Harrisburg-based LGBT Center celebrates anniversary, honors community leaders

Harrisburg-based LGBT Center of Central PA hosted “FAB 2022: Connecting with the Past & Celebrating the Future” last Saturday at Hershey Lodge. The annual gala celebrated 16 years of the LGBT’s work in Central Pennsylvania, honored community leaders, and invited attendees to become involved in the work of the LGBT Center. 

This year’s FAB awardees include the following: 

  • Dr. Tyler Titus – Movement Leadership Award  
  • Michelle & Trum Simmons – Legacy Award  
  • Amy Keisling – Local Spotlight Award  
  • Dre Ceja – Creatives for Change Award 
  • Alexis Zeno Torres – Volunteer of the Year Award  
  • Brady Pappas – Rising Star Award 


The Movement Leadership Award recognizes an individual, group, or organization whose work at the statewide or national level is advancing LGBTQ+ equity and inclusion within the movement and provides a model to strive towards in work being done in Central Pennsylvania. Awardee Dr. Titus is a Licensed Professional Counselor and in November 2017 became the first openly transgender elected official in the State of Pennsylvania. Dr. Titus is serving a term as co-vice chair of the State’s first Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs. 


The Legacy Award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and personal dedication over a significant period of time in furthering the work of local LGBTQ+ communities. Co-recipient Michelle Simmons is a member of the LGBTQ & Allies Committee and co-chair of the Anti-rascist & Racial Justice Task Force. Trum Simmons taught at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) for more than four decades. As senior professor of English and Journalism, he developed and taught the course introduction to LGBTQ studies. 


The Local Spotlight Award recognizes an individual, group, or organization whose work is significantly contributing to building connected, engaged, and resilient LGBTQ+ communities in Central Pennsylvania. Recipient Amy Keisling is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the Coordinator for the Pediatric and Adolescent Gender Health Clinic at Penn State Health, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. 


Creatives for Change Award recognizes an individual, group, or organization who is cultivating community through artistic expression, providing unique opportunities for LGBTQ+ people to create and participate in art in a healing, joyful, and impactful way. Awardee Dre Ceja is a multimedia artist who creates physical and digital art. 


The Volunteer of the Year Award recognizes and individual who has dedicated a significant amount of their personal time and energy as a volunteer to further the work of the LGBT Center. Awardee Alexis Zeno Torres is a full-time HACC student working toward a degree in Business Administration. 


The Rising Star Award recognizes an individual or group who has recently emerged as a leader and has begun to make a mark within the local LGBTQ+ communities through significant contributions in a short period of time. Recipient Brady Pappas is an artist and digital creator bases in Lancaster. 


The gala event also recognized founding members of the LGBT Center and acknowledged the 10th anniversary of the LGBT History Project. Established in 2006, the LGBT Center serves more than 2,000 people every year across Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, and York counties. 

HACC adds cannabis certificate programs  

HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, has added three certificate programs to meet the workforce needs of the expanding cannabis industry. The institution is partnering with Green Flower, an on-demand training platform built for cannabis professionals, to provide the eight-week, fully online programs. 

Graduates of the Advanced Dispensary Associate Skills Training, Cannabis Manufacturing Agent and Cultivation Technician courses will receive certificates of completion from HACC and Green Flower and have access to Green Flower’s employer network. 

Cannabis is a $25 billion industry in the U.S., according to Leafly, generating an average of 280 jobs per day. 

“As demand continues to grow for an educated workforce in the cannabis industry in Pennsylvania and across the country, HACC is responding to the need by contracting with Green Flower to give our students opportunities to qualify for entry-level jobs,” Vic Rodgers, HACC’s vice president of workforce development and continuing education, said in a release. 

Daniel Kalef, Green Flower vice president of higher education, added: “As the medical cannabis industry continues to grow significantly, leaders from the college looked to find ways for people in the area and beyond to become highly qualified to work in cannabis retail, manufacturing and agriculture environments and help ensure not only the continued growth of the industry in Pennsylvania, but growth in great part due to a well-trained workforce.” 

