Psychology and sociology major James Hamm
’ 18 set out to understand life in the coal region and
why it is so hard. Through his oral history research
with the sociology and anthropology departments,
he began to realize that the standard line, “There
aren’t any good jobs here,” is really about a lack
of public transportation to get to good jobs. His
interviews with Mount Carmel residents illustrate
how economic distress generates community
tension: There’s a perception that lowered property
values have brought outside welfare recipients to
the region, putting these folks on a cultural collision
course with longtime residents still steeped in a
hardscrabble, up-by-your-bootstraps mindset.
Hamm, who plans to earn a doctorate in public
health, also learned the national scourge of addiction devastates this region too.
One day while conducting research in Mount
Carmel, Professor Carl Milofsky, sociology,
wandered into a ramshackle Alpine-themed
building along state Route 61. Once a popular
nightspot, it’s now a nonprofit addictions center,
but even with no shortage of clients, it struggles.
Milofsky engaged the center’s director, Rick Catino,
then made some calls.
“It’s a one-man operation,” Milofsky says. “He
set up this little nonprofit. Since then, we’ve had a
few teams of students who worked at the center to
reorganize it. We can help them find solutions.”
Hamm’s summer internship focused on securing
grants to improve the center. He interviewed
addicts to implement a means of measuring
treatment efficacy. And while Hamm could not
eradicate the illness, now he knows he wants to be
part of the cure.
“Those interviews made me a very skilled
researcher and gave me a setting where I can apply
what I learned in the classroom,” he says. “I’m
interested in poverty studies, so I’m on a nuanced
path. But now that I’ve worked in a community,
I know what I want to pursue.” — Susan Lindt
witnessing a lot of hope in the form of grants, business deals
and plans that never quite gelled.
“They were well-meaning, positive things, but we didn’t
have any systemic change that renewed hope of something
better happening someday,” Betz says. “This partnership
has renewed my hope, because it’s different; it’s people-
centered. It’s not tax breaks to provide jobs. It’s not a plant
relocating here and creating 500 jobs. It’s addressing how
our community can be better inch by inch.”
At age 12, Cathy Besser began washing dishes in the family
business, Academy Sports Center, where you could buy a new
rifle, shoot pool and down an egg sandwich in a single stop.
Sixty-five years after opening, Academy thrives and Besser
is still surrounded by family co-workers, but the luncheonette and pool tables are gone, and so is Cathy’s mother,
Catherine Welker. Hailed as “Mother of the Downtown,”
Welker founded Downtown Inc. in 2009, an effort to keep
hope afloat in her dying town.
“We’ve lived in the Mount Carmel bubble for so long,
that when the bubble broke and the real world came in, we
weren’t equipped to handle those problems,” Besser says,
listing among them slumlords and property blight, addiction, lack of pride and people’s unwillingness to work hard
and save for what they want.
Besser has taken her mother’s place as president of
Downtown Inc. and, like her mother, she’s an optimist.
She backed Moran’s idea from the start, so when some
old-timers rolled their eyes at a plan to leverage Bucknell
students in the sustainability fight, Besser bristled.
“You always have those few negative Nellies who say
something’s not going to work,” she says. “But most people
realized we had a great opportunity in front of us and
wanted to take advantage of it.”
Now Besser is enjoying a small victory. Because of the Han-
nah brothers’ work with Ben Schumacher, there’s a rec com-
mittee with “a good nucleus of people” attending meetings.
And something else is happening: Mount Carmel folks
are talking — to one another. Most everyone in Mount
Carmel hunts, so naturally, archery came up. Someone
mentioned a nationally ranked archer who travels all
the way to Lancaster to access an indoor range. That got
people thinking about developing their own indoor range.
A businessman offered space in his building — once home
to the now-vanished JCPenney.
“The more they talked, the more it snowballed,” Besser
says. “We could do tournaments there, get the schools
involved — there’s a multitude of things that could come
out of this.”
Perhaps without even realizing, she says, “The Bucknell
kids gave us the OK to try these things. We’re not afraid
to try things anymore,” Besser says. “Those students, they
might not think they made an impact, but they gave us our
second wind. This is progress,” she insists. “This town is not
a lost cause. This town is worth fighting for.”
Student Examines the Dire Effects
of Economic Distress
Opposite page: Scenes from the streets
and storefronts of downtown Mount Carmel.
James Hamm ’ 18 spent this summer developing a plan to
improve a nonprofit addictions center in Mount Carmel.