The Mid-State Literacy Council relies on the help of more than 200 volunteers who tutor clients in topics such as Beginner English, Conversation Skills, Computer Skills, and English for Doctor Visits, offering these classes to clients from all walks of life.
“Maybe you seek out our services because literacy wasn’t important in your family, or if you’re new to this country and just don’t know the language,” said Long. “Our purpose is to build bridges to make the most of their lives using the tools we can provide.”
Long is no stranger to community service. Prior to working at Penn State, she spent her career with several nonprofits — most notably as the marketing and campaign director for the Centre County United Way.
“What keeps me motivated in the community today is that I still work on boards,” she said. “I try to bring my past nonprofit experience to them.”
While working at the United Way, Long had an opportunity to take on a unique role in Centre County. She was one of nearly 40 community members who made up the 2009 class of Leadership Centre County — a local organization that brings diverse individuals together for networking, education and exposure to community issues, opportunities and needs.
Long explained that Leadership Centre County was founded in 1991 based on a situation that made a major impact on Atlanta, Georgia, in the 1960s. On June 3, 1962, an Air France flight crashed while taking off from Orly Airport in France, en route to Atlanta. With the airline having just opened an office in Atlanta, and this being its inaugural flight there, the plane was filled with many of the city’s cultural and civic leaders. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Leadership Atlanta was born.
“What the community realized was that all of their best minds were on one airplane,” said Long. “The purpose of Leadership Atlanta is to graduate a class of people every year who have learned enough about infrastructure, the arts, and the history of the community and to create a bank of knowledge.”
She added that Leadership Centre County, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, has passed a similar bank of knowledge on to nearly 1,000 people in our own community.
“It’s the network that keeps it together,” Long said. “You’re one voice, but you’re not one voice by yourself. You can [go on to] make significant changes in your community, or sustain things that are already good, which is just as important.”
While the impact of Leadership Centre County on the local community is obvious — the organization reports that its alumni volunteered in 683 organizations in 2017, totaling 114,266 hours valued at $2.8 million — the impact on its participants may be a little more subtle.
“Everyone gets something different from their participation,” Long said. “From my perspective, if you focus on living in the moment when you’re in those classes, it’s transformational in the sense that you feel empowered in ways you didn’t think you could.”
“Leadership Centre County empowers you with the tools and resources so you can go out and choose to be a leader in the community,” she added.
Before they graduate, participants identify their goals for community leadership moving forward. Long wanted to become more involved with literacy and education, paving the way for her current position on the board of the Mid-State Literacy Council.
“In essence, the council empowers people to live their best lives,” she said. “It levels the playing field. Those of us who grew up going to school and having our parents read to us have those advantages. If you didn’t have that growing up, it can be pretty detrimental.”
While it may appear that Long has worked hard to become a leader in the community and to help others, it undoubtedly is a part of who she is. Which, she said, may be a little selfish.
“The only way to truly find happiness is to be in the service of others,” she said. “It makes me feel good. I feel joyful when I see someone benefit from something that I’ve helped do. The looks on kids’ faces when you give them their first book, there’s nothing like it.”
Capturing the world’s beauty, one frame at a time
Shomir Wilson, assistant professor in the College of IST, has had the opportunity to travel the world, thanks to his career in academia. He’s been involved in professional activities at universities on five continents and has visited 39 countries.
Though they haven’t always been able to travel with him, his friends and family have been fortunate to see the world through his eyes, thanks to Wilson’s passion for photography.
“My interest in photography started in graduate school, when I had opportunities to go abroad to pursue research in Australia and Singapore,” he said. “Taking pictures allowed me to document my experiences in a way to share them with friends and family.”