Monday, December 17, 2018

The gift of a Christmas experience

The best gift you could give someone doesn’t come from a store, but rather from an experience or tradition that may otherwise be discontinued. That was the lesson Coatesville Area Senior Center Executive Director Bill Pierce shared with me for my holiday story.

One of the volunteers at Coatesville recently lost her husband and she was also recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. She said the one thing she had wished that she had done after her husband passed away was to continue the traditions they did together around the holidays.

Pierce said the woman explained that it was emotionally difficult for her at the time to continue those traditions on her own. They always went to get a live Christmas tree, but after he died, she bought a pre-cut tree from a local store. As time went on, things also become more physically difficult for her to do things on her own. Now she decorates her home with a ceramic tree, rather than getting a tree to decorate with lights and ornaments.

“You know the ceramic trees, I’m talking about right? Your mom probably made them when you were growing up.”

I had to laugh because he was right. My mom painted ceramic decorations for every holiday, but she especially loved Christmas. In past years, hearing something like that may have been a reminder of my mom’s passing, but with time, those reminders of her are what make a lasting legacy. 
Pictured is Santa's workshop, made of ceramics painted by Ginger Rae Dunbar's mother. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

More than a Thanksgiving meal

The annual West Chester Area Senior Center Community Thanksgiving dinner provides more than a free meal to those who seek company with family and new friends.

I offered to work the Thanksgiving holiday when I found out about the community event, run by volunteers. The event organizers started cooking about 20 to 30 donated turkeys at 4 a.m. to serve the meal complete with all of the sides you would expect at a Thanksgiving dinner. The event offers fellowship in addition to a turkey dinner. When I arrived and introduced myself as a reporter, the event organizers welcomed me to talk to the volunteers and guests about their experience.

Event organizer Angel Connelly encouraged the volunteer servers to converse with the guests because she said “that’s more important than the food.” She added that is what late event founder Herb Balian believed.

“Make people feel at home,” Connelly said to volunteers. “That’s what it’s all about – family, community and fellowship.”

I didn’t realize at first that my role as a newspaper reporter could provide fellowship by interviewing volunteers and guests. My journalism professor told us that interviews should be more like a conversation than a Q&A. When I talked to people about why they decided to volunteer on Thanksgiving Day or why they attended the dinner, many of them also asked about my life. They wanted to know how I knew I wanted to be a reporter, where I went to college and about my career path. We talked as if we had known each other before that event. I heard a reporter share advice that she wished she had opened up earlier in her career to her interviewees when she could relate to them. It’s why I engage in such conversations.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Living on as a hero forever: Captain LeTourneau Memorial Scholarship

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said that it is suiting for a “sister in the Philadelphia Fire Department” to receive the Captain Matthew LeTourneau Memorial Scholarship to Delaware County Community College, and I agree. The student, Philadelphia Fire Department EMT Bethany DeLoach, who is in the college’s paramedic program, is the first recipient of the scholarship, created in honor of the fallen firefighter.

Photo by Ginger Rae Dunbar - John Moss presented the Wong Moss Outstanding Alumni Award, which was bestowed on the LeToureau family in honor of the late Philadelphia Fire Captain Matthew LeTourneau, a 1995 graduate of Delaware County Community College. Pictured from left to right are: Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam K. Thiel, President Dr. L. Joy Gates Black, brother Luke LeTourneau, sister Michelle LeTourneau, mother Janice LeTourneau and John Moss. The  LeTourneau family then presented Captain Matthew LeTourneau scholarship to a DCCC student. 

She applied for the scholarship named for the first Philadelphia line-of-duty death during her career. It was a first for me, too.

When she talked about seeing thousands of first-responders paying their respects at LeTourneau’s funeral, I could visually recall it myself, as I was among the firefighters in uniform standing at attention outside the Cathedral where his services were held.

She recalled the rainy day and the slight chill in the air, but it wasn’t cold for January. It was “perfect golfing weather,” as Matt’s golfing buddies and fellow firefighters described it.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Taking a shot at making a difference

I’ve seen the differences that police officers make in someone’s life by such simple acts.

