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Susquehanna Life

Episode 5: Winter 2020 - “The Riches of Kindness”

Show Notes

This episode of Susquehanna Life Out Loud is sponsored by Elizabeth’s An American Bistro, a true neighborhood bistro, and by the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership, sponsor of “Lewisburg in Lights” and “Late Nights in Lewisburg.” Stay tuned to learn more.  

Welcome to Susquehanna Life Out Loud, the companion podcast to Susquehanna Life Magazine. I’m Peterson Toscano and in this episode we are talking about the Winter 2020 issue.

Doris Lessing in her novel, The Golden Notebook, writes,

“Do you know what people really want? Everyone, I mean. Everybody in the world is thinking: I wish there was just one other person I could really talk to, who could really understand me, who'd be kind to me. That's what people really want, if they're telling the truth.”

Kindness. It doesn’t have the pizazz that comes from fame and fortune. There is something gentle and unassuming about it. Still in small and large ways it is often life changing.

Erica Shames, founder and publisher of Susquehanna Life Magazine speaks with her podcast co-host, Peterson Toscano, about the contents of the Winter 2020 issue of the magazine. In preparing the issue, kindness emerged as a strong theme. It is so strong that Erica plans on weaving the theme of kindness into the magazine and podcast throughout 2021. 

So in a time when there is a lot of strife in the world, how do we promote more kindness?

To find out Susquehanna Life Out Loud co-host, Peterson Toscano, chats with Joanne Troutman, the President and CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way. She tells us about wildly successful Kindness Campaign that United Way helped organized earlier this year. She also reveals bigger plans for the 2021 Kindness Campaign. Follow them on Facebook.

Dr. Mel Zimmerman from the Lycoming College Clean Water Institute, updates us about the Susquehanna River and the many creeks and streams in the region. Dr. Zimmerman is featured in Darrin Youker’s article in the 2020 issue of Susquehanna Life Magazine. Dr. Zimmerman also shares ways you can show some kindness to the Susquehanna River and area water ways. You can follow the Clean Water Institute on their Facebook Page

In anticipation of her 50th birthday Karen Hendricks decided to try something completely different. An avid runner, she signed up to run 50 races for 50 different causes. Susan Ryder writes about Karen’s year-long celebration in the Winter 2020 issue of Susquehanna Life Magazine. Peterson Toscano chats with Karen to find out more about her adventure, what she learned, where she ran, and how the Covid-19 Global Pandemic interrupted but did not deter her plans.

Karen blogs about each of the 50 races and each charity they races benefited. She is also the host of The Burg podcast.

Dig Deeper

This episode of Susquehanna Life Out Loud is sponsored by Elizabeth’s An American Bistro, a true neighborhood bistro, and by the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership, sponsor of “Lewisburg in Lights” and “Late Nights in Lewisburg.” 

Susquehanna Life Out Loud is the companion podcast to Susquehanna Life Magazine. You will find a full transcript of this episode and listings of previous episodes on our show notes page. You can hear our podcast on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and Stitcher Radio. Let us know where you hear podcasts, and we will submit our show to that platform.

See a listing of where you can buy our magazine and find out about subscription options. Do you want to be a sponsor of Susquehanna Life Magazine? Find out about advertising options.

Do you want to be a sponsor of Susquehanna Life Magazine? Find out about advertising options. For questions, comments, suggestions, and recommendations, you can reach us at


In this show you will hear the songs, “Weather Every Storm” by Cody Francis and “We’re All Runners,” by Nadja Alsén and Craig Reever. They are available at Epidemic Sound.

Joanne Troutman (00:00):

We really need to take action and we really need to create meaningful strategy around becoming a more thriving and kinder community. And I, and I really think we have the stuff to do that. You know, we have the makings, the ingredients. The kindness campaign as part of that, but it really is just a small part. 

