Published first on the Progress News, September 27, 2021

On Thursday, September 23rd, the Oil Region Alliance held its 16th Annual Meeting at Cross Creek Resort in Titusville.  Having missed last year’s meeting due to COVID precautions, the ORA directors, staff, and members were eager to reconvene and catch up on everything that has been happening in the Oil Heritage Region.  With programs and projects encompassing historic preservation, tourism, outdoor recreation, and economic development, there was plenty to talk about!

Perhaps unsurprisingly to readers of this column, a defining theme emerged through the day, from the inspiring keynote speech by trails and tourism consultant Amy Camp to the presentation of annual awards – the theme of Partnerships.  While discussing the importance and impact of trails and outdoor recreation to the economic and personal health and vibrancy of a community, Ms. Camp stressed the need for regions to plan and work collaboratively and holistically to identify their strengths, adapt to challenges, and build resilience.  It was also easy to see those ideas in practice as President and CEO John Phillips shared the achievements and ongoing efforts of the Alliance and its partners in communities from Emlenton to Titusville, all coming together to support existing regional assets and create new amenity and opportunity for residents and visitors.

It was most definitely a day of celebrating partnerships, and perhaps the most meaningful for me, personally, was the final award of the day – the award for Volunteer of the Year.  Each year the ORA recognizes someone who has gone above and beyond for their community, selflessly giving of themselves and their time to support the mission of preserving, promoting, and developing the potential of our beautiful corner of Pennsylvania.  This year, the Alliance was proud to honor Emlenton’s own Sarah Reynolds, a powerhouse volunteer who gives her time not only to ORA projects but to a host of other worthy causes, including the Emlenton Civic Club and a local feral cat rescue program (which just happens to be in partnership with one of the ORA’s Partners of the Year, Precious Paws Animal Rescue in Franklin.  Partnership overload!). 

I was deeply honored to introduce Sarah and her unflagging energy and enthusiasm because she exemplifies the personal, individual partnerships that are the true key to success for community projects.  Sarah’s commitment to the AC Valley is extraordinary, and she has been indispensable to many of our Redevelopment programs, helping with everything from visioning to fundraising drives to the construction of the first phase of the River Roots Community Farm.  Without dedicated volunteers like Sarah, who embody authentic community spirit, organizations like the ORA simply could not do what we do, and it was an absolute privilege to be part of recognizing her contributions. 

If you happen to see Sarah around town, please join me in thanking her for all that she does for our community and congratulate her on being selected as the Oil Region Alliance Volunteer of the Year for 2021!