PNC Foundation awards $112,500 grant for students in HACC’s Police Academy or EMT program 

The PNC Foundation announced this week that it will be awarding HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, $112,500 in grant funding over the next three years to train and recruit low- to moderate-income Black students for roles as police officers and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). 

Scholarships through the grant will cover full tuition for 36 Black students looking to join HACC’s Municipal Police Academy or EMT program. The grant was created to create a talent pipeline for the region to increase diversity among its police and EMTs, the organizations wrote in a press release. 

“Thanks to this collaboration with HACC, we will be one step closer to ensuring that our heroic first responders reflect the communities they serve,” said Jim Hoehn, PNC regional president in Central Pa. “This initiative brings PNC’s focus on diversity and inclusion together with our belief that education is a force for economic and social mobility.” 

The grant is part of PNC’s Community Benefits Plan announced last April, part of a previously announced commitment of more than $1 billion to support economic empowerment opportunities for Black Americans and low- and moderate- income communities. 

“HACC is grateful for the support from the PNC Foundation that will enable us to provide new career opportunities for members of our Black community,” said John Sygielski, HACC president and CEO. “Using these funds provided by the PNC Foundation, the HACC Foundation will award scholarships to fully cover all tuition and educational costs associated with these programs. Since one of HACC’s core values is ‘inclusivity,’ this initiative exemplifies our authentic and action-oriented commitment to this value.” 

HACC allocated $213,000 to key projects

HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College’s (HACC’s) nonprofit foundation, the HACC Foundation, allocated $213,000 to the local college for a number of projects.

The school announced the funding transfer on Wednesday, the largest part of it being $165,900 for a four-phase project to offer geospatial technology for geographic mapping and analysis to its professors.

The remaining funds will go to:

Implementing an online tool to guide students through documenting their work and learning experiences, $15,000.

Purchasing legal research resources for HACC’s paralegal studies program, $13,500.

Providing e-gift cards for HACC students facing food insecurity, $11,000.

Designing a four-credit grammar course to help English as a second language students master the English language, $7,657.

HACC is the largest of Pennsylvania’s 15 community colleges. The school has approximately 100 career and transfer associate degree, certificate and diploma programs and about 17,000 students.

Midstate educators: There’s a sea change in modern education that will support changing workforce needs

Panelists from left to right: Dr. John “Ski” Sygielski, Dr. Tamara Willis, Michael Charles, Dr. Linda Fedrizzi-Williams


There is a sea change going on in education right now, according to the education professionals at Central Penn Business Journal’s Workforce Preparedness and Education Webinar.

COVID-19 has brought online learning out from the sidelines to a central role in modern education, and the four-year degree is no longer the standard option after high school, as specialized diplomas and training in trades are gaining in acceptability.

“Education is not one size fits all,” said Dr. Linda Fedrizzi-Williams, president of Central Penn College in Summerdale, one of four panelists who took part in the webinar, which included Michael Charles, interim principal & high school curriculum lead at Lancaster Mennonite School; Dr. John J. Sygielski, president and CEO of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College; and Dr. Tamara Willis, superintendent of the Susquehanna Township School District.

What was the de rigueur path for students of past decades might not work for the students of today, the panelists said, remarking that some young adults benefit from taking time to work before attending college.

“You don’t have to go right away,” said Willis, “but circle back to it if you can.”

The stigma surrounding training in the trades is disappearing as well, according to the panelists. Lancaster Mennonite’s Charles said that there has been a “huge pivot” in the options high school students see for themselves after graduation. “Now there is a huge portfolio of options that exist,” he said. “Trades are seen as viable jobs, highly advanced, highly technical jobs.”

Willis echoed his statements. “More and more parents are looking at our technical schools,” she said. “I think it’s starting to shift. It has shifted already.”

Parents and students are realizing that trade jobs that require technical training are often high-paying careers in stable industries and bring lifetime employment, the panelists said.

“Over time they see that it is a noble career,” said Sygielski.

While the changing educational landscape means that not every high school senior will go on to obtain a four-year degree, some education beyond high school is still important for young people seeking a paycheck that will support a family, the panelists said. However, with worries over student loan debt and an unstable economy making advanced schooling an uncertain option for some, colleges are thinking outside the box for what they can do to help prospective students.

