Thursday was truly a celebration for the Carbon and Schuylkill County SHINE Afterschool Program.

During the 14th annual National Lights On Celebration, held locally this year at the Carbon Career & Technical Institute in Jim Thorpe, a number of officials announced significant funding awards to the program; as well as a partnership to help police departments in Carbon and Schuylkill counties. The evening also highlighted the children involved in the SHINE programs.

Marissa Miller, an eighth-grade Career Academy student, welcomed everyone to the event and introduced a number of her fellow students, who performed "That's What Friends Are For," featuring Carol Keefer on vocals.

The evening continued as Ali Rhoades Hobbs, daughter of the late state Sen. James J. Rhoades, who was killed in a car crash five years ago today, addressed the crowd.

She spoke about her father's dedication to the SHINE program and how he believed that every boy and girl should have access to quality education.

She commended everyone who has made the program a success over the last decade and awarded Jeanne Miller, director of the SHINE program, with a donation from the James J. and Mary Edith Rhoades Foundation to help support SHINE as it moves into the future.

The good news for the program continued as state Senators John Yudichak and David Argall took to the podium.

Yudichak commended the children for doing a wonderful job and explained that the program speaks for itself in how much it helps the children.

He then announced that the $400,000 in state funding that he and Argall were able to secure for the SHINE program, which had been delayed in the state, has now been released and will be coming to the local level shortly. This means that the elementary SHINE centers, which are currently not operating because of the delay and were not part of last night's program, would soon be able to open and serve hundreds of children in five school districts.

Argall spoke about the data collected through the program that helped secure the funding.

"These statistics are the main reason we were able to secure funding in a very difficult fiscal climate," he said. "Congratulations to you."

Vincent J. Kundrik III, constituent services/field representative for Congressman Lou Barletta's office, also read a letter from Barletta commending the program.

Tracey Ciesnolevicz, community relations program manager for UGI Utilities Inc. of Reading, announced that UGI recognizes the importance of providing the children of the community with access to quality educational programs like SHINE.

She then presented Miller with a check for $30,000 to continue the program's operations.

UGI recently visited the Career Academy to see a project the middle school children were working on converting an engine from gasoline to natural gas.

Following the speakers, Rachel Strucko, the Career Academy liaison at CCTI, announced the last surprise of the evening.

The "top secret" was delivered by Breanna Hoffner, a Career Academy student who was driving one of the motorized vehicles the students made during the program.

Strucko then called upon Jason Davis, an engineer for Kovatch Corp., and Audie Mertz, officer in charge of the Mahoning Township Police Department, to help with the announcement.

Beginning in December, the students of the Career Academy will begin a partnership with Kovatch to build and outfit a DUI Task Force trailer. Upon its completion of the six-week course, it will then be donated to the police departments in Carbon and Schuylkill counties.

"Kovatch Corporation is very excited and humbled to be able to participate with this program," Davis said, adding that the students will work hand-in-hand with plumbers, electrical engineers, graphic arts and design and other departments to make this project come to life.

Mertz thanked Strucko and Davis for thinking about the police when looking for a project.

"We appreciate the support and look forward to working with the students and educating them about the dangers of drunk driving," he said.

The Carbon Career Academy utilizes state-of-the-art technology available at CCTI and partners with academic teachers to provide a well-rounded afterschool program that teaches academics in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics; as well as what the careers of the future are going to be.

Currently, Strucko announced that the academy is working on additive manufacturing by creating 64 3-D human heart models out of plastic using a 3-D printer.

"They are learning every part and every function of the human heart," she said.

Before the night ended, Miller acknowledged a number of state and local officials who have made the SHINE program possible over the years.

The program ended with a presentation by the Career Academy bucket brigade.

The SHINE Afterschool program is funded in part by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, 21st Century grant; and the Luzerne/Schuylkill Workforce Investment Board; and is administered by the Lehigh Carbon Community College.