Blurred Lines: Staying vague on gay penalties impacts Messiah student community

This story was originally published on Aug. 27, 2013 on PennLive.

This week, hundreds of freshmen will descend on Messiah College, an interdenominational Christian college in Upper Allen Twp. where differences are “celebrated, appreciated, and allowed to remain distinct” according to the school’s admissions office.

During welcome week, as they bid mom and dad farewell, ready their ramen and deliberate on joining the ultimate frisbee or French club, each freshman will be asked to sign a code of conduct called the Messiah College Community Covenant.

In signing, students agree to follow four rules: to commit to academic integrity and excellence, express Christian values, abide the rules and avoid “sinful practices.”

Those “sinful practices” include “drunkenness, stealing, dishonesty, profanity, occult practices, sexual intercourse outside of marriage, homosexual behavior, and sexually exploitive or abusive behavior.”

It’s the ban on “homosexual behavior” that has raised eyebrows among both students and nonstudents.

“I feel like it’s a little unnecessary,” said Adam Rineer, a gay sophomore at Messiah. “The covenant already says there is no sexual activity to be permitted on campus.”

“One of my good friends put it really well: It’s almost like saying ‘No stealing,’ but also ‘black people can’t steal,’” he said.

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Behind the Scenes: What it takes to put on a Hersheypark Stadium concert

The stage at Hersheypark Stadium is set up for the Matchbox Twenty and Goo Goo Dolls concerts. Bill Hartmann, of S. Lebanon Twp., pulls cabling. 08/14/2013 Dan Gleiter |

This story was originally published July 8, 2014 on It was the cover story for Central PA Magazine’s Arts and Entertainment issue, as well as a front-page story for The Patriot-News.

Screams surround you as you stand, rocking to the beat, drink in one hand and cell phone in the other. You’re snapping picture after picture as your favorite artist hits the Hersheypark Stadium stage.

You know your ears will be ringing for days after, but you don’t care. What matters is right now, this moment when the song you’ve had on loop on your iPod is finally played.

You’re lost in the music. That’s when Hershey Entertainment knows its done a good job.

Flash backwards.

It’s January and Amanda Haffly is thinking of June.

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1984 agreement between Amish and Pennsylvania sets tone for ‘Amish Mafia’ debate

This story was originally published on Aug. 15, 2014 on PennLive.

Governor Tom Corbett made headlines earlier this week when he, and other state and national politicians, called for a halt to production of the Discovery Channel series “Amish Mafia” in a statement issued by the Respect Amish movement.

“Amish Mafia” follows a gang in Lancaster County who “enforce” Amish law and protect the Amish from their neighbors. Experts have continually stated that the show is fake.

While PennLive readers were quick to criticize Corbett for weighing-in on a television series, the governor’s feelings on the matter were nothing new.

The state of Pennsylvania has a long-standing policy regarding the Amish and film companies.

It all goes back to the days of “Witness,” the 1985 film starring Harrison Ford as a cop tasked with protecting an Amish boy who witnessed a murder.

It was called “a high-water mark of commercial exploitation and harassment of an innocent people,” by Amish scholar John Hostetler in a 1985 Patriot-News editorial. The National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom (a group which did not have any Amish members) called for a boycott of the film.

During filming, community attitudes grew so heated that the Old Order Amish Steering Committee’s Board of Directors met with then-Governor Dick Thornburgh’s administration and the Department of Commerce to share their concerns regarding television and film productions about the Amish.

The meeting was held on Aug. 31, 1984. The agreement was written down in a letter to Mr. A. S. Kinsinger, chairman of the Old Order Amish Steering Committee, which PennLive obtained through a Right to Know Request.

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Where’s the festival? Harrisburg’s Fourth of July pleases some, baffles others

This story was originally published on July 4, 2014 on PennLive.

Ekaterina Rotz was confused.

The Hampden Twp. resident was looking around Riverfront Park in Harrisburg on July 4 for a festival that just wasn’t there.

“It’s the Fourth of July!” she exclaimed. “There’s always something like ArtsFest or something here on the Fourth of July.”

She gestured to her friend and neighbor, Tim Fisher, 50. “We were shocked that there was nothing here,” she said. “I was like ‘How cheap can this city be?'”

What Rotz didn’t know was that the Harrisburg Fourth of July activities had undergone a change this year. Instead of a riverfront festival, the city was hosting an Independence Weekend Walkaround.

The weekend-long event takes place at different locations throughout the city and includes the Family Fun Festival, a free event that features concerts, dancing, face painting and bouncy castles.