“We thought ‘What can we do for our students? What can we leverage?,’” Fedrizzi-Williams said, explaining that in addition to freezing tuition rates for the past three years, Central Penn College is offering students housing on campus for free.

As the goals of young adults change, the way they are being educated is changing faster than anyone could have imagined, and shifting to more online learning during the pandemic has been a hurdle for educators, they said.

“It’s created a lot of challenges in how we give instruction,” Fedrizzi-William said, remarking that many teachers are also being tasked with homeschooling their children right now, creating added stress.

“Teachers get burnout,” Charles said. Teachers and students had to go from “0 to 60 in ways we never expected,” and students have been forced to navigate the world in ways never expected. But, he said, “we are doing a much better job than we were eight months ago.”

Even internships have gone virtual, the panelists said.

At Susquehanna Township School District, students interning in the banking industry are attending virtual meetings weekly with the district’s banking industry partners. Internships begin in ninth grade with students doing some job shadowing, Willis said. She recommends that students do multiple internships before graduation, with the ultimate goal of landing a job.

In addition to the changing educational and workforce landscape, the top job skills valued by employers today were also discussed by the panelists, with soft skills like verbal communication and a willingness to learn being at the forefront.

“Number one is attitude,” said HACC’s Sygielski. “If they are willing to learn, we will hire them.”

Central Penn College’s Fedrizzi-Williams added that job candidates should be able to “critically think, not coming to you for answers but bringing you solutions.”

To view the webinar in its entirety, click here.

HACC set to launch fully online community health worker program

Harrisburg Area Community College’s (HACC) upcoming Community Health Worker Program will prepare students for careers such as outreach workers, patient navigators and peer health educators.

The Harrisburg-based college announced on Wednesday that the first fully online classes for the new 12-week program begin in early February.

The new Community Health Worker Program is accredited through the Pennsylvania Certification Board and covers health care, social services, communication skills, health education and individual and community advocacy.

“Currently, there are over 400 job openings in Pennsylvania for community health workers,” said Vic Rodgers, vice president of workforce development for HACC. “HACC has designed an educational program that satisfies Pennsylvania Certification Board requirements and meets a need in the community.”

HACC is one of 15 community colleges in the state and offers approximately 100 career and transfer associate degree, certification and diploma programs.

Downtown Lebanon business owners welcome city’s purchase of HACC building

The City of Lebanon is moving its offices to the heart of the downtown shopping district, bringing 90-plus employees with it and drawing praise from the business community.

Merchants in the business district say the change – a goal of the Grow Lebanon 2020 economic development plan – will strengthen the city’s economy by bringing not just the city’s workers closer, but others as well. 

“I’ve been a proponent pretty much since day one,” said Richard Wertz, a six-term City Council member, and co-owner of Wertz Candies, which is across the street from what will be the city’s new home – the building at 735 Cumberland St. The business was started his grandfather in 1931.

The city hasn’t had offices downtown since 1962, he said, and it was time to bring them back.

Earlier this fall, City Council approved the sale of the city’s portion of the Lebanon County/City Municipal Building at 400 S. Eighth St. to the county for $2.25 million. That sale allowed council to authorize Mayor Sherry Capello to proceed with the purchase of the HACC building at 735 Cumberland St. for $2.2 million.

The police department, public safety and fire commissioner’s office will be located on the first floor and administrative offices on the second. 

Capello said the city will renovate the building’s interior for city operations. The renovations will include constructing a police garage attached to the rear of the building. HACC will occupy the third floor and part of the second floor, totaling almost 22,000 square feet.

As part of the sale, HACC will lease its portion of the building for at least five years no cost. With the sale, HACC will no longer be responsible for services such as facilities, custodial and security, according to a statement released by the college.

“HACC remains committed to its students and employees and the Lebanon community,” the statement said, adding that fall 2020 enrollment at the Lebanon Campus was approximately 760 students.

Settlement of the sale will be no later than June 30. Settlement of the sale between the county and the city will be no later than May 31, 2022.

The HACC building presented the city with a new opportunity, and “we’re going to do this,” Wertz said.

Arthur Funk & Sons Inc. Construction Services, Lebanon, is the general contractor handling the $3.96 million renovation and construction project.