Peterson Toscano (00:18):

That's Joanne Troutman, the president and CEO of the greater Susquehanna Valley United Way. She will tell us about the vital work they do locally and especially about their successful kindness campaign earlier this year. We will also hear about the increasing health of the Susquehanna River and the many streams, creeks, and other waterways in the region. Dr. Mel Zimmerman, from Lycoming College Clean Water Institute, tells us about 50 years of successful efforts. You will learn how this work continues today. And also about one simple thing you can do to protect hundreds of miles of river. You will also meet Karen Hendricks. She loves to run. In fact, for her 50th birthday, she recently completed 50 running races to raise awareness for 50 different causes. Those stories, and much more ahead. But first let's check in with Erica Shames, our cohost, the founder, and publisher of Susquehanna Life magazine. She will tell us about the winter 2020 issue and a little of what to expect in 2021. Hey Erica, how are you?

Erica Shames (01:30):

I am doing very well. How are you doing?

Peterson Toscano (1:33)

I am really excited about this issue of the magazine. It's just chock full of great stuff. And I'm just wondering for you, what are some of the highlights and what do you want to underscore?

Erica Shames (01:44):

In writing the From Where I Sit column, that's my personal note to everyone for every issue. It's always the last thing that I do. I wait for an idea to come to me. In all these years, in all these 27 years, that method has never failed me. For this winter issue, it was no exception. I had finalized the issue. All of the articles and photographs were with Simone, my graphic designer. And one day in my inbox, I find an article from one of my favorite freelance writers. Millie Baker, Ragosta. Never met her, never have spoken to her, but over the years, she has written some of the most compelling articles in the magazine. Her articles are really reminiscences of her life with her deceased husband, Vince, and their 11 children. And this article that she sent in was called, The Stranger. And it literally brought tears to my eyes.

Erica Shames (02:46):

In that instant, I realized that this article needed, had to, be in the winter issue. And that its theme of kindness needed to be my theme for my From Where I Sit column. Not only did I feel that this kindness theme had to resonate through my From Where I Sit column, but it really needed to resonate throughout the entire issue. You know, I don't want to sound Pollyannaish, but it was like magic. It was like magic coming to that realization that this was an important theme and idea. And then when I started to look at the articles that already were included in the issue, I realized they kind of lend themselves to the kindness theme. So we had Susan Ryder’s article on Karen Hendricks’, 50 Races for 50 Causes, which really illustrates the pay it forward idea. And then we had Darren Youker’s article on the health of the Susquehanna River watershed, promoting the imperative to be kind to our Mother Earth. And our winter Illumination column spotlights the virtue of kindness. Really this theme was kind of already included in the magazine. Millie's article, and my column, would kind of round out the entire idea of kindness being so important.

Peterson Toscano (04:12):

And then we were having a wonderful lunch at Elizabeth's, at their outdoor seating area when it was still warm in the fall. We kept talking about this and it just seems like the idea grew, especially when you told me about the kindness campaign that the United Way did earlier in the year.

Erica Shames (04:29):

Anybody doing a search on the Internet for kindness campaigns will come up with a wealth of information about what people all over the country all over the world are doing to spread the idea of kindness. It's just so heartwarming. And it's something that is so needed right now. We want to be kind and I think we want to feel good waking up every morning. We want to feel like we love our neighbor. This kindness campaign will really be a step in the right direction in getting us there.

Peterson Toscano (05:04):

In talking to Joanne Troutman, who will be with us later in the show, it's interesting because there is so much kindness happening in the world, but it gets drowned out or overlooked. And so elevating it is so critical.

Erica Shames (05:17):

Yes. This idea of promoting kindness will not end with the winter issue of Susquehanna Life magazine. We plan to continue this theme throughout 2021 in every issue, highlighting kindness campaigns and their messages and how they are being followed through throughout the country and throughout the world. It's important that people know what's taking place elsewhere. So we can either replicate or try to model our own behavior on what other people are doing. And it makes us feel good. It’s that simple.