The missions of community policing events like “Coffee with a Cop” and “Basketball Cop Foundation” are to create positive interactions between law enforcement officers and community members. These opportunities can also present themselves during a response.

One night while investigating a drug crime, Coatesville police officers noticed a group of kids playing basketball at a net in disrepair. They wanted to replace the net and the officers contacted the Basketball Cop Foundation which donated a new portable basketball net a week later. 

Photo by Ginger Rae Dunbar - Coatesville police Sgt. Ollis speaks to the crowd about the new basketball net, donated by the Basketball Cop Foundation. 

It seemed symbolic that the basketball net required some assembly and the officers volunteered their time to set it up.

“It was put together by guys who have your back,” Coatesville police Sgt. Rodger Ollis told the crowd that gathered to see the net unveiled on a hot afternoon.

The officers distributed basketballs donated by the foundation, and the kids lined up to practice their free-throws.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Junior camps benefit junior firefighters

Some days, for many reasons, I wish I had joined my fire company when I was young enough to be a junior member. Maybe it’s an ironic thought because many junior members can’t wait until they turn 18. In their minds they believe they would be able to do more. They say that because at that age they can train to become interior firefighters.

It’s common for firefighters to join the fire company following in the footsteps of their father, or maybe a brother, while others like me, literally walk in off the street and apply. Some people grow up around the firehouse and start to learn about the equipment and the tactics from a young age. I have interviewed several firefighters who describe growing up in the fire service by riding along in the command vehicle with their relative, who was the fire chief.

I recently reported on the week-long Junior Public Safety Camp, which was held at the Chester County Emergency Services Training Center. The junior members operate a hose line and they learn about the equipment. These camps are a great resource because the young firefighters can gain more knowledge about how to use water appliances and other equipment on their apparatus. It’s also a chance to learn what other companies carry.

Photo by Ginger Rae Dunbar - Twin Valley firefighter Michaela Brooks, 17, operates the hoseline as instructor Dennis Gallagher oversees at the Junior Public Safety Camp held at the Chester County Emergency Services Training Center. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Springfield honors fallen firefighter Matthew LeTourneau

Prior to the start of the annual Fourth of July parade, Springfield Township officials honored fallen firefighter Matthew LeTourneau, who began his passion for firefighting as a volunteer in the township.

His name is placed on a plaque on the “volunteer memorial” wall nearby the firehouse along with hundreds of volunteers who have been honored for serving in the town. Former Springfield Commissioner Jeff Rudolph presented the honor of “exemplary volunteer” to the LeTourneau family in memory Matthew LeTourneau. His mother, Janice LeTourneau, accepted the certificate in his honor. 

Photo by Mark Sherwood - Sherwood Photography
Former Springfield Commissioner Jeff Rudolph presents a certificate to Janice LeTourneau on behalf of her late son, Matthew LeTourneau, who died in the line of duty in Philadelphia in January. 

LeTourneau, who served as a lieutenant with the Philadelphia Fire Department Engine 45/ Platoon A, became trapped during a structural collapse while battling a rowhome fire in a North Philadelphia on Jan. 6. After the firefighters freed him, he was transported to the hospital where he was pounced dead. He was 42.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Graduation roses

As a journalist, I get to know people that I have never met and will never meet because they have passed away.

While 367 Downingtown West High School students walked to get their high school diploma, two roses were placed on two chairs that would have remained empty otherwise. One rose was for Charlotte Hannagan and one was for Cameron Evans. The school honored them with roses to remember their classmates who were there in spirit. 

Photo by Pete Bannan - Daily Local New - A rose is placed on the seat in memory of late Cameron Evans, who would have graduated with the class of 2016.  A rose was placed on another seat in memory of late Charlotte Hannagan, another Downingtown 2016 classmate. 

I never met either of them, but I felt like I knew them when I interviewed their family members, friends, classmates and teachers. I wanted the reader to get a sense of who they were because everyone told me how these two inspired people. They have a lasting legacy as their family and friends work toward causes in their loving memory.