The majority of festivities were held at Reservoir Park on July 4 and will be held at City Island on July 5 and Italian Lake on July 6.

The goal, according to Mayor Eric Papenfuse, is to showcase the entirety of the city.

“It’s part of a strategy to highlight some of our great assets here in Harrisburg, to encourage people to take a new look at our great park system and a treasure like this,” he said, walking through Reservoir Park on July 4.

Papenfuse admitted that financial reasons were partly behind the change in July 4th festivities. “This is a little less of a production to put together,” he said. “But it’s still been a lot of work.”

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Gay marriage in Pennsylvania: What it means for the wedding industry and state’s economy

This story was originally published on May 23, 2014 on

With the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act, wedding bells are in the air — and so are dollar signs.

The legalization of same-sex marriage could have economic impacts on the Pennsylvania wedding industry, as the number of people eligible for marriages and wedding ceremonies grows.

In fact, the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg has already seen business increase dramatically — with a same-sex wedding occurring every 30 minutes between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on May 24.

But so far no one’s barreling down Susan H. Moran’s door.

The York-based wedding designer, owner ofThat’s It! Wedding Concepts, hasn’t received any phone calls from same-sex couples as of May 22. But she isn’t surprised.

“I don’t think I’m the first thing on this particular group’s mind,” she said. “They’re looking for someone to marry them, for that place to go ahead and move forward.

“If they want my help in finding places and finding appropriate vendors, bring it on, I love it,” she continued. “But I think right now they’re getting to the bare basic: When are we going to do it and where are we going to do it.”

She expects things to change in a few weeks, once the verdict has sunk in. “I think they’re still absorbing this new reality and once this reality kicks in, then I would estimate that all of us in the wedding industry would see an uptick – and hopefully so,” she said.

“I think this offers an opportunity for those of the LGBT community to have joyous and open celebrations for their unions, just as others have in the past,” she went on. “I see that it simply opens up a great deal of happy opportunities.”

Same-sex couples won’t be the only ones happy – the Pennsylvanian economy should see between $65 million and $92.1 million added to it within three years, according to The Williams Institute at University of California Los Angeles School of Law. That would mean an additional $4.2 million-$5.8 million in sales tax revenue alone.

That same study also predicts the creation of 812 to 1,142 full- and part-time jobs as a result of same-sex marriage legalization.

The slow growth that Moran is seeing, however, is to be expected, according to Kathryn Hamm, President of, a same-sex wedding resource website since 1999.

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Drag queens speak out: Local documentary tells their story

One of the photographs captured during the filming of “ScottChurch’s Drag.” Photo by ScottChurch.

Originally published in The Patriot-News on Nov. 8, 2012.

Mitchell L. Ernst of Lebanon is a performer at heart.

He’s a professional actor — but the character he is best known for lives off the theater stage.

Her name is Jade DeVere and she is fierce, fabulous and oh-so feminine.

Ernst is a drag queen and one of the subjects of the documentary “ScottChurch’s Drag” premiering Friday for a one-time showing at the Allen Theatre in Annville.

The film began as a series of humorous pieces of art for famed erotic photographer Scott Church, who invited filmmaker Michael Donati of Palmyra to tag along on the endeavor. His goal was to showcase drag queens in ordinary places — bowling alleys, grocery stores, gas stations.

The first subject was a straight man who was married with children and did drag as a hobby.

“We had this guy in full drag at a gas station filling up a motorbike,” Donati said. “Scott and I were like, this is great. [The film will] be fun; it’ll be silly.”

The next interview changed all that.

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‘Amish Mafia’: Amish experts weigh in on new Discovery Channel show

John, Alvin, Levi, Jolin – the subjects of “Amish Mafia.” Photo from the Discovery Channel.

Amish mafia.

The two words together seem like an oxymoron.

But, according to a new Discovery Channel show, they are not the oddest of pairings.

“Amish Mafia” explores the world of Lebanon Levi and his gang of three men, Jolin, John and Alvin. Together, the four act as “protectors” of the Amish community in Lancaster.

The Discovery Channel’s “Amish Mafia” follows the group that allegedly “protects” the Amish in Lancaster.Discovery Channel photo

A graphic at the beginning of the episode states that the Amish church denies the group exists, but the camera crew appears to tell a different story through interviews and reenactments.

Throughout the first episode, the mafia members drink, drive cars and gamble on cow pies. They blackmail bishops, threaten people and shoot up cars.