Peterson Toscano  (05:52):

And who knows, maybe there is some listener or reader who has some great ideas to share about kindness that they've been witnessing in the community. I will give a contact details at the end of the show. 

Erica Shames (6:03)

That would be wonderful.

Peterson Toscano (6:06)

Alright, well, let's do it. During the coronavirus pandemic, we all learn to live with less. Still, there are certain things we must have in our lives. Some of these things have been hard to acquire. Others are close at hand. Doris Lessing, in her novel, The Golden Notebook, writes, 

Do you know what people really want? Everyone, I mean. Everybody in the world is thinking, I wish there was just one other person I could really talk to who could really understand me. Who'd be kind to me. That's what people really want. If they're telling the truth. Kindness, it doesn't have the pizazz that comes from fame and fortune. There's something gentle and unassuming about it. Still, in small and large ways, it is often life-changing. 

So in a time when there's so much strife in the world, how do we promote more kindness? To find out, I spoke with Joanne Troutman.

Joanne Troutman (07:13):

I grew up in Kulpmont and I live in Mifflinburg. I describe myself as a consummate coal miner's daughter. I am the president and CEO of Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way. United Way is a collective impact organization. We were originally founded to address issues related to poverty in Denver in the late 1800s. United Way now has grown into a worldwide organization, but every affiliate United Way is a local 501c3. 99% of the dollars that we raise stays here in our local community to support agencies as well as priority initiatives. If we're identifying problems and solutions, if nobody is addressing that in our community, we do our best to either find the resources to do it, or take that on ourselves, in many cases. Really very focused on moving our community forward from human services and education perspective.

Peterson Toscano (08:14):

Joanne, and the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way, is quick to respond to the issues, challenging residents. This has been especially true during the coronavirus global pandemic, where existing needs have multiplied and new ones are still emerging.

Joanne Troutman (08:29):

Never has it been more evident across the country, really across the world. The role that United Way plays in that is extremely true locally. We have been really on the front lines addressing the most basic needs in our, of our community throughout the COVID crisis. And that has not just been basic needs in the traditional sense of the word, like housing and food. But we are really focused on getting supplies into the community. We've been very focused on expanding access to technology, which has never been really considered a basic need before now. And we have really, really been focused on equity. I think equity has never been more of a concern or perhaps more prominent than it has been these last seven or eight months. It's an issue we've always addressed, but we're doing that now. And we're doing things like deploying wifi hotspots to local libraries and setting up free wifi guest networks in each community, even our most rural and outlying areas.

Peterson Toscano (09:32):

Joanne stresses that the work they do is for everyone in the greater Susquehanna Valley. They're not a political partisan organization. She wants to correct a misconception about United Way.

Joanne Troutman (09:46):

People look at United Way and think, Oh, you know, United Way is a liberal organization and they're lefty lefty. And not that I'm offended by that necessarily, but, but what I am offended by is that we've gotten to a place in our world where how we treat each other has become a political affiliation. That to me is one of the craziest, saddest things about where we are right now in our country, and frankly, in the world. How we treat one another—humanity—is not political. It is, it is non-partisan. This is not a political issue. We should be respecting one another and loving one another and encouraging everyone to live their best life

Peterson Toscano (10:27):

Earlier this year, in February to be exact, before the coronavirus lockdown, United Way launched the Kindness Campaign.

Joanne Troutman (10:35):

The idea actually came about because we attended a conference the prior summer with one of our student service learning leaders from Susquehanna University. And he and I went to a session where there was a group from Chambersburg that had done a kindness campaign. And we were so interested in the outcomes from that. It really was a very simple concept. With just a little bit of resources and leadership, they were able to pretty easily implement.

Peterson Toscano (11:04):

The Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way had already been working on promoting mental health for young people. So it only made sense to design the Kindness Campaign to add to this work.

