WILKES-BARRE – On a recent Saturday members of the South Wilkes-Barre Residents Association gathered at CrisNic’s Irish Pub on Barney Street to discuss upcoming events.
To George Brown, president of the association, the restaurant, the topic and those attending was a microcosm of what the group does and is.
“This business opened in 2012 right here in South Wilkes-Barre,” he said. “They have great food at good prices. People from all over love gathering here.”
Brown has both his roots and his heart in South Wilkes-Barre.
“When I was building my home here, people asked me why,” he said. “South Wilkes-Barre is a good place.”
Members of the South Wilkes-Barre Residents’ Association want to make that area of Wilkes-Barre even better, offering everything from an annual Easter egg hunt to summer movie nights to identification of blighted properties.
Association member Melissa Patla, who also serves on the Wilkes-Barre Area School District board of directors, said memories of growing up in Wilkes-Barre fuel her hope for the city’s future.
Patla stressed the importance of families coming together within the community, with everyone being a good neighbor and being willing to help others.
A great example of that, she said, was the organization’s movie night at the Gordon Avenue Soccer Complex, which brings residents of all ages out for fellowship and entertainment.
Bill and Pam Challenger, members of the Firwood United Methodist Church and residents of South Wilkes-Barre, said the church is more than happy to assist in helping Wilkes-Barre residents.
“Nobody checks IDs to see if your from South Wilkes-Barre,” said Bill Challenger. “Everyone is welcome.”
Brown said the association partners with other organization within the community to provide opportunity for area residents.
“For example, during our annual Easter egg hunt for both typical kids and special needs residents, we reached out to a host of organization and businesses and they were glad to help,” he said.
The annual Easter egg hunt is something of which Brown is especially proud.
“We brightened the lives of over 350 children that day,” said Brown. “And everyone got about five items that included candy and other treats.”
The group sponsors speakers at its monthly meetings which range from political officials to hospital representatives to government officials to police officers.
“We respond to what people want,” he said. “We ask them who they want to hear speak, and we bring them in.”
And although some of the speakers are political, the group is not political.
“I tell speakers that they are invited as representatives, not as candidates,” he said.
Most recently the group had representatives from Luzerne County 911 speak at a meeting.
“People told us that it was a difficult system to understand,” he said. “So we wanted to help them understand it.”
The organization has no official membership, with attendance at meetings and participation at events varying widely.
“Some may not be so interested in community cleanup, but very interested in helping at the Easter egg hunt” said Brown. “But that’s fine.”
Brown said the association works closely with Wilkes University during periodic cleanups of south Wilkes-Barre.
Members of the Meyers High School football team also offer their muscle for cleanups.
The annual egg hunt sees the NAACP youth council join combine efforts with the association.
“We had a bit of extra time they day of the Easter Egg hunt, so we had a dance party for the young people,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”
In addition to pragmatic efforts which clean up the city, move toward ridding the city of blighted properties, restoring historic property and providing positive family events, the organization hopes to build a vision for the city.
“We want to change any negative stigma and bring back vibrancy,” said Brown. “People want to be part of it.”