“Levi is the cops. He’s the courthouse. He’s the bank and he’s the insurance company,” says Esther, John’s sister, during the series’ first episode, which is slated to premiere at 9 p.m. Dec. 12. A sneak peek of the show will air at 10:30 Dec. 11.

The existence of an Amish mafia is news to Amish experts Donald Kraybill andDavid Weaver-Zercher, professors at Elizabethtown College and Messiah College, respectively.

“When I first saw the trailer [for the show], I thought maybe it was a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit on reality television because it was so far fetched,” Weaver-Zercher said.

“My sense is this Amish mafia is about as real as the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in ‘The Office.’ ”


Crowd welcomes beauty chain Sephora to Swatara Township: ‘It’s like grownup candy’

The line outside of J.C. Penney on Friday morning. A mini Sephora store opened within J.C. Penney on Friday. Photo by JULIA HATMAKER, The Patriot-News.

Originally published June 15, 2012 on

For a trio of devoted makeup fans, camping out in a parking lot starting at midnight Friday was a price worth paying to be among the first in line for the grand opening of Sephora in Swatara Twp.

Yadira Chavez, Brittany Fenser and Katie Chavez of Swatara Twp. stationed themselves in Yadira Chavez’s car as midnight struck, parked in the lot outside of J.C. Penney at High Pointe Commons, where the Sephora store would be. They watched as the gates to the stores were shut around 2 a.m.

Five hours later, they watched as those same gates reopened. The girls piled out of the car and took up seats on the sidewalk outside of the entrance, the first group in what became a long line of about 100 people stretching around J.C. Penney corner.

Why the devotion?

“I mean, it’s Sephora,” Katie Chavez said.

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Pearl Harbor Day: Camp Hill woman remembers being awakened by bombing

Patricia B. Cameron, of Camp Hill, has memories of living in Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Her father, a naval officer, was at sea when the attack occurred. DAN GLEITER, The Patriot-News

Originally published in The Patriot-News on Dec. 7, 2011.

Patricia Behrens woke up to the sound of explosions.

It was about 7 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, in Hawaii.

“Oh, shucks,” Behrens said she thought. “They’re practicing at Fort DeRussy.”

The U.S. military reservation had a habit of waking residents up with its drills.

“Why do they do it Sunday mornings?” Behrens said. Wide awake, she left her bedroom and walked to where her mother stood, by the door of their home.

Her mother turned to her and uttered words that would change Behrens’ life. “I hate to tell you, but the Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor.”

A night like any other

Behrens, now Patricia Cameron, 86, and a resident of Camp Hill, was 16 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. She was a senior at Punahou School in Honolulu and lived in a suburb in the Monoa Valley with her mother. They had moved to Hawaii to be closer to her father, the executive officer on the USS Concord stationed in Pearl Harbor.

“In Hawaii we had been anticipating a war,” she said. “But we always thought it would be in the Philippines.”

But war was always a far off thought. Cameron was in an idyllic land, having the time of her life. “I was just barely old enough to go to Navy parties,” she said with a smile. “So I was having a nice time.”

The night of Dec. 6 was a night like any other. Cameron even had plans for the next day. She was meeting up with a serviceman who was stationed at Pearl Harbor.

Cameron has a clear memory of sitting in her bedroom reading George Bernard Shaw’s “Plays Unpleasant” that night before falling asleep.

Everything was normal. The morning would be anything but.

“The next day there was a war,” she said. “Just like that.”

She never finished the book. And it would be 10 days before she heard whether her Navy friend was even alive.

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Steelton rapper Skillz Hurachi’s death stuns friends and family

Skillz Hurachi (right).

Originally published in The Patriot-News on May 19, 2012.

Many people called Terrance Manning “Skillz,” and his growing success in different fields show that he deserved the nickname.

Known as Skillz Hurachi, the Steelton rapper had opened for nationally known superstars Drake, Lil’ Wayne and Soulja Boy as a member of the rap trio VSOP/XO. He was slated to perform his first solo concert Friday at the Seabash restaurant in Harrisburg.

A tattoo artist, his work was about to be featured on, one of the top African American tattoo sites in the country. He also produced custom T-shirts.

Today, he planned to celebrate his 26th birthday at a bash filled with friends.

But Manning died Friday, leaving stunned friends and family mourning. Scores of friends and loved ones posted condolences on Facebook.

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Harrisburg rapper J. Bair’s video goes against grain, slams violence

Photo by Christine Baker, The Patriot-News.

Originally published in The Patriot-News on April 19, 2012.

A gunshot interrupts the ting, bass, ting of a rap song’s percussion.

Screams sound and characters scatter. One guy slumps forward.