Joanne Troutman (11:15):

Our primary focus was really trying to teach people to spread kindness, really focused on our youth in the region. But it got so much bigger than that. And we could not have been happier about that. Yeah, we did it for a whole week in February and it was really, really fun. In doing so, we engaged all kinds of organizations, but primarily school districts. And in some communities, it was the elementary school and others it was the middle or high school. Each of them was challenged to, to make it their own—paint rocks or, you know, sell t-shirts that you can put your own message on. And it was really, really interesting and so fun to watch that happen. It played out differently in every community, and that was very intentional. Our United Way serves primarily Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties. And we have colleagues in other counties who did actually some of the Kindness Campaign. Also, we wanted each community to own it and knew we wanted it to be very grassroots and organic. Kindness, and you know, sort of your expression of gratitude, is a very personal thing. And it can be hard sometimes, especially when we're living in the world that we're living in right now. But it was just really neat to see how the pay it forward happened and how people just really latched on to that.

Peterson Toscano (12:40):

I confess I knew nothing about the Kindness Campaign when it happened, except for the mysterious appearance of lawn signs around Sunbury. As I took my daily walk, I saw signs that simply said, Be Kind. That's it, no other information, no sponsoring organization. Just Be Kind. It baffled and intrigued me.

Joanne Troutman (13:04):

We also distributed stickers and kindness bracelets, little mementos that just reminded people every day to be kind. But a lot of people said, you know, your name’s not on that sign. The name’s aren't aren't on the shirts or the signs or the stickers. And that was on purpose. We don't own kindness. Kindness is not anyone's brand; it's everyone's brand. I actually loved that people didn't know that United Way was spearheading it because it made it almost more authentic that way.

Peterson Toscano (13:36):

This campaign is a great idea, but how do you measure the success of a campaign like this? How did Joanne and the United Way staff identify how the Kindness Campaign engaged the community?

Joanne Troutman (13:49):

You know, usually when we're doing something we're having to do a lot of outreach and saying, Hey, do you want to join us in doing this? We didn't have to. I mean, people immediately were out of the gate saying, you know, we, we want to be part of this. We want to do our thing. I know something is successful when I'm, you know, walking through the grocery store and I see somebody wearing the t-shirt that they bought. You know, it's a total stranger, somebody, I don't know, doing that. Or a group that I've never heard of doing kindness rocks and putting that on social media. I also will say the other indication that it was successful and that people are excited about it is that people have already started to reach out about this coming year and the next kindness campaign. And I think it's gonna, you know, we're already planning for it to be a bigger, a bigger thing.

Peterson Toscano (14:39):

Building on the successes of the 2020 Kindness Campaign, Joanne told me they have bigger plans for 2021.

Joanne Troutman (14:47):

We are going to start on February 1st, and we're going to make it a month. When we first started planning last year, we wanted to do it for a whole month and decided that might've been too much for our first year, our first go around. This time, it will be a whole month and every week we'll have a different theme.

Peterson Toscano (15:02):

Joanne recognizes we live in a particularly difficult time. The COVID-19 global pandemic has put pressure on all of us. For some, this has led to greater mental health challenges, emotional isolation and substance abuse. Since promoting mental health is a core mission of the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way, Joanne, other organizers and collaborators want the 2021 campaign to bring this message of kindness closer to home.

Joanne Troutman (15:33):

This year, it's not just going to be about kindness to others, but it's really important to be kind to yourself and take care of your mental health and your physical health. And there is going to be a component of that this year as well.

Peterson Toscano (15:46):

The 2021 Kindness Campaign will take place throughout the entire month of February. This is, of course, also Black History Month. Joanne explains the timing was not accidental.

