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Tamaqua still has heart

t seemed as if they had hit a brick, or at least a fiberglass, wall for volunteer organizers of the "Tamaqua Has Heart Project."

The campaign had a great start, being unveiled at Tamaqua's National Night Out event, but slowed to less than a crawl as deadlines for sponsors and artists drew near. There was a lot of talk, but not much commitment.They organized a "tour" for the sample heart, which was being covered in painted handprints from townspeople and visitors alike. It generated lots of interest wherever it went, but people still didn't seem to understand the concept."The concept isn't new," explained Tamaqua Community Art Center director Leona Rega, "It's just new to this small town.""Tamaqua Has Heart" is a direct result of the art center's 2015 "Dear Tamaqua Project," which opened a communitywide dialogue on the good and the bad feelings, thoughts and impressions of residents of all ages.The event was a huge success and showed organizers that while Tamaqua is a small town, the heart of the community and its volunteers surpassed all expectations.To keep the momentum going, the heart project was created. It's designed to bring together residents, businesses/corporations and artists to create unique, lasting displays that showcase the heart of the community.It starts with sponsors, who may choose from several levels of sponsorship. Local artists submit design sketches, which sponsors review. From there, the artists will have four months to complete transferring their design to a 39-inch fiberglass heart.The completed hearts will then be installed at various places throughout the borough, creating a trail of hearts. They will remain on display until mid September 2017, when they will then be up for auction.Proceeds from the auction will benefit the art center, with the artists receiving a small stipend for their work.A similar project, "Miles of Mules," was completed in Lehigh, Luzerne and Bucks Counties in 2003 to benefit the Delaware and Lehigh Canal corridor. But that was a three-county-wide project, not one run by two volunteers, Kyle Whitley and Wandie Zammer-Little (with help from Rega and the art center).Whitley and Zammer-Little have been spending a lot of time taking the sample heart on tour, encouraging all who see it to add their handprint to the smooth surface.There is very little white left to be seen. Everyone loved helping decorate the heart, but commitments were hard to find.Ever optimistic, they couldn't help but feel a tiny bit discouraged.That all changed recently, thanks to Lynn Fegley Meadows and her 92-year-old mother, Florence "Flossie" Fegley.The two women were at the Tamaqua Community Art Center for a candy making class when Flossie Fegley spotted the handprint-covered heart."She was intrigued and immediately decided she wanted to be a sponsor," says he r daughter. Days later, back at her home in Maryland, Fegley Meadows was in contact with several classmates, exchanging ideas for an upcoming 40th anniversary class reunion.On a whim, she posted a challenge to her classmates on Facebook. Was anyone interested in combining donations to sponsor a heart? In less than 48 hours, she had pledges of more than $600."The Tamaqua Area High School Class of 1978 has a hard time agreeing on a date for a reunion, or even a small get-together, but almost every one of them on social media wanted to be part of this project," she marvels. And the pledges from class members have kept coming, giving a big boost to heart project organizers.The class will be sponsoring a heart which will be decorated by the Tamaqua Area Middle School art classes, under the direction of Kim Woodward, and is challenging other graduating classes to become part of the project."We've been recharged, rejuvenated," Zammer-Little said.The sample heart will continue its local tour, with stops at St. Luke's Medical Plaza on Pine Street and the Tamaqua Area High School in early 2017.Sponsorship costs may be beyond the affordable range for many residents, but there are many other ways people can support the project.Whether it's volunteering to help with activities, purchasing a T-shirt or placing a poster in your window, everyone has the opportunity to participate. To learn more about the project, visit the art center's website,

www.tamaquaarts.org, the project's Facebook page or call 570-668-1192.Whitley said the enthusiasm of Fegley Meadows and her classmates affirms his belief in the community."I worried a bit when momentum slowed and I thought of all the what ifs. But I never let those thoughts stop me. I won't let them stop me."

Lynn Fegley Meadows, left, may live in Maryland, but her heart is still in Tamaqua. She challenged the members of her high school graduating class, Tamaqua Area High School 1978, to join her in support of the Tamaqua Has Heart Project and has been amazed by the positive response. Project co-organizer Wandie Zammer-Little says the class's interest has rejuvenated the organizers. KATHY KUNKEL/TIMES NEWS