Pitt-Johnstown officials light up Moxham

President Jem Spectar speaks to the crowd at the Light-Up event Tuesday, while the Pitt-Johnstown concert choir stands behind him waiting to sing their Christmas carols for the community.

Rachel Logan

President Jem Spectar speaks to the crowd at the Light-Up event Tuesday, while the Pitt-Johnstown concert choir stands behind him waiting to sing their Christmas carols for the community.

Rachel Logan, Copy Editor

A bright spirit stood strong against the gloomy setting sun at a Pitt-Johnstown holiday Light-Up event Tuesday in Johnstown’s Moxham neighborhood.

Although the weather had been drizzly and dreary, earlier in the day, the sky was gray but calm as the event commenced.

At the Park Avenue Playground neighborhood parents guided groups of children to cookies and hot chocolate available at the deep end of the blacktop, where a Pitt-Johnstown student handed out glowstick candles.

Sprightly Christmas music, including an album by Alvin and the Chipmunks, drifted over the crowd of about 300.

Up a few stairs from the asphalt, a gazebo sheltered a choir behind a podium. City officials, a parent committee members and Boy Scout leaders mingled as go-time approached.

At 5:20, dusk, the Pitt-Johnstown choir began caroling under the direction of music professor Jeffrey Webb.

Among other songs, the choir sang “Carol of the Bells,” “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.” Choir members sang with enthusiasm, loud enough to be enjoyed by those nearest the stage but soft enough to drift into the background for those near the concessions table.

After a few songs, Institutional Advancement Interim Director Tammy Barbin welcomed the gathered. She thanked the singers for the music, then the neighboring United Methodist Church members for its support.

Barbin told the crowd of a food drive being held out of the church for the holiday season.

Barbin thanked community members for attending and supporting the Light-Up night.

“We need to stand united as members of a strong community,” she said.

Barbin said that the safety of neighborhood children is critical. She spoke about keeping parks and playgrounds in the Moxham community free from danger. Lighting the park around the clock aids in this mission.

Barbin mentioned the strong educational forces present in Johnstown, singling out Pitt-Johnstown and President Jem Spectar.

“We can provide world-class education,” she said.

She said that, the Pitt-Johnstown RealWorld education program was the vision solidified into a mission. She said that later in the event, free books would be handed out to the attending children.

Spectar took the podium next and said that Pitt-Johnstown fully supported the community’s motives.

Although the Moxham neighborhood had a holiday lighting event last year, Pitt-Johnstown sponsored and catered this event to a large extent. The food, choir and books all came from one Pitt-Johnstown organization or another.

Spectar later expounded upon his goal in supporting the community.

“This is a neighborhood where the stories aren’t too great,” he said.

He said that giving books encourages parents to read to their children and instills a love of knowledge.

“Books last a lifetime,” he said. “It’s better than getting candy. Candy is gone too soon.”

City manager Carlos Gunby spoke next, standing in for Mayor Frank Janakovic. He thanked everyone for coming out for the celebration, but stressed a stronger point.

“We should celebrate throughout the year,” Gunby said. “We should support each other throughout the year and take care of one another.”

The holiday lighting event began with the Moxham Renaissance group, whose goal is to reinvigorate the neighborhood. Gunby underscored community participation and activity, thanking Pitt-Johnstown for its commitment and asking for that of community members.

Gunby later added that he hopes this event will become a long-term neighborhood.

Spectar ended the speeches with a countdown from five, after which the playground was lit up with more than 21,000 lights. The choir parted under the sparkling gazebo revealing a shining Christmas tree wrapped in blue and green lights.

One choir member, Abby Becker, said of the spectacle, “It’s a little Charlie Brown tree.”

A cross-hatched fence bordered the blacktop beamed from sheets of gold light, studded with huge, blue snowflakes and rimmed with white bulbs. The playground was encased in the lights’ glow.

A stand was set up to the right of the gazebo and podium where books were given out. Some of the attendees trickled away, but most stuck around to enjoy their neighbors conversation in the playground’s comfort.

Helen Gettys, parents’ committee member, relayed the reason for the sudden revival.

“We’re taking back our playground,” she said. “My son used to play basketball with his friends here, but, after a shooting, he doesn’t feel safe.”

“The shooting was at the beginning of last summer,” she said.

Gettys said that a man had been shot while children were on the playground, and that the neighborhood’s children no longer frequent the spot.

“We’ve had enough,” she said.

A police officer was present at the Light-Up, which was held in conjunction with the Moxham Neighborhood Watch.