Joanne Troutman  (15:58):

One of the things I'm proudest of that we're working on right now at United Way is an equity study. Uh, it's never been easier for me to raise money than it has been through the Equity Study, because I think people recognize that we need it now more than ever in, you know, with the murder of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor and all of the horrific things that have happened in the last six to eight months—not to mention the things have been happening for hundreds of years and for generations in our country that are really now coming to a head. People are really eager to say, not just let's, let's draw a line in the sand and say, this is not acceptable in our community or, or in our country, but what do we do about it? We have a number of leadership partners who are not just contributing to the study, but also willing to be transparent and provide things like data and allow us to come in and do listening sessions with employees or students or, you know, whoever their constituency might be. We're hoping that that equity study is at a, at a place where it's getting close to wrapping up or wrapped up by February so that we know once we get through the Kindness Campaign, what is, what is our next step?

Peterson Toscano (17:08):

Joanne shares how you can learn more about the Kindness Campaign and how it will play out in your own community.

Joanne Troutman (17:14):

Facebook is a, is a great location to find out more. You can get on our Facebook page, whether you're on Facebook or not. Our website that is, does provide a lot of information. So, you know, be on the lookout for that. You can just reach out to us, send us an email, call us, tell us you want to be part of it. You want to help. We would love to have people on board to do all kinds of things, or really just to participate.

Peterson Toscano (17:37):

To contact the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way, just visit G S V U That's G S V U I have those links in our show notes over at And Joanne has one more thing to share with us.

Joanne Troutman (17:56):

Be kind. Be kind to one another. Be kind to yourself. We're all struggling right now. Sometimes all it takes is just, you know, call a friend, say hello to your neighbor. Let's acknowledge that everybody is human. Everybody needs a kindness right now, more than ever, you know, let's move into 2021 with a positive attitude and a bright outlook and goodwill toward each other.

Peterson Toscano  (18:20):

Later in the program, you will hear about a woman who for her 50th birthday decided she would raise money for 50 different causes. To do this, she ran hundreds of miles. One of the sponsors for this episode of Susquehanna Life Out Loud is Elizabeth’s an American Bistro. Liz and her staff enthusiastically look forward to sharing their community with you. Ethnic American menus utilize many indigenous ingredients from local farmers and purveyors. Open Wednesday to Saturday, 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Happy Hour, 2:00 to 5:00 PM. Dine-in or on the seasonal back patio. Take out from the Bistro and Family menus. Bistro kits or boxes and catering are available. Bottles of wine from the Wine Spectator award-winning wine list is available for dining in or for takeout. Call (570) 523-8088 or visit That's

Peterson Toscano (19:31):

Over 10 years ago, I moved to the Susquehanna Valley and I was immediately taken by the beauty of the river. It seemed perfect for boating, fishing and swimming. “You don't want to get in that water,” said Jerry, a man in his sixties I met at Sunbury's Goodwill Hose Company. For the rest of the night, Jerry teased me about swimming in the Susquehanna River. “You might come out glowing or something,” he said. He was one of many longtime residents who assume the river and various waterways were polluted and were getting worse by the day; their childhood experiences of the river clouded their view of it today. Fortunately, Dr. Mel Zimmerman is able to update us about the Susquehanna River and about the many creeks and streams in the region. Dr. Zimmerman is featured in Darrin Youker’s article in the 2020 issue of Susquehanna Life magazine. Reading this article, “Budding Biologists Target Water Quality,” made me curious to know more. I reached out to Dr. Zimmerman. He is Emeritus Professor in biology at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. 

Dr. Mel Zimmerman (20:41)

I’m semi-retired from teaching after 36 years. But I still direct the Lycoming College Clean Water Institute, which I started over 20 years ago. 

Peterson Toscano (20:50):

As we chatted about the river and other waterways, I began to understand why Jerry and others had the impression the river was so polluted.

