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Elk maternity care cuts a blow to rural area

Plus: Longtime recycling coordinator reflects on her career, Penn State Faculty Senate pushes back on budget cuts, and a free election event

This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

March 28, 2024
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Inside this edition: Penn Highlands Elk is ending birth services, longtime Centre County recycling coordinator reflects on her career, and Punxsutawney Phil becomes a dad.
Photo Courtesy of Rep. Paul Takac’s office
Joanne Shafer retired from the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority at the end of February as the longest serving recycling coordinator in Pennsylvania.

Shafer oversaw significant changes to the county’s recycling program. Working with organizations like the Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania, she helped establish industry standards and educational programs for the state and nation. 

Under her leadership, the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority was awarded the Best Local Government Program in 2009 by the National Recycling Coalition.

Shafer spoke to Spotlight PA about her more than three decades in public service. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. —Min Xian, local accountability reporter

MX: Do you remember your first day?

JS: I absolutely do. I was originally hired by the Centre County Solid Waste Authority as a grants writer in August of 1990. I arrived to discover that the person who hired me had retired. It was quite the surprise. 

I had worked with a small recycling program in Huntingdon County in 1977. It was the days of stomping aluminum cans with a stamper and crushing glass in a barrel with chains. 

One of the first things my predecessor did was to take me on a tour of the recycling center, and I was blown away, because they had their own baler. That was quite a change.

MX: Tell me more about the authority, which is now known as the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority. What was it like when you started?

JS: The Pennsylvania Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling and Waste Reduction Act had been passed in 1988. So 1990, when I became recycling coordinator, was really the genesis of curbside recycling in Pennsylvania. I was in charge of the processing plants, as well as the curbside routes, as well as the education program. I was essentially a one-person show.

Of course, Centre County has grown a fair amount. I don’t remember how many we were collecting in those days, but we’re up to 20,000 households today. We had two drop-off locations. We have 62 today. We had no commercial recycling, and we have close to 1,000 businesses participating in recycling today. We had about 25 employees then. Today, the authority has 75. There have been tremendous expansions.

MX: Is it true that you are Pennsylvania’s longest-serving recycling coordinator at this point?

JS: Yes, that’s true. I confirmed that with some of my friends at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. 

One of the things of which I am most proud has been the development of the Certified Recycling Professional program in Pennsylvania and nationally as well. In 1990, I was one of the first recycling coordinators, other than my predecessor in Centre County, who were actually responsible for collection and processing of recyclables. 

It’s a very dynamic business, and I had the luxury of learning on the job. Many county recycling coordinators in Pennsylvania held other jobs in county government, and many recycling services were done by the private contractors, so developing a professional certification program really was necessary. 

MX: The Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority was recognized nationally in 2009 as the best local government recycling program. What does it take for a local government service to go beyond being adequate and efficient and do the job exceptionally?

JS: The answer is leadership from the top and commitment and passion from the bottom. 

What are the goals? You’ve got to be able to communicate to employees who literally are picking up what used to be trash curbside every day, in all kinds of weather. The folks that work in the transfer station who are moving trash around every day, it’s not fun. To be able to imbue those employees with enthusiasm, to be able to continue to do that job, which is sometimes thankless, has been one of the driving forces.
» Penn Highlands Elk maternal care cuts highlight Pa.’s widening rural services gap

» ‘Dark money’ groups would be forced to disclose how they spend on Pa.’s elections under advancing bill

» Recount petitions could impede Pa.’s efforts to certify 2024 election by new federal deadline

» Upgrades to PA governor’s mansion bankrolled by private group that won't disclose donors, full cost

» GET THE RECORDS: How we’re tracking more than $100M in opioid settlement money in Pa.

» Shapiro’s alternative to a key climate program comes with one major catch: It needs GOP support

» TRUSTING ELECTIONS: Join us Tuesday, April 2, at 6 p.m. ET on Zoom for a live panel Q&A with Al Schmidt, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of State, on creating trust in our election system and combatting misinformation. Register here and submit questions here or to events@spotlightpa.org
The royal blue sky over the West Branch Susquehanna River as seen from Hyner View State Park in Clinton County via Don H. 

Have a north-central Pennsylvania photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
The royal blue sky over a reflective blue Susquehanna River West Branch from Hyner View State Park.
Spotlight PA’s Sunshine Week member drive was a great success — so to celebrate we have decided to extend our sale of our “All Sun, No Shade” beach towel! Supplies are limited, so make sure to place your order ASAP!

Proceeds benefit Spotlight PA’s nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism that gets results for Pennsylvania.
» WPSU: Penn State Faculty Senate urges university to stop budget cuts
» Express: Concerned resident speaks about Milesburg challenges
» Spirit: Punxsutawney Phil becomes a father

» Mirror: Tourism spending rebounds in Blair Co.
» CDT: Spring temperature fluctuations affect Centre Co. farmers
» NCPA: Williamsport official urges businesses to look at tax incentives

» WPSU: Centre Co. buys columbarium for unclaimed cremated remains
» SC: 4 Penn State wrestlers win national titles
» CDT: Superintendent search costs for Centre County schools
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» March 28: Join a discussion of The Violin Conspiracy, this year’s Centre County Reads book, at the Centre County Library in Bellefonte.

» March 30: The Zippo/Case Museum hosts its spring event featuring a petting zoo, face painting, and photos with the Easter Bunny.

» April 1: Enjoy the company of other creatives at Boal City Brewing’s weekly Crafts & Brews gathering.

» April 1: David Hogg, co-founder of March for Our Lives, speaks about Gen Z’s political activism at Penn State's University Park campus in Centre County.

» April 2: Meet the Altoona Curve baseball players and coaches at Curve FanFest at the Casino at Lakemont Park in Blair County.
An anagram is a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another. For example, “spotlight” also forms “stoplight.”

Decode the anagram and send your answer to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org. We’ll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA State College swag.

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Last week’s answer: Charming

There were no new winners this week. Send this newsletter to your friends so they get a shot at receiving Spotlight PA State College swag! Those who answered correctly: Leslie B., Rick W., Rena Z., Kevin M., Jean B., Elizabeth B., Don H., Linda M., Frederick H., Amy Z., and Leann T.
Do you have events, community shoutouts, questions about our region, or tips on stories that we should pursue? Email our team.
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