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Businesses and Individuals Recognized at Columbia Montour Chamber Annual Meeting

Member businesses and individuals of The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce were recognized during the organization’s Annual Meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, at the Barn at Frosty Valley in Danville, and sponsored by PPL Electric Utilities.

More than 240 people attended the dinner meeting which celebrated outstanding member achievements, elected members to the Board of Directors, highlighted Chamber activities of the past year, and previewed the year ahead.

The Chamber’s four annual awards were presented to businesses and individuals for their significant contributions to the community. The following awards were presented to the following recipients:

Small Business of the Year
(Sponsored by First Columbia Bank & Trust)
For The Cause

Large Business of the Year
(Sponsored by DRIVE)
Knoebels Amusement Resort

Community Progress Award
(Sponsored by Commonwealth Health-Berwick Hospital Center)
Community Strategies Group

Outstanding Citizen
(Sponsored by Berwick Industrial Development Association)
Linda Brown, Service 1st Federal Credit Union

The Small Business of the Year award goes to a member business or organization of 30 employees or fewer than has done one or more of the following: demonstrated business or community leadership evidenced by diversification and creativity in the development of new products, services and/or markets; demonstrated staying power and positive response to adversity; or demonstrated community involvement.

Founded in 2009 during the height of the recession by Marc, Jon and Josh Nespoli, For The Cause has a mission to make the greater Berwick area a region of pride, where the communities thrive as they live, work and play. What For The Cause has been able to accomplish in its first decade is nothing short of remarkable.

The annual Speedo Run has raised over $100,000 to date for the fight against breast cancer, for which For The Cause received the 2011 Friends in the Fight Award from the local Susan G. Komen Foundation chapter. Its Run for the Cause raises money to support its various youth and food-related initiatives. Through that and other various campaigns, For The Cause has been able to distribute over 200,000 meals to local families in need, including sending nearly 1,700 snacks and meals home to elementary students with identified needs each Friday during the school year.

The nonprofit’s latest venture, the 3,500 square-foot Teen Center, opened in September 2017. In just over a year, it more than quintupled its membership and successfully partnered with about a dozen local businesses and the Berwick Area School District to create a successful extension of home and school for over 300 local teens per month on average, which including more than 700 engagement last September alone. Its Youth Action Board has given its participants a chance to learn about leadership and the importance of giving back to their community, and it recently partnered with the ThinkBig Pediatric Cancer Fund to raise over $6,000 to support families battling pediatric cancer.

While For The Cause has very ambitious plans to accomplish even more as it enters its second decade, it has made a notably positive impact on the greater Berwick community in just 10 short years, while also positioning itself to make even larger positive contributions to the community and its youth over the next 10 years and beyond.

The Large Business of the Year Award, goes to a business with 31 or more employees, and the criteria is the same as for the Small Business of the Year honor.

For those that live in this area, especially those whose families have gone to
Knoebels Amusement Resort for generations, it can be easy to take it for granted and not recognize just how much of a jewel and driver of economic activity is right here in our own backyard. Now in its third and fourth generations of family ownership and operation, Knoebels welcomes nearly 1.5 million guests per year – many of whom come from beyond a day’s drive. This is significant because of the numerous nights of local hotel room occupancy during the summer and the accompanying hotel tax revenue, which benefits many. One local hotel sales director estimates that during any given week from Memorial Day to Labor Day, 70% of its occupancy is due to Knoebels.

At the park, campground, golf course, restaurant and cottages, Knoebels has been delivering family fun for generations. America’s largest free-admission amusement park has consistently been recognized by the amusement industry. Its grand carousel has received Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Award for best carousel every year the award has been presented, and Knoebels annually ranks among the top five parks in the country in several categories with other well-known amusement parks such as Disney World and Busch Gardens.

During the peak of its season each summer, Knoebels employs over 2,300 people, ranging from teenagers working their first job, to retirees looking to keep busy. In the last two decades, it has given away more than $100,000 in scholarships to its school-aged team members, and through its educational partnership program, is able to encourage students in their educational journey while assisting schools with certain programming. Perhaps most impressive is the way Knoebels is able to quickly mobilize these 2,300-plus employees and with military-like precision, prepare for, manage and clean up following floods. They flawlessly executed this flood preparedness plan once again this past summer, ensuring that this economic engine and family fun wasn’t closed for more than a couple of days.