Dr. Mel Zimmerman (20:59):

When I first came to this Valley. It was in 1979. Basically the water chemistry of the river in particular was very sketchy. Basically above Lock Haven, there was no fish because of a abandoned mine drainage, different other pollution issues. You have to realize that we had no Clean Water Act until 1972. A lot of the legislation didn't exist prior to that. And many of our waterways, we had thought of developments. We had raw sewage going into our waterways, but since that time, sewage treatment plants first primary then secondary. And then a lot of Pennsylvania, historically it had what we call a combined sewer overflows in their sewer systems that was built in with the infrastructure that whenever you had heavy rains, the storm drains would go to the sewage treatment plant and they would have to bypass because they couldn't handle—the plant couldn't handle all that extra water—and then raw sewage was starting to go still into the receiving waterway at high high water events. But those things have been, for the most part, addressed. Water quality is improved. I love to go into kayaking and swimming into the river. I'm a scuba diver. So drastic changes in terms of water quality in most of our waterways. We have in Pennsylvania, still, again, but it's improving, the effects of legacy coal mining. We have what we call abandoned mine drainage going on, in particular in the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, those abandoned mines have been retrofitted with either wetland, passive treatment systems or active treatment systems. Water quality is improving.

Peterson Toscano (22:36):

When I enjoy the Sunbury River Walk, I only see a tiny portion of a vast system of waterways that comes to us. And I don't typically think about the people and wildlife this water reaches hundreds of miles to the South.

Dr. Mel Zimmerman (22:51):

The state of Pennsylvania has over 83,000 miles of flowing water—that's in total. And then the Susquehanna River basin, which actually starts up in New York state, goes through Pennsylvania and adds, uh, 50% of the fresh water to the Chesapeake Bay, has a number of different sub-watersheds and Lycoming College and Williamsport we support he's on the West Branch, which is the larger sub-watershed of the Susquehanna.

Peterson Toscano  (23:16):

Dr. Zimmerman insiststhe water quality has improved considerably since the 1970s. And he should know, because along with his colleagues and students, they've been studying hundreds of streams and creeks.

Dr. Mel Zimmerman (23:30):

The Clean Water Institute officially got its start through a Growing Greener Grant way back in 1999. So it's over 20 years. The focus of the institute is to provide ability for our students get hands-on practical experience, working with various watershed groups, state or federal agencies on various projects. So we have a service component, we have a research component, and then we also have an educational outreach component. Lycoming College Clean Water Institute, in the last decade, has completed—including this year, we did another 40—over 500 stream surveys.

Peterson Toscano (24:09):

But how exactly does Dr. Zimmerman and the Clean Water Institute team test for water quality?

Dr. Mel Zimmerman (24:16):

You can do chemistry. You can do a biological assessment that involves what we call macroinvertebrates with terra-aquatic insects—we referr to them as creepy crawlers on the bottom of a stream or lake. And that's sort of my specialty. And you can also utilize fish. In some cases they're utilizing algae. When you go into sample the water chemistry, or say a water quality, you're getting a snapshot of what is going on right there. With fish—fish can move around and swim, but macroinvertebrates have life cycles in the stream, and they're pretty sedentary—being or staying at one spot—and their presence or absence, because they have a life cycle of a year, maybe two years max, they will be indicators of the water quality. Most water quality studies in addition to chemistry would at least do macroinvertebrates. And if possible, be able to do fish.

Peterson Toscano (25:14):

Because of these accurate tests on the water quality Pennsylvania state agencies can do more to protect streams and rivers.

Dr. Mel Zimmerman  (25:22):

Lycoming College Clean Water Institute started with the Unassessed Waters Program, which is an Initiative Project with the Fish and Boat Commission. We were one of two college universities 10 years ago to do a pilot program where we were assigned a number of different streams to electro fish and assess if they had reproductive trout, trout populations. That was so successful that now anywhere from 12 to 15 other universities or colleges in the state contract with the Fish and Boat Commission, and it provides our students practical experience. It's a way of providing a layer of protection to a particular stream, creek, watershed, depending upon where the fish populations or the water chemistry or the macroinvertebrates, the whole picture fits in. It's a struggle. We're not totally there yet. We have a directive to, again—because we have this large input of water, fresh water going into the Chesapeake Bay—Pennsylvania has an initiative to try to reach a particular level of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment removal in the river by 2024, whether or not we make that we'll have to see, but we're making significant strides.