Including that and the $2.2 million purchase price, the total investment would represent a little over $6 million. To pay for that, the city will use $2 million from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, the $2.25 million sale of the city’s portion of the Lebanon County-City Municipal Building, “and the balance will be obtained through the issuance of a bond,” Capello wrote in her email.

There are about 90 full-time and 44 part-time city employees, she said. “That number includes all employees on all shifts. There are 21 full-time firefighters and 12 full-time public works employees that would not report to the building. Also, there are about 14 crossing guards that would only report to the building sporadically. So actually working out of the HACC facility would be more like 57 full time and 30 part time – again, on three shifts.”

Revitalizing downtown

Karen Groh, president and CEO of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the current home of the city’s workforce – the county-city building – is probably six blocks from downtown.

She said bringing those employees to the central business district “is a good thing.” It’s important to have the city workforce “in the middle of our hustle and bustle,” Groh said.

It makes the city offices a little more accessible, she said. Separating them from the county offices is a benefit as well, she said.

“I think it will bring a good influx of people downtown,” she said.

Bob Cook’s restaurant, Queso Dee’as, is directly across from the HACC building.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s going to stimulate downtown, absolutely.”

“More people coming (downtown) is better than what we got going now,” Cook said.

His Tex-Mex fare, he said, is doing a busy takeout business during COVID-19.

“I’m surviving it pretty good,” Cook said. “I count my blessings.”

Lifetime Lebanon resident John Tice, a real estate broker, gives the Capello administration a lot of credit for pushing investment downtown. The renovation and reuse of the HACC building could be a catalyst, he said.

“I’m thrilled that’s taking place,” Tice said. “We’re looking for investors to keep the momentum going.”

After downtown lost much over the years, “we want to bring back the business community,” he said. Tice is bullish in his support of downtown merchants and restaurants frequently doing video interviews and posting them on Facebook. 

He expects the city’s move to stimulate more interest in the city.

“My advice to everybody is, answer your phone,” Tice said, because more customers should be coming your way.

A lot of people are in favor of the city’s move but concerned about parking, Wertz said. “We’re working on that.”

He mentioned making spaces out of distressed areas and using places like Liberty Alley, between Seventh and Eighth streets.

“In order to not create a parking burden on the downtown businesses, the city will construct a small parking garage addition for patrol vehicles,” Capello said. “Additionally, some parking spaces will remain in the lot behind the building (after the construction of the small garage) and these spaces will be used for other police and fire vehicles, and a limited number for employee parking.”

The city will build a surface parking lot close by, Capello said, for the majority of employees.

Long time coming

Capello said her administration has been working on moving city operations downtown for a few years.  Other mayors were interested in this project as well, but unfortunately, the timing and resources just did not make it feasible for them.”

Many smaller cities throughout the country have recognized the benefits of ensuring that municipal and public services remain in the urban center, not only for the convenience and greater access of all residents, but also for the added benefits for city employees and customers to frequent downtown businesses, she said.

This public investment can, in turn, lead to more private sector development and businesses downtown, she said.

The administration considered different locations over the last couple years, including the former YMCA building at Ninth and Willow streets, Capello said. The administration eventually received a $2 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program award – less than requested – and settled on renovating the HACC building. A final amendment of the RCAP application will be submitted before the end of the year, she added.

In addition to using the building rent free for five years, HACC will pay its pro rata share of utilities, Capello said. 

The college will have up to 35 parking spaces on a nearby lot and is required to obtain an additional 25 in the immediate area, she said.

The city currently has about 18,000 to 20,000 square feet of net space in the County-City Municipal Building, Capello said, and the police department has a 10-vehicle garage there.

At the new location, the city will gain much-needed space and utilize about 26,000 square feet.

Capello credited Frank Dixon and the Francis J. Dixon Foundation with integral support. “Mr. Dixon is a tremendous asset to our community,” she said. “… He was instrumental in pulling this all together financially.”

Dixon, a Central Penn Business Journal 2020 Icon Award winner, cited his role in bringing HACC to Lebanon as one of his proudest accomplishments.

 “We estimate moving into our new location around April of 2022,” she said. “The future looks bright!”