The Community Progress Award goes to a member business or organization that showed improvement in the internal or external appearance of a commercial property through either new construction, renovation, restoration or remodeling, and completed that construction within the last three calendar years or by December 2018.

An offshoot of the Columbia County Housing & Redevelopment Authority, Community Strategies Group is a comprehensive community, economic and housing development organization serving Columbia County and surrounding areas. While it is receiving this award for a pair of housing projects, its services go beyond just housing development. For example, it offers qualified first-time homebuyers up to $5,000 of matching funds to put towards down payment or closing costs. It has also partnered with the United Way of Columbia and Montour County and First Columbia Bank & Trust to establish the revolving car loan program, which aims to assist individuals and families in need of transportation in order to gain or keep employment. In the 20 months since this program’s inception, it has helped eight families with their basic transportation needs.

Community Strategies Group’s most significant accomplishments of late have been the completion of the Bloom Mills apartments in Bloomsburg, and several single-family homes in Berwick. The Bloom Mills apartments, completed in 2016, were built on the site of the former Bloomsburg Mills silk and textile mill. When it shut down in 2009, the property sat vacant and deteriorating, and the mill was demolished in 2013. Community Strategies Group purchased the property in 2016 and by the end of that year, turned the property into a dynamic 40-apartment community that provides much-needed affordable housing for seniors, as well as a boost to the property tax base in the Town of Bloomsburg. Later this year, the second phase of this project will be completed when the 64-apartment Silk Mills opens across the street.

Just as significant is Community Strategies Group’s work on the LaSalle St. neighborhood in Berwick. Formerly a vibrant neighborhood in the first half of the 20th century, the area fell into decline. In 2005, the neighborhood was designated a Blueprint Community, a designation and initiative that has helped nearly 60 similar communities across Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia revitalize toward a brighter future and gain access to the resources needed to make it a reality. Community Strategies Group has led and managed this revitalization, which included purchasing and demolishing several blighted properties, and replacing them with new, energy-efficient homes that were sold or rented to working families. The latest group of 24 homes was completed in late 2018, and will be rented to more working families, who will have the option to buy them. Since this project began in the last decade, reported crime in the neighborhood is down by over 30 percent, children regularly play in the neighborhood park, and there is an overall sense of pride not seen in the neighborhood in a generation.

The Outstanding Citizen Award is presented to an individual that is an employee or volunteer of a member organization who is involved in civic activities beneficial to the Columbia Montour region and who projects a positive community image.

Linda Brown has worked in the financial services industry for over 30 years, including the last 22 and counting at Service 1st Federal Credit Union as the chief administrative officer. She began her career in marketing and human resources and has since expanded her scope of knowledge to include member service, training, security and information systems. She is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the credit union in these areas. Linda is an inaugural member of the Filene Research Institute’s i3 group that focuses on ideas, innovation and implementation to advance the credit union movement.

A former direct report of Linda’s commented that “Linda’s leadership and forward thinking have really added to the growth and stability of Service 1st.” Another current colleague remarked that “her leadership has spurred aggressive growth for Service 1st and she continually seeks out ways to improve the experience for our members and employees. I am lucky to have her as the phenomenal mentor she is.”

When not helping Service 1st reach achievements, Linda spends a good portion of her time volunteering in the community and lending her expertise to several other organizations. She is a member of the board at Leadership Susquehanna Valley and Rural Business Innovation, as well as a member of the steering committees for the Central Susquehanna Community Foundation’s Women’s Giving Circle and Bridges Out of Poverty. She also is a member of Soroptimist International of Montour County, the Montour County Industrial Development Authority and the Greater Susquehanna Valley Toastmasters.

Linda also serves as the treasurer on the board for the Ronald McDonald House of Danville, where her commitment was described in one simple word: awesome. She has on more than one occasion enlisted the help of her Service 1st co-workers to prepare meals for the families at the house. She attends every event and if she isn’t there, the staff knows that she is out of town or has to be sick.

One might think with all of this volunteering that Linda doesn’t have much free time. Yet, nearly 25 years after she earned her undergraduate degree from Bloomsburg University, she recently returned to BU to earn a Master’s degree as a way to sharpen her skills and keep pace with technology and instructional design. Linda resides outside Danville with her husband, Terry.

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