Monday, June 30, 2014

'Dare To Be Different' - Montco Prosecutor Inspires Youth

     Offering messages of hope and encouragement, Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Joseph Green II recently returned to Philadelphia's inner city where he grew up, to inspire young people to acquire a strong educational foundation to prepare themselves for a successful future.
     Green was invited to provide a commencement address at James R. Ludlow School in North Philadelphia, which he attended as an elementary school student. Green told me he saw it as an opportunity to "nurture" and to "pour something positive into the minds of our youth that may make a difference."
     "I take that very seriously because it could be a game-changing moment, a life-changing moment. I hoped to convey that they can be successful that if I can do it, they can do it," said Green, who entitled his address, "Dare To Be Different." "The norm in the inner city is chaos and I told them that just because there's chaos they don't have to become chaotic. I told them that there's a lot of love and that there are persons in the inner city who care about education - teachers and parents in the community."
                           Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Joseph Green II
                                                                     Mercury Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

     The 18 graduates were leaving the 8th grade and moving on to high school.
     "High school doesn't start until September. Just because school is out doesn't mean that you have to sit on the step all day listening to Kanye West and Nicki Minaj," Green recalled telling the students. "There's nothing wrong with going to the Free Library and picking up a book or two and reading it over the summer. Books will assist you in the development of your learning as it relates to your reading comprehension. Books are also inspirational but most of all books can take you places that some of us have never been. Dare to be different.
     "Don't be around the nonsense. Don't be around the foolishness, I told them," Green recalled.
     Telling students to 'dare to be different' when choosing friends, Green mentioned to them that he recently prosecuted two young men for attempted robbery and burglary, one of whom had a scholarship to play football at a university this fall.
     "This young man was most likely on his way. But he chose the wrong road," Green told the students, adding a collegiate atmosphere can offer a spirit of healthy academic competition, a diversity of ideas and lasting friendships from all walks of life. "Be wise in your choices in who you make your friends. Dare to be different."
     Green pointed out that some studies by behavioral and educational analysts have suggested that the ills that plague the inner city - low income, single parent households and crime - correlate to poor academic performance. Candidly, Green told the students, "I'm not supposed to be here because according to the naysayers I was a child at-risk."
     That, Green said, was his motivation to graduate high school and to go on to college and law school.
     Grabbing their attention, Green candidly shared that he was from their community and the ills that plagued the community were a part of his life, including having relatives who were murder victims.
     "I once sat where you are now sitting. So if I can do it, with all the things that I've been through, you can do the same," Green recalled telling the students. "That's what I wanted to convey to them."
     "We're all familiar with the educational and behavioral ills that plague the inner city and one of those ills is the stereotype that education is not a priority," recalled Green, who told the graduating students they are products of parents who do provide encouragement  for student achievement and who place a value on the importance of education. "I know firsthand that there is a lot of sacrifice, hard work and love that comes from inside of our North Philadelphia homes. I said continue to dare to be different."
     Green, always impeccably dressed in court and wearing his trademark bow tie, explained first impressions are lasting impressions and urged the students to have respect for others.
     "Know your capabilities as well as your limitations and don't be afraid to ask for help," Green reminded the students. "Seek out mentors and work hard."
     "I also talked to them about the Internet and having the world at their fingertips if they use the Internet positively," Green recalled.

Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Joseph Green II

Green, a father of three whose wife is a school principal in New Jersey, entered his alma mater's gymnasium behind the students during the graduation procession

     "As I began to walk it took me to like a 'Back to the Future' type moment. It gave me goose bumps. It was my educational foundation," Green reflected. "It took me back to the time when I was matriculating at their level. The faces of the teachers were different but the goals were still the same, to prepare them for the next stage in their educational development."
     Green, whose grandmother was once a janitor at the school and who still lives in the community, was greeted with a standing ovation after his address.
    A month before he addressed the graduates, Green even met with the students who wouldn't be graduating this year to impart to them the importance of education.
    "They sent me some thank you letters. I actually connected with them," Green said happily. "If you reach just one it becomes infectious, because that one can reach someone else."

Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Joseph Green II

     Kudos and thanks to Green for being a mentor and inspiring others as part of his devotion to public service.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Flag Retirement Ceremony a Success

     As June 14th and the Flag Day holiday approached, for some Montgomery County organizations it was an appropriate time to retire tattered and torn American flags, many of which were collected at the county courthouse in a special flag drop-off box during the last year.
    "We found that people would go and buy new flags and then wonder, ‘What do we do with our old American flags?’ A lot of people don’t know the proper method to retire a flag,” Stan Sarnocinski Jr., of the Patriotic Order Sons of America, Washington Camp 523 of Eagleville, said recently when I interviewed him about the drop-off box. “You never throw an American flag in the trash. That’s disrespectful.”

