Often, a project that makes use of a REALTOR® Party Placemaking Grant will have a transformative effect on the local community, realizing the vision of a local association and harnessing the skills, resources, elbow grease, and enthusiasm of local residents. The impact that the renovation of Lincoln Park had on the town of Frackville, in the heart of Pennsylvania’s coal country, was even greater: it inspired a REALTOR® volunteer to become involved in local politics, and she now wields power on numerous important committees on the Borough Council.
Chuck Liedike, Field Operations Manager for the Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS®, explains that Helen Miernicki, a member of the Schuylkill County Board of REALTORS® whom he describes as “very much a go-getter, always looking for ways to help the community,” spearheaded the effort to revive the local playground in downtown Frackville. For her part, Miernicki tells it far more modestly: “I was a nervous wreck, having to speak for the first time at a Council meeting! I had to learn Borough Council protocol, and acquire the Borough’s books of safety for parks equipment, and lists of approved vendors. It was a very steep learning curve – applying for the Placemaking Grant was the easy part!”
Mastering the curve, Miernicki charged forward, and was amazed by the response to her call for volunteers. “You wouldn’t believe the guys with power tools and generators who came out of the woodwork — even from outside the county — so excited to help. I had an appraiser who drove in from 45 minutes away tell me, ‘I told my wife I’d use this someday!’” The volunteer crew rehabilitated the swing set and sliding board, brought in new tables and benches, and installed a set of wheelchair-accessible bongo-drums and a checker/chess table, all made possible by the grant. Miernicki’s grandson earned community service hours building a little free library, and the borough replaced the old fencing (that a car had run through) and provided fresh landscaping. The community was so excited and grateful, she says, that a local pizza place kept the volunteers fed, and the ambulance brigade was standing by at the ready.
For Miernicki, this introduction to the inner workings of the Borough Council was just the beginning. As the project wrapped up, a Council member resigned and Miernicki threw her hat in the ring: she was voted in by the rest of the Council to serve out the two-year term, then ran for re-election, easily winning a four-year term. She’s making the most of her position, chairing the Economic Development Committee, and serving on others, including Sanitation & Recycling, Law & Order, Community of Governments, Recreation, and Power & Light – on this last committee, she recently saved the Borough $15,000 a year by reading the fine print on electricity options for Borough buildings. She’s won grants from the state, has made contacts in the state government, and is working on rehabilitating another Frackville park, for veterans, near the American Legion. In this all-important Census year, she’s making sure that residents of Frackville step forward and get counted. And it’s worth noting that this local legislative powerhouse is not just a newcomer to politics, she’s also the only woman on the seven-member Council. “It started with wanting Lincoln Park to be a place where kids could come and play safely again,” she says of her unexpected career, “but it just snowballed. You just don’t realize how much there is to be done, and how important it all is to the life of the town. But if anyone can get a handle on these kinds of issues, it’s a REALTOR®.”
Liedike can’t overstate the value of the REALTOR® Party’s Community Outreach grants: “I spend my days out in the field, in neighborhoods, and I’m a huge fan of all these grants. “They allow REALTORS® to become proactive community partners who are recognized in a positive light. Down the road, when an issue pops up that REALTORS® want to weigh in on, whether it’s Smart Growth or diversity or affordable housing, they’re much more likely to be given a seat at the table.” When these projects inspire a REALTOR® member to enter local politics, he adds with a smile — even better.
To learn more about how local associations are creating and reviving outdoor spaces that enrich their neighborhoods, contact Chuck Liedike, Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS® Field Operations Manager, at 717-561-1303. To learn more about how REALTORS® get inspired to make an even bigger impact on their communities by running for public office, contact Helen Miernicki.