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The Blue Ribbon Gala Rides Again

grass blocks with Marley's Mission's message on it
Ben Freda

Blue Ribbon Gala


In the spring of 2013, hundreds of people worked together to build a new facility in Newton Township, PA for Marley's Mission. Local construction companies as well as volunteers from the community put their time and energy to turn an empty piece of land into a farm. At one time, there were 60 people working simultaneously. Marley's Mission dream was complete when they had their grand opening on July 5, 2013.

Marley's Mission now has a farm with a big, red barn on top of 2150 Port Royal Road with a great view of Bald Mountain. The horses now have a new home to provide equine-based therapy to children and families who have received trauma. The farm's entrance has a wooden sign, which reads Marley's Mission Matt Burne Acres on Eckel Farms. The land was donated by Keith Eckel, owner of Eckel Farms, Inc. The land was dedicated to R. Matthew Burne, who planned to build a community center before his death in 2004. Burne's sister, Denise Vitali Burne is a board member of Marley's Mission.

Despite the fact that Marley's Mission had enough money to build a new farm, the members of Marley's Mission still holds fundraisers to provide even more quality to their services. Marley's Mission had their 4th annual Blue Ribbon Gala on February 15 at the 2nd floor of the Hilton Hotel & Conference Center. This year's theme of the gala was "Building Hope". The word "hope" was decorated around the hotel. "Hope" was made of two ice sculptures on each side of the hotel's entrance. There was also an artwork of the word "Hope" made of artificial grass, which was displayed as the table's centerpiece. The hotel's lobby had a horse also made of artificial grass.

Like every year, Marley's Mission had an art contest for grades kindergarten to 12. Over 400 students from PA to Michigan sent their art entries. An artwork from Jenny S. of Minooka, PA won People's Choice Award. Four other drawings from students (Keiara P. of Scranton, Hayley S. of South Abington Twp, Cassandra P. of Carbondale, and Victoria K of Henryville) were chosen to be made into all-occasion note cards, which were sold at the gala. Proceeds from the cards were given to Marley's Mission. The event started with a cocktail reception. Michele Conaboy Colleen Reynolds, and Michael O'Malley provided the cocktail entertainment. Caricatures and line drawings were created by local artists Ky Betts, Lisa Malos, and Ted Michalowski during the cocktail hour.

A pretzel cart called The Awesome Pretzel Cart was displayed in the lobby. Marley's Mission is part of the Awesome Pretzel Cart program, which is an initiative of the Cooking with Kids Foundation. Children will run the cart at Marley's Mission's events. The program was connected to Marley's Mission through committee member Linda Cappellano-Sarver, who joined Marley's Mission last year. The hotel and Maine Source volunteered to sponsor the cart for one year.

The gala in the ballroom started with an introduction by Masters of Ceremony Stacy Lange, reporter of WNEP Newswatch 16 and Stacy Brown, journalist and author of "Michael Jackson: The Man Behind the Mask, an Insider's Account to the King of Pop".

"There is no other cause that you really want to give your all than Marley's Mission," said Brown. "Hopefully, they'll continue to grow."

Next was a welcome from gala co-chairs Kara M. Seitzinger and Maureen Bender. "This has been the best gala ever," stated Seitzinger. "We volunteered hundreds of hours. We're so grateful."

The event continued with an invocation by Father Ryan Maher, SJ, founding executive director of the Jesuit Center with remarks from PA Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane.

President of Marley's Mission Gene Talerico announced the 2014 Special Recognition Awards.

The Golden Bridle Award was given to : IBEW Local 81, Plumbers, Pipefitterrs, & Steamfitters Local 524, Tom Donahue, Bender Wealth Management Group -Merrill Lynch, Minnoka Subaru, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, The PA Harness Horsemen's Association, and Tom Donahue, real estate associate of Lamar Outdoor Advertising.

Rich Bradshaw, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House in Scranton, received the Champion of Hope Award.

Treasurer of Marley's Mission earned the Saddle of Hope Award along with Gary Johnson and John Puzo. They earned it for inspiring members of Marley's Mission.

"The outpouring of support from our community has been incredible," said Cordaro.

Miss Pennsylvania Junior Pre-teen 2013 Ava Laboranti, age 9, and Abi Reilly, age 11, both earned the Spirit Reigns Award for their volunteering in working in the new farm. This award honors children under 18 who have demonstrated committment to Marley's Mission.

Noelle Ruby DePietro, director of events, became the 1st honoree of the Blue Ribbon Award. The 2nd honoree of this award was Vivian Tighe Williams.

The last award announced was the Remembering Zachary Award. This award is in memory of Zachary Scott, a 14-month-old boy who was a victim of child abuse. Zachary's mother Chrissy Mclaughlin presented this award to PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane for signing a new law called Zachary's Law. This law gives a judge the right to lengthen a child abuser's sentence to two additional years. It was signed in October 2012 and put into effect last summer. Kathleen Kane also became Honorary Chairperson at the gala.

Talerico called April Loposky, founder of Marley's Mission, to the stage. Together, they showed a video, which revealed the progress of the mission. The video was like a documentary, which showed children becoming friends with the horses in the new farm.

Marley's Mission thanks all the sponsors and all of the additional sponsors, who have donated funds to the cause. With all the funds and proceeds from the contest and raffles, Marley's Mission managed to raise $130,000.

Marley's Mission will continue to have the gala annually as well as other events to keep the mission going forevermore.

"It never ends," Kyle Kemp said about the work of Marley's Mission. Kemp is the director of construction, who oversaw the construction of the new farm. Kemp is also the fiancee of April Loposky.

Marley's Mission will have an event called Beer Geeks Festival. It will be held at Montage Mountain on April 12. Proceeds will go to Marley's Mission.

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