        Stan Sarnocinski Jr. of the Patriotic Order Sons of America, Washington Camp 523 of Eagleville/ Mercury Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

     During the last year, about 400 tattered flags were left in the courthouse drop-off box, said Sarnocinski, who works for the county's purchasing department as supply room supervisor. On Sunday, June 8, those flags were among 4,000 that were properly retired during a solemn ceremony sponsored by Camp 523 and Camp 387 of Schwenksville, and Boy Scout Troop 105 of Schwenksville, in the meadow behind the Schwenksville Fire Co. off Route 29.
     "Over 4,000 flags were properly retired and then the ashes were buried up at Heidelberg Cemetery in Schwenksville," Sarnocinski said. "It shows the public the proper way to retire an American flag and it keeps them out of landfills. We do it every year around Flag Day."
      The Boy Scouts cut each stripe and cut the stars, explaining what each stripe and star means, and then burn them in proper fashion.

Flag Retirement Ceremony, Schwenksville, Pa. Photo Courtesy of Stan Sarnocinski Jr.

     Several dozen people attended the ceremony, including state Rep. Marcy Toepel, the Republican who represents the 147th District, who spoke about the meaning of the flag.
     "It makes me proud," said Sarnocinski, referring to the ceremony.


Boy Scout Troop 105 of Schwenksville participate in June 8 flag retirement ceremony. Photo courtesy Stan Sarnocinski Jr.

      Sarnocinski, currently the national vice-president of the Patriotic Order Sons of America, the oldest patriotic organization in the U.S., founded in 1847, urged citizens to continue to drop off their tattered and torn flags in the boxes sponsored by the organization so they can be properly retired during next year's ceremony.
     The Order also sponsors flag retirement boxes at the following locations: Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge National Historical Park; the Lower Salford Township building; Ace Hardware, Route 63, Harleysville; the 4-H Club along Route 113 in Creamery; the Lowe’s store on Egypt Road, Oaks; the Montgomery Township building along Stump Road in Montgomeryville; the American Legion Post 688, Route 30, in Wayne, Chester County; and at the organization’s state office along Route 61 in Leesport, Berks County.
     "We get some unique flags. We have had a lot with 48 stars, the old flags that people have been holding onto," said Sarnocinski, the recording secretary of Washington Camp 523.

     Kudos to Mr. Sarnocinski and all those who participated in this very patriotic event!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Meet A Future Journalist...

     While on the Montgomery County Courthouse news beat last month, I had a shadow - Germantown Academy senior Cliff David, who was interested in learning about the life of a court and crime journalist as part of his senior project. Cliff, 18, of Ambler, was extremely inquisitive as he roamed the courtrooms with me searching for the latest crime/justice stories and so he should do well if he decides this challenging profession, that is changing daily with new innovations in digital reporting, is right for him.
     "I've always been interested in writing and journalism, in particular, so I'm hoping I get to see some up-close journalism for the first time in my life and see how it works behind the scenes," Cliff told me during a break one day as we scoured the courthouse for breaking news. "I've always wanted to learn how it works and I think this is a cool way to get inside of it."
                              Cliff David starts his day at Montgomery County Press Room
                                                                          Mercury Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

     While enrolled at Germantown Academy, Cliff has written for the school newspaper, Germantown Academy Times, and studied AP English and is part of the writing center program. When he heads to Trinity College, a private, liberal arts school in Hartford, Conn., in the fall, he's contemplating majoring in journalism or American studies, which he describes as an interdisciplinary field that incorporates history, English and literature.
     During his time at the courthouse, Cliff was able to observe the trial of a man accused of domestic violence and observed two Philadelphia men admit their roles in a disturbance prosecutors said was akin to the "Wild Wild West" that ended with a drive-by shooting in Lansdale during which a man suffered a gunshot wound to the arm. Additionally, Cliff watched Judge Garrett D. Page call his trial list and got a chance to chat with the judge behind the scenes.
     KYW News Radio Reporter and Suburban Bureau Chief Brad Segall provided Cliff with a lesson in how to produce a radio news report from his small news studio in the courthouse press room. Finally, District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman also took time to discuss with Cliff the dynamics of how a district attorney's office interacts with the media, handles press calls and breaks news at press conferences.

                               Cliff David meets Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman
                                                                                 Mercury Photo/Carl Hessler Jr.

     Cliff said he's always been interested in politics and political reporting and he's a fan of political satirists Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart and how they inform the public "about things that are very important." But being at the courthouse a few days also seemed to spark Cliff's interest in crime and justice reporting, something he didn't think too seriously about previously.
     "I think definitely now that I've been here I would be interested in it, it's actually something that matters to your community. It's really exciting. It's a lot more active than I thought it would be, you keep moving around from court to court and see a lot of things," said Cliff, who easily kept up with me as we burned shoe leather running from courtroom to courtroom. "It's very exciting. I like writing and I like journalism so I'll follow that path and see where it takes me."
     Cliff sent me a note the other day, indicating he enjoyed his brief stint here in the press room of the courthouse.
     "It was an extremely valuable experience for me that I'm sure I will remember and look upon while I make decisions regarding what I'll end up doing someday," Cliff wrote.
     I want to take this time to thank Cliff for showing an interest in the profession and we in the press corps enjoyed having him around. We wish him much success in his future and have no doubt he'll flourish in any profession he chooses.
    Additionally, thanks to the judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, other courthouse employees and fellow journalists who assisted in showing Cliff what it's like to work in a place where crime, justice and news intertwine.