Luzerne Foundation to honor Community Champions tonight

WILKES-BARRE — The Luzerne Foundation will present its inaugural Community Champions awards Thursday night at a dinner at the Westmoreland Club.

These awards, inspired by the Foundation’s weekly news column, highlight individuals in our community who make a difference to each of us living in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

“It’s no secret what makes Luzerne County a great place to live — it’s the people,” said Luzerne Foundation President and CEO David Pedri. “These Community Champions each exemplify service, leadership and compassion for those in need. They are ‘roll up the sleeves and get the job done’ type of people and we are honored to stand next them.”

The winners were nominated by members of the community through an open voting process on the Foundation’s website.

Business Champion — DiscoverNEPA

DiscoverNEPA is a 10-county marketing organization powered by Mericle to encourage Northeastern Pennsylvania’s best and brightest to stay in the region, to promote local quality of life assets and communities, to recruit talented individuals to the region, and to assist local nonprofits by cultivating awareness and volunteerism; branding the region as one of the nation’s best places to live.

They have thousands of followers on social media and provide free content to highlight Northeastern Pennsylvania nonprofits and businesses.

“We are honored and humbled that DiscoverNEPA has been named one of the Luzerne Foundation’s inaugural Community Champions,” said DiscoverNEPA Executive Director Mary Kolessar. “Rob Mericle founded DiscoverNEPA and donated it to the community in order to showcase the thousands of special amenities and organizations that make our area such a wonderful place to live. We are thrilled that almost one quarter of a million people now follow us on social media and thousands more visit our website every month. We are proud to share what makes NEPA a truly special place to be.”

DiscoverNEPA’s website states that the organization’s mission is to encourage Northeastern Pennsylvania’s best and brightest to stay in the region, to promote local quality of life assets and communities, to recruit talented individuals to the region, and to assist local nonprofits by cultivating awareness and volunteerism; branding the region as one of the nation’s best places to live.

The website states:

“We encourage you to explore NEPA’s communities. Browse through the endless stream of top-notch amenities. Tour local businesses, take a bike ride, grab a bite to eat or just float down a cool, clean river.

“We want you to imagine your family here. See yourself working here. Picture your business flourishing here. It’s simple. We want to help you DiscoverNEPA as you rediscover home.

“We’re a regional marketing initiative designed to promote NEPA as one of the country’s best places to live.”

Volunteer Champion — Alan K. Stout

Stout is the Executive Director of the Luzerne County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The former newspaper man is an active volunteer serving as a writer and executive producer for the recently released “Agnes” documentary that detailed the 1972 Flood. He was the organizer for the “Concert for a Cause” and now oversees the “Rockin the River” concert series in Wilkes-Barre. He is a former Little League coach and serves on the steering committee of the recently created Luzerne County Entertainment Hall of Fame.

The individual eligible for this nomination must have demonstrated exceptional leadership skills in coordinating groups of volunteers and giving freely of their time, talent and treasure. The recipient should demonstrate exceptional skills coordinating and motivating groups of volunteers for fundraising projects, community service projects, and/or special events for the benefit of charitable institutions and a commitment to the advancement of philanthropy.

Nonprofit Champion – Volunteers in Medicine

Volunteers in Medicine, a Luzerne County nonprofit based in Wilkes-Barre provides medical assistance for the uninsured and underinsured population of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

In their 15 years of service, they have provided aid to thousands of Luzerne County residents in need of care. Led by Executive Director Kelly Ranieli and Founding Chair Dr. Susan Sordoni, they coordinate volunteer medical and dental personnel to support the needy.

According to its website:

Volunteers in Medicine Wilkes-Barre Clinic opened its doors in the summer of 2008 in the downtown area. VIM Wilkes-Barre is a full service free medical and dental clinic. The clinic provides primary and preventative health care to financially eligible individuals and families in Luzerne County, PA who otherwise have no access to public or private health insurances.

The Dental Clinic opened its door to patients in January 2011. Luzerne County was identified as having an “unusually high need” for dental services because only one water system in the county (Hazelton City) is fluoridated. This translates to 87.3% of the population without access to fluoridated water.

​Statistics show, the uninsured population in the nation is estimated to be 14 percent of the population or approximately 43 million people. In Pennsylvania, the number of uninsured residents is approximately 10 percent, representing 1 million people. Luzerne County is no exception to this problem. There are 43,125 residents in the city of Wilkes-Barre. The city itself has a 17.8% poverty rate. At 200% of the poverty level, this assumes that some 7675 people could be potential clients seen by Volunteers in Medicine from the city of Wilkes-Barre alone. There are more than 35,000 residents in Luzerne County who have a job, but do not have primary care insurance.

40 Below Innovator Champion – Chris Bohinski

Bohinski is the co-host and producer of WBRE’s PA Live!. He is a consistent supporter and fan of dozens of local non-profits and schools. He gives of his time and talent to highlight people who help others in our community.

A singer and music enthusiast, he most recently served as member of the Luzerne County and Beyond Got Talent event and finished third in the most recent Wilkes-Barre Dancing with Stars to support KISS theater.

According to the WBRE website:

After graduating with degrees in both Chemistry and Music & Theater from Wheeling Jesuit University, Chris moved to New York City, where he worked in the entertainment industry. When his mother was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer shortly after his father passed away, Chris moved back home to Wilkes-Barre to serve as her primary caregiver up until the time of her passing.

Chris’s mission to spread happiness, positivity, and joy led to the creation of his smile mission, SmileStory, which includes a video web series featuring celebrity interviews and also community-wide free festivals, one of which was recognized by President Barack Obama. Chris recently was honored as the 21st alumnus in his university’s 65-year history to receive the James A. O’Brien S.J. Award for his service to others.

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