown Rotary Club distributed checks in the amount of $1,000 each to:

• Olivet Boys and Girls Club
• Operation Backpack (they weren't present Wednesday, but will still receive the check)
• Pottstown Cluster
• Pottstown Area Seniors Center

Each of the recipients provides important services to people in need in the Pottstown area. Proceeds came from Pottstown Rotary's Bowling For a Cause this past April.

Some fast facts about Bowling For a Cause:

• This was just the Second Annual Bowling for a Cause and we raised nearly twice the amount as last year.
• We totally sold out Limerick Lanes
• There was bowling, basket raffle, silent auction, prizes for highest games, giveaways for the kids

The mission of Rotary is to provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through its fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders. 

The Pottstown Rotary is committed to working both globally and locally.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Confronting Hate

Photo by Evan Brandt

Vernon Ross and Ira Flax, seen here Friday night at an interfaith prayer vigil for the victims of the Orlando massacre, represent respective Christian and Jewish congregations who have come together to share a permanent home and learn to understand one another. Bethel Community Church of Pottstown and Congregation Hesed Shel Emet are just one example of how we all can to learn about one another, and learn to live with one another.
Somehow, saying their names out loud makes it more real.

That's what the dozen or so of us did Friday night at the prayer vigil held at Bethel Community Church of Pottstown, held in the wake of the killings in Orlando.

Work at a newspaper long enough and you cover your share of tragedy and then some.

Your job, at fires, accidents, deaths, is to get the facts first and save your feelings for later.

Getting the name of a victim, or survivor; spelling it right, that's the job at hand.

But say the name out loud? Think about who that person was?

That's for later.

When  I got the email from Pastor Vernon Ross about the hastily arranged vigil, I realized later had come.

It was time to come up for air; to try to come to terms with what's happening in the world.

Rabbi Ira Flax, who heads Congregation Hesed Shel Emet, which shares the building with Bethel, asked each of us to read through the names of the 49 victims killed in an Orlando nightclub.

The name I read first was Luis Daniel Conde, 39.

Conde was murdered alongside his high school sweetheart, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37.

The two met in high school in Puerto Rico, and ran a salon together in Kissimee, with Conde doing make-up and Velazquez styling their customers' hair.

Like most couples, I'm sure they had their ups and downs. It can be tough to work with your spouse.

Like any other couple, they were out, at Pulse nightclub, to celebrate a friend's birthday.

They were killed because they were in love.

They were killed, along with the 47 others and 53 injured, because they believed that they should be able to define love as they pleased and not have their feelings for each other defined, or judged, by others.

Omar Mateen, 29, wanted the world to believe he massacred the people in the nightclub because he was inspired by ISIS, the terrorist group in the Middle East partially responsible for the flood of Syrian refugees flowing into Europe.

But subsequent reporting suggests that Mateen himself was gay and was at Pulse because he had been with a Puerto Rican man whom he later learned was HIV positive.

Whatever the facts may ultimately turn out to be, and we may never know, one thing is for sure: Omar Mateen did not kill all those people because of love.

Whether he hated Puerto Ricans, or homosexuals, or hated himself because he was gay, it seems inescapably evident that he hated.

And his actions generated even more hate.

In the wake of the shootings, there was the immediate Islamaphobic reaction; followed by the pastor who said the gay victims deserved to die; and the painfully misguided people from Westboro Baptist Church defiling the victims' funerals.

Mateen may have used an assault weapon to kill, but the real danger we're facing today, the real weapon is hate; hate and fear, which are inextricably connected and self-consuming.

When you fear change, fear for your family, fear for your livelihood, you become angry at your inability to ensure their future and you for someone to blame.

And these days, there is no shortage of people providing helpful suggestions for who you should blame.

It's a short walk from blame to hate.

When your country or your neighborhood no longer feels familiar to you, its natural to fear that you no longer know your place in it.

The morning of Friday's prayer vigil in Pottstown, we learned about the stunning decision by British voters to leave the European Union, a self-destructive decision driven by the desire to "put Britain first."