Peterson Toscano (26:33):

I find it incredibly encouraging to hear how much the efforts of the Clean Water Institute and many others in the state have drastically improved waterways over the past 50 years. Dr. Zimmerman wants to share some ways you also can contribute to this positive development in the region’s ecosystem.

Dr. Mel Zimmerman (26:53):

If you have a property bordering a waterway, a big thing now is to not cut grass all the way to the edge of the waterway to leave what we call a riparian buffer—which could be a grassy area that you allow or planting trees and shrubs—which basically collects the runoff, the nutrients in particular, running off and stops it and puts it into the plant rather than put it directly into the waterway. It also reinforces the banks. So there'd be less erosion of the banks. So there's all these different hints—on the DEP, on the Fish and Boat Commission website, on the EPA, on the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, here in Pennsylvania—for homeowners to find out information. If you were in hiker or kayaker or enjoy the outdoors, it's easy to find how you might get involved or communicate with, uh, some local environmental group that may provide you another outreach in terms of enjoying, enjoying your environmental experience even more.

Peterson Toscano (27:54):

I have links to all these sites on our show notes at In keeping with the theme of kindness, you will find multiple ways to continue the successful improvements and protections to our valuable waterways. In the winter 2020 issue of Susquehanna Life magazine, you will learn more about Dr. Zimmerman, the Clean Water Institute, oh, and the incredible hellbender salamander program. The article includes photos of the student interns doing this vital research. Later in the program, I will share with you how you can get your very own digital or physical copy of our magazine. You will find out more about Lycoming College’s Clean Water Institute at .   Ah, birthdays. Some of us can't wait to get the party started while others hope no one finds out about yet another birthday. When it comes to a big one, 25, 30, 40, 50, often it calls for a big celebration. In anticipation of her 50th birthday, Karen Hendricks decided to try something completely different. An avid runner, she signed up to run 50 races for 50 different causes. Susan Ryder writes about Karen's year-long celebration. I needed to chat with Karen to find out more about her adventure, what she learned, where she ran and how the COVID-19 global pandemic affected her plans. Karen Hendricks makes her living as a writer.

Karen Hendricks (29:32):

I'm a lifelong journalist of more than 30 years. I have worked in newspaper, radio, television, and currently, and for about the last 10 years, I've been a freelance writer for a number of publications and magazines.

Peterson Toscano (29:50):

And like me, Karen produces a companion podcast for a publication in the Susquehanna Valley.

Karen Hendricks (29:56):

Earlier this year in 2020, I began podcasting for The Burg. The Burg magazine is located in Harrisburg. We'd like to think of it as introducing the most fascinating people in Harrisburg and Central Pennsylvania. We take several stories from the magazine every month and we expand upon them, draw people out a little bit and invite those voices from the magazine stories to come alive on The Burg podcast. Because as our tagline says, there's always more to the story.

Peterson Toscano (30:34):

But whenever Karen is not writing, researching or podcasting, you will likely find her running.

Karen Hendricks  (30:40):

Running is kind of a disease. Once you start, it just snowballs from there.

Peterson Toscano (30:48):

This passion for running, along with her desire to show a little kindness to the world, gave Karen a brilliant idea. Starting when she turned 50 in September, 2019, she planned the next 12 months celebrating her birthday by taking part in 50 running races. Each race would benefit a different cause.

Karen Hendricks  (31:09):

You know, if you think about 50 races and there are only 52 weeks in a year, it was basically spread out through the year. One race per weekend can be kind of hard on your body. So I was a little concerned about how I would hold up through the year. It all worked out, spoiler alert. No injuries, knock on wood. Today, as I'm talking to you, I'm 51. So I did survive this.

Peterson Toscano (31:36):

She spent months researching the races and mapping out the year.