The image is stark and horrifying.

“Gunshot Blast” by Harrisburg rapper J. Bair goes against the grain of the stereotypical modern rap music scene, which tends to glorify guns and gang violence. It decries violence, emphasizing the human consequences.

The music video, which premiered March 17 on YouTube, has been featured on its “Hip Hop Update” channel and is nearing 3,000 views. What has people talking is its message: an unforgiving slam on the prevalence of guns in the community.

And it couldn’t come at a better time.

The week the video went online, a Steelton cabdriver was shot and killed in Harrisburg. On April 12, a man died after being shot on Derry Street. This year, Harrisburg has already seen five homicides and was named the 20th-most-dangerous city in America by

“The city right now is in a frenzy,” said Rob Roman of Harrisburg, who does multimedia work for J. Bair. “It takes strong people to actually try to do something productive and avoid being involved in the nonsense that goes on.”

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‘I Am Harrisburg’ video aims to rally city

The hip-hop artists and producers behind I Am Harrisburg are, from left, Pacino, Zach, Jaymes, All Steezy, Bobbo and Supa Dupa Sultan. Photo by Julia Hatmaker, The Patriot-News

Originally published in The Patriot-News on March 23, 2012.

Harrisburg might be making headlines for violence and debt, but there’s more to it than that.

That’s the message behind “I Am Harrisburg,” a hip-hop song written for the people of the city to rally behind.

Written by local rappers and producers All Steezy, Jaymes, Zach, Pacino, Bobbo and Supa Dupa Sultan, “I Am Harrisburg” is meant to be an anthem for the city.

“I just hope it brings people together,” said All Steezy, the man behind the song’s hook and chorus. “We don’t have to be against each other.”

He cited the song’s creation as an example. “We all came from different places, we all came from different groups, and we all came together to make this song.”

The song was written last May but its music video was posted this month.

When it made the video and the song, the group had no idea that the month it posted it would be known for violent crimes nor that Harrisburg would be named the 20th most dangerous city in the United States by

Just as the media was flooded with reports of shootings, stabbings and robberies, YouTube lit up with a song about the positive side of Harrisburg.

“It was perfect timing,” Pacino said.

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Friends and family gather to help with cleanup efforts in Hummelstown and Middletown

Mud-covered chairs sit in the parking lot of the Hoss’s Steak and Sea House in Hummelstown. The restaurant was covered with more than 6 feet of water when it was flooded during Tropical Storm Lee. Photo by Julia Hatmaker, The Patriot-News

Originally published in The Patriot-News on September 12, 2011.

Shawn Peterson of South Hanover Township hardly slept Thursday night. He spent much of it standing on a hill, watching as the water of the Swatara Creek engulfed the first floor of his home.

“I was sitting on the hill just thinking, ‘Oh, God,’” he said.

Peterson had lived there for 11 years. The worst flooding he had experienced in that time was easily taken care of by pumps in his basement, the water only reaching the top of the little hill his home sat on.

This time, everything on the first floor and basement was ruined.

Peterson had managed to move most of his more important belongings to the second floor, which was untouched. But the pile outside his home showed that not everything was moved. There sat a treadmill, TV, refrigerator and microwave.

“We salvaged what we could, but it was all covered in mud,” he said.

Going through his home was tough. He hasn’t let his 15-year-old son see it yet. Peterson pointed out mementos, pieces that triggered a memory. In one room was the soggy and ruined wooden floor, the very oak floor he and his dad had put in two years go.

While the water might have receded, it is forever ingrained in Peterson’s memory.

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U.S. is behind curve, roundabout fans say

Kevin Beresford, president of the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society, thinks Americans should embrace roundabouts. Submitted by Kevin Beresford for use by The Patriot-News.

Background: In the last week of June 2011 a roundabout was installed on Linglestown Road. For weeks after it was the topic of many discussions in the community, with most spewing hatred for the roadway. During this time, I stumbled on a Roundabout Appreciate Society and this story.

Originally published in The Patriot-News on July 5, 2011.

For all those roundabout haters out there, Kevin Beresford has a message: “Get a bloody grip!”

Beresford is the president of the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society, so he is a tad biased when it comes to circular traffic. He speaks poetry about the road system. “Above all the things normally associated with the road net work, there is nothing more expressive then the one-way-gyratory,” he said.

“I compare a roundabout as an oasis on a sea of blacktop. Robert Louis Stevenson stated in his novel, “Treasure Island”: “there is no place in the world that exerts such attractive power as an island.” He must have surely been talking of traffic islands/roundabouts.”

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