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. 

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!”

Friends, co-workers remember Vera Cornish as mentor and inspiration


News traveled swiftly last week about the unexpected death of Vera Cornish, a midstate icon who left her mark on Harrisburg’s business and nonprofit communities over several decades through her words, deeds and her ability to bring people together.

When Cornish took the stage in front of an audience, her outgoing personality and positive outlook on life was infectious to those who watched and listened.

To get an idea what the professional life coach and publisher of The Urban Connection of the Capital Region magazine in Harrisburg could do to motivate people, watch her keynote speech from August’s convocation at her alma mater, Misericordia University in Dallas, Luzerne County. During the roughly 15-minute speech, Cornish managed to get young and old alike to stand and dance to the Frankie Beverly & Maze funk song “Before I Let Go,” after getting the crowd to ponder what truly exhilarates them and makes them want to jump out of bed.

Cornish, 64, also spoke about her path to higher learning, becoming the first person in her family to graduate from high school and college, and eventually earning a master’s degree in education with a specialization in multicultural curriculum development from Misericordia in 1993.

She didn’t grow up in a family that sat around the dinner table and talked about future opportunities, she said. But what was instilled in her was that education was her “pathway to freedom.”

“The energy you put into something is going to determine the results that you get out of whatever you do,” Cornish said in the speech. “Take action on the things you want to become true in your life.”

Her Life

Originally from Wilkes-Barre, Cornish knew an education was what would allow her to succeed. So, she scrubbed floors for 50 cents an hour and work as a maid for wealthy residents in the Poconos to pay for her schooling at Penn State. She would go on to teach after graduation and eventually pursued an independent study program at Misericordia.

It was when she moved to Central Pennsylvania in 1995 that she began to leave her mark on a wider audience, serving as the first director of institutional diversity at Harrisburg Area Community College.

Dr. John J. Sygielski, president of HACC, said Cornish paved the way for her successors in the role of promoting diversity and inclusion at the college. Cornish always served as a strong advocate for studying at HACC and the benefits of students pursuing a community college education, he said.

Sygielski said Cornish served as a mentor to many of the staff at the school, and he would call on her often for advice. He said in his first week as president in 2011, Cornish personally drove him to State College to introduce him to educators at Penn State she felt would be important for him to know.

Cornish’s impact on Harrisburg itself may have been even greater than just HACC. She created the annual Martin Luther King Breakfast and The Women of Heritage Leadership Breakfast.

Through her company Cornish & Associates, she advised organizations small and large on empowerment strategies and diversity in the workplace since 1999, teaming up with The Hershey Co., The GIANT Co. and Capital BlueCross. One of her most recent works, the book “Dare to Dream,” published last year, is filled with motivational stories from her life.

Connectivity was Cornish’s most important personal trait, brokering to serve as a facilitator for conversations, Sygielski said.

“Her legacy will be bringing people together to enhance the communities that are part of this tapestry of Central Pennsylvania, as a bridge builder, as a connector, as a cheerleader, as a promoter, engager and challenger,” Sygielski said.

Community Tributes

Tributes to Cornish began appearing early on after the news of her passing on Feb. 26.

David Black, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC, said Cornish was serving on the Chamber’s board when he joined the organization in 2001, becoming fast friends. Black pointed to her welcoming and encouraging nature and her belief in the potential of Harrisburg as a community.

“Vera was a force in our region,” Black said. “She was a strong advocate and passionate participant in the advancement of diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our region, particularly our business community.  She was always upbeat, always had a major hug for friends old and new, and she was always working a room, connecting people and causes in her unique powerful, yet gentle and kind style.”

Vera Cornish, left, is joined by Una Martone, president and CEO of Leadership Harrisburg Area, center, and the late Colleen Nophsker, a former Leadership Harrisburg committee member at an event a few years ago. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Una Martone, president and CEO of Leadership Harrisburg Area, met Cornish in 2007 when she started working for the organization. Even before they met, there was “a huge build-up” of the way people spoke about Cornish and what she had done for the community, she said.

When they finally met, Cornish greeted her with a hug and was quick to give her insights and suggestions to improve Leadership Harrisburg. Cornish also didn’t hesitate to accept Martone’s offer to volunteer with the group, serving for years on the marketing and public relations committee.

“Not only did I get the chance to meet this community icon, but I had the chance to work with her almost right away,” Martone said. “She was full of openness, honesty, candidness and frankness. She did not hold back, and because of that everybody around her learned. We gained new perspectives. She wanted people to learn and gain insights.”

In Cornish’s own words, her own experiences guided her life lessons for others to follow.

“Learn from the past, live in today and cast a vision for your future,” Cornish said at the Misericordia speech in August. “Build relationships with great people. Some will be for a season, and some will be for a lifetime.”

Workforce boon sought in ‘unprecedented’ college transfer agreement

John J. “Ski” Sygielski, president of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College – Submitted

In an effort to streamline students into post-grad employment, Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) and Reading Area Community College formalized a partnership this week with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) that will allow students to complete bachelor’s degrees through the university’s online programs.

The articulation agreement, signed by each of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges, will allow students to transfer up to 90 credits to SNHU with a 10% reduction in tuition, helping to make postsecondary education more affordable, said HACC President and CEO John J. Sygielski.

“Community colleges work hard to provide students with quality education at an affordable price, which is why we’re so pleased to announce our partnership with Southern New Hampshire University,” he said.

The partnership was announced Wednesday as part of the state’s effort to have 60% of Pennsylvanians aged 25-64 holding postsecondary degrees or industry-recognized credentials by 2025.

“At SNHU, we seek to streamline the transfer process for community college graduates across the nation and we are excited to team up with all 14 community colleges in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Jennifer Batchelor, vice president of SNHU’s global campus.

Officials from the Pennsylvania Commission for Community colleges said the lease agreement provides one of the most affordable pathways to a bachelor’s degree in Pennsylvania and is the state’s first articulation agreement that authorizes the transfer of credits from all of the colleges’ academic departments.

“Thousands of articulation agreements are already in place with higher education partners here in Pennsylvania to help students realize their postsecondary achievement goals and we fully expect those longstanding partnerships to continue,” said Elizabeth Bolden, president and CEO of the Commission for Community Colleges. “The academic preparation, success and focus of Pennsylvania’s community college students is appealing to many national higher education institutions, as these students are typically motivated and high-performing.”

SNHU is already one of the most transferred-to institutions for community college students in the commonwealth, accepting nearly 500 in the 2018-2019 academic year and awarding 166 Pennsylvania community college students bachelor’s degrees in 2019.

HACC 2017-18 budget includes decrease in tuition for in-state credit students

The Board of Trustees of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, adopted a $138-million balanced 2017-18 budget on April 5, 2017.

The budget includes a 1-percent decrease in tuition for in-state credit students and 2-percent salary increases for employees.

“The entire College community is keenly aware of the financial difficulties many of our students experience while attending HACC. To that end, the Board of Trustees took a historic step today and voted to decrease tuition for the 2017-18 academic year. Even though it is a modest reduction, we believe it sends a message that HACC is serious about containing costs and passing those savings on to our students to ease their financial burden,” said HACC President John J. “Ski” Sygielski, Ed.D.

The tuition decrease is effective immediately for in-state students enrolling for the fall term that begins Aug. 28, 2017, at HACC campuses in Gettysburg, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon and York and online classes and programs.