John Hartnett

John Hartnett

Editor's note: The Tribune begins a new feature today that highlights people, places, volunteers and more in Crawford County. The Monday Spotlight will run the first four Mondays of each month.

John Hartnett is openly fond of the city he has called “home” for almost all of his 29 years. 

“I think Meadville has some of the nicest, most down-to-earth people in the world over,” he explains with a smile. “There’s just a very high concentration of awesome individuals in our community.”

As founder and organizer-in-chief of an ongoing series of pop-up community service opportunities known as Thankful Thursdays, the West Mead Township resident is getting even better acquainted with the city he loves and its amazing residents.

Hartnett’s Meadville experience began early, when his parents, deciding they didn’t want to raise their child amidst the hustle and bustle of New York City, did some research and found the little town of Meadville. Seton Catholic School; Meadville Area middle and senior high schools, where he served multiple stints as student council president; and Allegheny College, where he graduated with a degree in political science and religious studies, all followed. His workforce start was in the local machining industry.    

What inspired Thankful Thursdays?

While driving along a litter-strewn stretch of local roadway this past spring, Hartnett thought about spending an hour or two picking up the trash himself. It then occurred to him that getting lots of people to spend an hour or two picking up trash would be even more effective.

What started as a Facebook chat including several members of the community who had put together February’s Winterfest celebration in Diamond Park grew into a trash collection celebration on the Thursday before Easter culminating with music, food and an Easter egg hunt in the park.

“Coming out of the event, I was really excited about how quickly we were able to mobilize and pull something together,” Hartnett recalled. “I think my favorite thing was when someone came over and handed me a bag of trash, beaming, and said they felt like a million bucks. Just from picking up trash.”

What other Thankful Thursday events have taken place?

Subsequent Thankful Thursdays have included two outdoor cleanup sessions at Meadville Area Recreation Complex and multiple cleanups similar to the Diamond Park event at other locations. Teaming up with Meadville Medical Center, the empty lot at the intersection of North and Liberty streets was cleaned up, structures already on the site were painted, debris was cleaned up, weeds were pulled and three large flower boxes constructed by MMC’s facilities engineering department were filled.

In late October, the Thankful Thursdays team worked with Center for Family Services’ thrift shop to create a Halloween costume construction workshop for kids who wouldn’t otherwise have access to costumes. 

“We collected a bunch of ribbons and clothing items and costumes,” Hartnett said. “We pretty much had the run of Center for Family Services. I kinda felt like a rock star.” Set up in the social hall of a local church, about 20 people ready to make costumes worked with at least 30 happy kids who took home costumes.

The Thankful Thursdays effort now underway involves providing assistance with and awareness of the Affordable Care Act application process before the enrollment period ends Dec. 15.

Future plans call for a community potluck on Nov. 30. “We’re gonna have a Best-Turkey-Leftover-Creation Contest,” Hartnett said. “The winner will get a warm hug and a smile.”

What are the Thankful Thursday events all about, really?

All events are free and open to the public. Everyone is welcome. Potluck participation is optional but encouraged. The concentration is on inclusivity and welcomeness.

“I guess that’s getting down to the nitty-gritty of our purpose — to bring different people in our community together who might not usually cross paths and unite them in a common placemaking effort — or unite them in community service,” Hartnett said.

Under whose organizational wings do you fly?

In order to add some funding to the projects, Not One More of Northwestern Pennsylvania, a local 501(c)3 nonprofit addiction advocacy organization on whose board Hartnett serves, has taken Thankful Thursdays on as an initiative.

“Part of Thankful Thursday’s underlying ideology is the concept of gratitude, which is a big concept in recovery,” Hartnett explained. “Service is another big part of recovery. They say the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel. ... I just wanted to open the concept for the community at large — being grateful for our beautiful little city and all the opportunities afforded us and everyone getting involved.”

How do people get involved?

Keep an eye out for announcements in the Tribune and other local media. Look for Thankful Thursdays Meadville on Facebook. Visit thankfulthursdays.org. Visit NotOneMoreNWPA.org. Email Hartnett at john@NotOneMoreNWPA.org.

I’d love to hear any ideas,” Hartnett said. “We’ve got a great group of people involved. We can make it work. We can make it happen. Let’s get stuff done together.”

Bonus question: If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

“I would be a Tree of Life — a very large, nurturing tree that is fun for kids to climb on,” Hartnett chuckled. 

Indeed.

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