JAMIE PESOTINE/Staff Photographer Volunteers fill plates for the annual Thanksmas dinner at Hazleton One Community Center on Sunday.
JAMIE PESOTINE/Staff Photographer Joe Maddon takes a photo with a fan at Sunday’s Thanksmas dinner at Hazleton One Community Center.
JAMIE PESOTINE/Staff Photographer Cathy Kutchi and Olga Lantigua prepare a Dominican dish for Sunday’s annual Thanksmas dinner at the Hazleton One Community Center.
By Amanda Christman
Published: December 21, 2015
Joe Maddon passes out hugs just as generously to family as he does to volunteers and guests at his annual free community holiday meal.
For five years Maddon, with wife, Jaye, at his side, has organized the event with help from volunteers under his self-named event, “Thanksmas” which is held between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Originally he began hosting the meal while serving as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays and then brought the dinner to his hometown of Hazleton. When he was hired as Chicago Cubs manager this season, he brought the dinner with him to the Windy City while still celebrating the meals in Hazleton and in Florida.
Thanksmas, now celebrated in three states, is only getting better with each passing year, Maddon said, between greeting people at the homemade Hazleton dinner held at the Hazleton One Community Center, 225 E. Fourth St., through his group, the Hazleton Integration Project, or HIP.
HIP’s goal and the goal of the community center is to unite all those living in greater Hazleton by bridging gaps between cultures.
Maddon, who took the Cubs to the National League Championship Series and also won National League Manager of the Year this year, has been supported at home by friends and family — some of whom have volunteered to assist with the dinner since it began.
ERIC CONOVER/Staff Photographer
Members of the Hazleton Integration Project events committee stand with team jerseys, bats and baseballs signed by many of the game’s preeminent players Monday. Items on display represent a fraction of what will be available at the sports memorabilia auction at HIP’s fourth annual Holiday Celebration. Pictured with some of the items are, from left: John Stahura, HIP secretary; John Spevak, HIP treasurer; Bob Curry, HIP founding president; Carmine Parlatore, HIP board member and events coordinator; Frank Radice, events committee member; and Hazleton police Chief Frank DeAndrea, HIP board member and events committee member.
In an action-packed, five-day period in mid-December, current National League manager of the year Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs will be joined by a host of sports celebrities for the Hazleton Intergration Project’s fourth annual Holiday Celebration.
Among the celebrities to be included are Manny Ramirez, Jose Cardenal, Rick Sutcliffe, Major League Baseball’s Ambassador of Inclusion Billy Bean and pitching coach Chris Bosio.
Additionally, baseball analysts Tim Kurkjian, Ken Rosenthal, Ed Randall, Kim Jones and Lindsay Berra will be on hand.
The complete slate of events includes:
■ Dec. 16, noon to 5 p.m., Coaching the Coaches Baseball Clinic at the Hazleton One Community Center.
The clinic will include an inside look at how to get the most from your players from Little League right through the college level.
Maddon, Bosio, the Cubs pitching coach, former MLB star Jose Cardenal, Penn State University head Coach Rob Cooper and renowned sports psychologist Ken Ravizza will participate. Tickets are required.
By Tom Ragan
Published: August 28, 2015
Why would two Chicago Cubs fans care about kids in Hazleton who may have never seen a baseball game before?
Jason Gilley and his brother, Ryan Lamar, are two die-hard, lifelong Cubs fans who, for the love of baseball, want to reach out to small kids and give them the experience of watching a baseball game between the Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies and meeting Cubs Manager Joe Maddon, a Hazleton native.
Gilley and Lamar jumped at the chance to help underprivileged kids from the Hazleton Integration Project attend a Cubs-Phillies game in Philadelphia on Sept. 11. They already have an Elite Cubs Fan Club page on Facebook and a big following of Cubs fans who visit the site on a regular basis. In fact, the brothers recently helped a deserving family attend their first Cubs game at Wrigley Field.
The Elite Cubs Fan Club was started on Facebook by Lamar, and at first was only for family and friends. Lamar coached in high school, little league and even umpired at one point. He says that for himself and other members, the club is like a religion, a way of life to become better Cubs fans.
“That’s what our group is about,” Lamar said.
When Gilley and Lamar watched “Just an Average Joe,” a 7-minute feature on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” about Maddon, and the clip about his desire to bring the new folks who moved into Hazleton over the past decade together with the Hazleton residents who have lived here most of their lives, one word stuck out with them — “trust.”
“When I heard the word trust used by Joe Maddon, it resonated with me. When Joe Maddon said it would build trust and teach people to trust and be trusted, that meant a lot to me,” Gilley said.”I’d like to reach out and get involved.”
And they have — in a big way.
The Elite Cubs Fans will help fund a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Hazleton’s youth to attend the game. The tickets cost $75 each and include:
ELLEN F. O’CONNELL/Staff Photographer Nine-year-old Gabriel Tejada sits in the driver’s seat of a fire truck as Ronnie Floyd, a firefighter with the Hazleton Fire Department, explains what it takes to be a firefighter during the Hazleton Integration Project’s annual Unity Day held Saturday at the Hazleton One Community Center.
ELLEN F. O'CONNELL/Staff Photographer Children gather around a carnival game while attending the Hazleton Integration Project annual Unity Day held Saturday at the Hazleton One Community.
About 1,000 people attended the second annual Unity Day celebration hosted by the Hazleton Integration Project on Saturday, according to Mann Shoffner, the organization’s president.
In addition to the food and festivities at the Hazleton One Community Center on East Fourth Street, the results of voting for the name of the Hazleton Police Department’s new dog were announced.
His name will be Justice.
Fire trucks from the Hazleton Fire Department filled Hayes Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, allowing children to see the vehicles up close.
The day began with a Unity Walk in the general area around the center. About 100 people walked nearly a mile demonstrating their peaceful alliance and hopes to build a better Hazleton.
Activities were held inside the newly refurbished gymnasium and outside, as occasional clouds threatened a shower. However, sunshine and cooler temperatures ultimately prevailed, and the show went on.
Primary sponsors Cargill and Giant Food Store donated food for the occasion, which included hot dogs, hamburgers and roast beef sandwiches.
Bob Curry, founding president of the Hazleton Integration Project, said their aim was to keep the cost of a meal low with a burger or hot dog, drink and chips at just $1. Pastel cotton candy weighed in at just a buck, too, and thrilled many kids, as they held their cones high like furry torches.
“This is not a fundraiser,” Curry said, “although we may make a little money. The aim of this event is to get the community together for a great day.”