Syrian refugees, Mexicans, Muslims, homosexuals, they all represent "otherness" in places with changing demographics, places with people who once "knew" that this country, or Britain, was a "white Christian nation."

I won't debate here whether we ever were, but even that perception no longer holds true, and that changing of the landscape is spreading fear, without which hate burns itself out.

But its harder to think of "the other" as different when they become individuals right before your eyes.

Individuals with their own lives, their own loves, their own names; individuals who, at their most basic, are no different from you.

Luis Daniel Conde, may have been from Puerto Rico, gay and a person who liked loud music -- three things I most definitely am not.

But he was a human being no different from me in that he had the same right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as any of us and he did not deserve to die.

Luis Daniel Conde was killed not because of who he was, but because of what he represented.

And until we can learn to stop blindly hating anything or anyone who is different or unfamiliar, it's never going to stop.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Healthy End to Pottstown Schools' Fiscal Year

Thursday's school board meeting was blessedly short, about an hour.

Which is not to minimize the importance of the action they are about to take Monday, which is to adopt the second consecutive budget that does not raise taxes.

Given the financial difficulties placed upon our school system by the state's extremely broken funding system for education, that is a pretty remarkable achievement.

Linda Adams, the district's business manager who engineered this feat, likely will be rewarded with a new salary of $139,225 by a vote of the board Monday night.

That's a .8 percent salary hike from her current salary of $138,119 which, if you ask me, is a small price to pay for two consecutive zero tax-hike budgets, something unheard of in most of Pennsylvania.

Also unheard of for most of us not in public education are payments for unused sick time. But as Superintendent Jeff Sparagana prepares to leave the district, he will enjoy a $38,523.57 payment for unused sick time.

His makes up more than half of the $67,043 that the board will likely vote to approve Monday in payments for unused sick time.

Also earning a tidy reward for remaining healthy will be Taffi Wolf, the district's retiring technology director, who will receive $13,940 for unused sick time.

Retiring special education director Pamela Bateson will enjoy a payment of $6,950 for the sick days she did not use.

Its in their contract, so they are entitled to the money, but I sometimes wonder why I did not decide to feed at the public trough and get rewarded for staying healthy.

Anyway, the school board declined to discuss any of this, so its probably not important.

Here are the Tweets of the things the school board thought worthy of public discussion at a meeting hardly anyone attended.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Joint Efforts for Council and School Board

Photos by Evan Brandt
Above, Members of Pottstown Borough Council and the Pottstown School Board tour the aquaponics lab of the Montgomery County Community College sustainability and Innovation Center in Pottstown prior to their joint meeting Tuesday.

At left, the fish seemed interested to have visitors.

West Campus VP David DiMattio explained that the fish droppings are pumped with the water in the experiments to provide nutrients to the plants where are being grown there without soil.

For the third time this year, the majority of Pottstown Borough Council and a minority of the
Pottstown School Board met face to face to discuss common problems and solutions.

Prior to doing so they got a tour of the Sustainability and Innovation Center of Montgomery County Community College located at 140 College Dr. in Pottstown which was handy since that's where their joint meeting was held.

As is often the case, the agenda was donated by prepared updates and reports, but there was some interesting information that came up at the end.

For example, we found out that First Baptist Church does not have enough money to fix the leaning tower that has forced the closure of Charlotte Street, and so is going to take part of the building down.

Jeff Sparagana with the borough council resolution
provided to him by Borough Manager Mark Flanders.
We also learned that in the past year, the borough's Licensing and Inspections office has inspected
1,699 rental units  some more than once.

And we further learned that Community Champions, hired last year to get a handle on vacant properties, has so far registered 213 of them in the borough and remains on the hunt for more.

All of these tidbits were answers to questions asked by Pottstown School Board member Thomas Hylton.

Borough Council also voted on a lovely resolution honoring retiring Pottstown Schools Superintendent Jeff Sparagana, now days away from retirement, thanking him for his dedication to borough schools.

The joint meeting was also host to the annual report from the Pottstown Area Industrial Development, as well as the Walk Bike Program, Pottstown InFocus film festival and all kinds of juicy tidbits.

Here are the Tweets to prove it: