Written by Dan Miller
Anne Couldridge dreams of flying to Ireland with her husband Mark and their 16-year-old son Connor. But the family has never ventured on a flight with Connor, because Connor has autism.
“We travel but we leave him behind,” she said. “It’s not like a full family vacation. It would be nice to bring him.”
The family can’t afford to spend the money on a plane ticket only to find Connor can’t handle the stress of waiting in line, taking off his shoes to get through security, sitting in a crowded plane, and everything else associated with commercial air travel.
Airlines on occasion will refund a ticket to a family with special needs, if something happens where the family cannot go through with the flight for one reason or another, said Maureen Cronin, executive director of the Arc of Pennsylvania. The Arc is a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of people diagnosed with autism, Down syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and a range of diagnoses across the spectrum of intellectual and developmental disabilities.
For the most part, refunding airline tickets boils down to a case by case basis. Some friends of Cronin’s were asked to get off the plane and were not reimbursed, she said. She knows of other cases where a family was reimbursed for the cost of a ticket, or given tickets to fly another time.
For the Couldridges, it’s possible Connor could handle air travel. If only there was a way for the them to find out without bearing the expense of a ticket.
There is a way. On Saturday, an event called “Wings for All” was held for the first time at Harrisburg International Airport.
Airport dress rehearsal
Wings for All is billed as a “full airport dress rehearsal” for families who have a loved one with autism or another type of intellectual/developmental disability.
The event allows these families to come to an airport and experience the entire process involved with flying, including waiting in line to check your baggage, going through the Transportation Security Administration security, and actually boarding a real plane and taxing around the ramp area.
In fact, the Delta aircraft at HIA did everything but take off.
Perhaps best of all, families were able to do all this without buying a ticket. Media attention of high profile cases involving families with special needs have made the airlines more sensitive to the issue in general, and more apt these days to accommodate the needs of these families. Cronin said.
“There is a whole group of people that want to fly, and (the airlines) want to figure out a way to be there for them,” Cronin said.
A national effort
Wings for All is held at airports all over the United States, but this was the first time it had been done at HIA, said HIA spokeswoman Jaime Rowe. Delta Airlines and TSA partnered with HIA to hold the event. The event was also put together with the help of The Arc of Cumberland and Perry Counties, and The Arc of Pennsylvania.
Initially Delta planned to provide a large aircraft that would seat up to 150 passengers for the event, but the response to the event exceeded expectations. About 300 people signed up, so Delta agreed to provide a second plane just for the event, Rowe said.
Families came from all over south central Pennsylvania to participate. Some came from much farther - including one family from Indiana and another from Quebec, Canada. The number of families signing up shows there is a great need for an event like this, Cronin said. She hopes this will be the first of many Wings for All events at HIA.
The airport operated as it does on a typical Saturday afternoon, with flights in and out as normal. The idea is to make the event as realistic as possible, so it wouldn’t make sense to interfere with what usually goes on at the airport, Rowe added.
Wings for All is as much a learning experience for the airlines and the airport as it is for the families. The number of volunteers participating in the event from Delta and the airport is a sign that the broader community has become “more sensitive” to the needs of people like Connor and others with intellectual/developmental disabilities.
For example, Connor is non-verbal so if TSA asked him any questions about what is in his carry-on, Connor would not be able to respond in the way that TSA is accustomed to. It is recommended families with special needs contact the airport ahead of time, so that arrangements for accommodations can be made before the flight.
Flight attendants who volunteered for Saturday’s event encourage families with special needs to do early boarding according to Cronin. This gives an individual or family time to adapt to being in the plane before the crowd arrives. The family can also have a conversation with the flight crew about their specific needs and situation, she added.
TSA also offers a program called TSA Cares to accommodate special needs families at HIA, said Couldridge. To learn more about TSA Cares, call 1-855-787-2227 or go to www.tsa.gov.
Couldridge said their experience from Wings For All gave them enough confidence to try a short flight with Connor, perhaps from HIA to Philadelphia. If that works, maybe the family can finally realize that dream vacation to Ireland.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 June 2016 14:40
Written by Dan Miller
Time stood still for the crowd waiting patiently at the corner of Union and Emaus Sts.
Fifteen-year-old Morgan Billman staked out his spot on the curb. Robert Hauser, who lives nearby, was handing out small American flags to mark the occasion.
Slowly, the crowd gathered, some sitting on benches and at tables in front of the Brownstone, while others wandered up from neighboring businesses.
It was Wednesday, June 15, and the town clock was due to return at high noon.
Middletowners had been looking forward to this day. The clock had been absent since April 2015, when the iconic time piece was removed from where it had stood for nearly a century. The Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority (MICDA) had decided to have the clock restored as part of the downtown streetscape project.
“Everybody keeps asking about it,” said a worker for Flyway, the contractor doing the downtown streetscape.
They would have to wait a bit longer. The GPS had given a wrong turn to the folks driving the clock down from Lockport, N.Y., a town near Buffalo, where the clock had been restored by a company called Essence of Time.
For those like Hauser, who grew up in Middletown and who lived here almost all their lives, the clock is “the essence” of the town.
Almost 100 years ago, the Mothers Congress Circle, a charitable organization, sold cupcakes to help raise money to buy the clock. The Congress had intended the clock as a memorial to World War I veterans from Middletown.
The clock was presented to borough council in 1923 and afterward placed at Emaus and Union streets upon what was then the property of The Farmers Bank.
Brenda Thomas, who works at the Interfaith Thrift Shop, found comfort in the clock coming back to where it had always been.
“In the United States we tear everything down that means anything, I’m glad they are putting it back up,” she said.
Others just wanted to be present at the clock’s return and be a part of history in the making.
“Years from now, this will be part of our town’s history, that on this day people gathered” to see the clock come home, said Joanna Matincheck Cain. “Two hundred years from now people will be reading about this.”
The clock finally arrived, wrapped in white plastic like a Christmas package, riding in a trailer being pulled by a big blue pickup truck. Chuck Roeser and Jesse Horanburg of Essence of Time cut through the plastic as if to unveil a painting at the opening of a long-anticipated art exhibit.
“Looks beautiful,” said Jenny Miller, who was there to document the occasion for the Middletown Area Historical Society.
Borough public works employees used a hydraulic lift truck to raise the clock section by section and set it in place on its new home, about 10’ north of the original location.
A minor delay happened when a borough worker had to move some overhead wires that were preventing the lift from swinging the top of the clock into position. Otherwise, the procedure went like…clockwork.
Eventually the crowd drifted away, leaving Roeser and Horanburg and a few borough workers to complete rewiring and reinstalling the clock, which took the rest of the afternoon.
Roeser is no stranger to antique clock repair, having fixed the clock in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In 2003 he restored the oldest continous-running tower clock in America at the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough, N.C.
“This is a street clock and there’s only a few of these street clocks that are still in existence,” Roeser said of Middletown’s timepiece. “The ones that I have worked on are usually in worse condition…”
In the 1980s, the Middletown clock was restored after being damaged when it was hit by a truck. (See page A1 for story about a recent near miss)
Roeser found a lot of rust underneath the paint from that repair. “We sandblasted it all off, put on a coat of primer and two coats of paint. The paint is actually powder coating which is supposed to last for 50 years,” Roeser said.
Putting the clock back together was painstaking because “every single piece of this clock only goes in one spot,” he said. “There was no one part that would go in any other place.”
Although the job is done, Roeser plans to return sometime in the fall to “touch up” the gold leaf paint, said Middletown Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter.
While everyone is happy to see the clock return, not everyone is thrilled about the price tag. The MICDA agreed to pay Roeser $75,000 to restore the clock. Mayor James H. Curry III was shaking his head over it when the authority on June 13 voted to cut the remaining check to Roeser.
But to Hauser, it was money well spent. “It’s an 88-year-old historical piece that belongs in Middletown. It’s the presence of Middletown - the essence.”
Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 June 2016 14:20
Written by Dan Miller
Middletown Borough Council wants to get the ball rolling on a new contract regarding the purchase of electricity.
In March 2015 the previous council approved a one-year extension of a contract for the town to purchase electricity at a discounted rate from Exelon.
That agreement covers the borough through 2016, but beyond that the situation is unknown, Council President Ben Kapenstein said during council’s meeting in April 19. At his urging, council by 8-0 vote approved a motion directing solicitor Adam Santucci to begin the process toward a contract to cover the borough’s purchase of electricity in 2017, and possibly beyond.
The borough has two options, Santucci advised council. The borough can reach out to Exelon to see if the company is interested in negotiating another contract extension. Or the borough could solicit bids from major suppliers in the wholesale electricity market. The second option would probably lead to a multi-year agreement, Santucci predicted.
The solicitor will review both options, and report back to council with recommendations on how to proceed, Santucci said.
The town’s next electric purchase contract would be effective on Jan. 1, 2017.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 June 2016 16:08
Written by Dan Miller
Middletown Borough Council is applying for a grant to assist in the development of a capital improvement plan for the town.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 June 2016 16:04
Written by Dan Miller
Middletown Borough Council has hired another outside lawyer to serve as special legal counsel - this one to advise council on the issue of supplying electricity to Librandi’s Machine Shop.
Council voted 6-1 in May to retain the firm of Eckert Seamans at a rate of $250 an hour, with Councilor Diana McGlone dissenting.
Librandi’s has threatened to stop buying electricity from the borough and switch to purchasing power from Met-Ed, unless an agreement is reached that would allow the local manufacturing company to buy electricity from the borough at “the market rate,” the company maintained.
Located on the borough side of Harrisburg International Airport, Librandi’s is one of the largest consumers of electricity in the borough. According to the locally-owned businesss, it has paid Middletown about $2.5 million for electricity over the last seven years.
Eckert Seamans is no stranger to providing legal services to the town. It was called upon to be special counsel to the borough regarding the crematory that Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home wants to place at 208 N. Union St. The firm is also being paid $250 in that capacity.
The borough’s regular solicitor, McNees Wallace & Nurick, has a conflict of interest regarding the crematory.
McNees Wallace & Nurick also has a conflict regarding the legal dispute between the borough and the borough authority. Council hired the law firm of Dilworth Paxson to represent the borough in the case involving the authority.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 June 2016 15:58