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Students’ service project brings ‘bit of joy’ to isolated residents

Carhartts and coffee were among the blustery-day necessities as a group of Pennsylvania College of Technology construction students, accompanied by faculty and cheered by representatives of a Williamsport nonprofit, erected a pavilion for grateful residents of a personal care home.

Taking part in the off-campus outreach at West House Inc., 616 W. Edwin St., were students Jake B. Campbell, of Scranton; Dane T. Landes, of Ottsville; Stephen K. Lee, of Bethlehem; Will E. Marconi, of Chadds Ford; and Zach Spearly, of Bellefonte. Marconi is a building construction technology major; Lee is enrolled in residential construction technology and management; and Campbell, Landes and Spearly are in the residential construction technology and management: building construction technology concentration.

They were joined in the project by Levon A. Whitmyer, instructor of building construction technology, and D. Robert Cooley, associate professor of anthropology/environmental science – the initial liaison between West House and the college.

Cooley’s friend and a West House board member, Andrew W. Kilpatrick, explained that the 18-bed facility (which welcomes residents without discriminating, accepting even those unable to pay) has long made do with an umbrella as the only source of outdoor shelter and shade.

“We needed to give them some way to be outside,” he said, “and we immediately thought of Penn College and its amazing students.”

Kilpatrick started a crowdfunding page to buy a pavilion kit from Lowe’s, while Cooley and his campus colleagues brainstormed the recruitment of volunteers. The request traveled around campus, reaching another of Kilpatrick’s friends, Bradley M. Webb, dean of engineering technologies, and eventually landing in the capable hands of the Penn College Construction Association.

The crew rolled in on Wednesday morning, carried by an occasionally bitter wind that was no match for their eager hands and good humor, not to mention a work ethic that lingered until the job was done after sunset. So intent on finishing what they started, the students insisted on working under flashlight beams instead of returning another day.

And all day, as the pavilion took shape from the disparate pieces and hardware arrayed on the parking lot, residents ventured outside for a peek at their oasis-in-progress.

“From the second they heard about it, it is all they have talked about,” administrator Michael Kane said. “And now they have a space, a place to be out of the weather.”

“It’s been a tough year for everybody,” Kilpatrick said, and West House residents were not immune from the isolation and loneliness that have become familiar to so many during the COVID crisis. He spoke earnestly and passionately on their behalf, sharing gratitude while the workers took a momentary break from their labors.

“You’ve given them a win, a little bit of joy,” he told the students. “This is truly life-changing.”

It was a sentiment not lost on Whitmyer, who both in the lab and as an assistant Wildcat baseball coach, is no stranger to the perks of human connection.

“Working off-campus with students is one of the most rewarding experiences I ever got to enjoy while working at Penn College,” he said. “When you have a great group of students, it reminds you that we do make a difference.”

– Photos by Cindy Davis Meixel, writer/photo editor




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