Karen Hendricks (31:40):

It was basically looking at what races were available, what causes were out there that I wanted to support, stacking up my calendar. I did lots of races that were close to home within the Harrisburg area. I was able to make it to New York City to run a well-known race in Central Park. And I was visiting family in Georgia, so I did a race down South in Georgia. And a few others that were a little far-flung from Central PA, but the vast majority of them did end up being fairly close to home—within a 50 to 70 mile 75 mile radius.

Peterson Toscano (32:20):

Maybe you already know a lot about running and races. For all I know you could be listening to this episode while going for a run. Before speaking with Karen, I didn't realize how many running races there were each year, even just in our region. I didn't fully understand how races supported causes. Karen explained for me how it works. She shares about the longest and shortest races and the many charities that benefited from her running.

Karen Hendricks (32:47):

It was a lot of fun to pick and choose the 50 causes—charities that benefited from the race fees and donations that you donate when you sign up for races. I did several races that were just one mile—kind

of a strange challenge. The longest race I did was a 500K, which is 311 miles. The reason it was 500K, it was virtually the distance across New York state. So if you imagine, uh, the state of New York in your mind, it was the distance from Niagara Falls all the way out to the very tip of Long Island. It's roughly 1000K. My 500K, combined with a teammate, a friend of mine, Joanne, who joined in my insanity. Uh, we, uh, we formed a team, each contributed 500K to equal 1000K, 600 some miles virtually across the state of New York to benefit COVID-19 relief. Every day as I ran, I chipped away at that 500K race distance. That was probably the hardest because it required dedication. I didn't run every day, but most every day during those two months really required perseverance and digging deep. And that was as the pandemic was unfolding.

Peterson Toscano (34:17):

Ah, yes, the pandemic. Like most every one of us, the COVID-19 lockdown that started in spring 2020 completely disrupted Karen's well-made plans.

Karen Hendricks (34:29):

Think about this: back in 2019, the cause of COVID-19 relief didn't even exist at that time. As I went six months into this campaign, March of 2020, that was my halfway point. That's when COVID-19 struck. For a while, I think all of our lives, not just running, but all of our lives had a stutter step and we wondered how things would continue. And so I had the same thought: wow, am I going to be able to continue these 50 races for 50 causes amid COVID? Slowly races started going virtual, meaning that you could run them wherever you were. Races and large gatherings of people were not happening. So you could still sign up for a race and then run it in your neighborhood or run it on a local rail trail or wherever you wanted, because non-profits still needed the support desperately. When I started kind of re-signing up and realigning my race calendar from March on, a lot of causes were dedicated to COVID-19 relief. We are all learning how to be a lot more resilient and how to adapt these days. Thankfully, I was able to adapt my 50 races for 50 causes, as well.

Peterson Toscano (35:50):

As a journalist, Karen documented the year-long experience. These blog entries continue to raise awareness for the 50 causes.

Karen Hendricks (35:58):

The website is—all together: You can go on there and read about each and every race. I filed a little race report about each one. I also expanded on the causes and in some cases they were personal or near and dear to my heart. Or I talked about some of the people that I met along this journey who had founded some of the nonprofits. For example, the Arthritis Foundation, a great cause that most people are probably familiar with, and the American Lung Association, are two of the more popular ones. But then there are smaller, lesser known nonprofits. The Humane Society of Harrisburg. Girls On the Run is a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to teaching girls how to run, but it also teaches them self-esteem—that’s a nonprofit that I ran for. Feeding America is the nonprofit that oversees all of our food banks in the United States. I ran several races that benefited food banks. Back On My Feet is a wonderful nonprofit that teaches the homeless population how to run, and through that running, uh, they also are aligned with jobs skills and job training, and it truly helps them get back on their feet. So that's a great nonprofit. So those are just a handful of the 50 causes that I ran for throughout the year. And I include fun little pictures and a little race report. Lots of friends joined me along the way, and that was fun to see.

Peterson Toscano (37:40):

Karen Hendricks successfully completed the 50th race in September of 2020. Now she's reflecting on the impact the experience has had on her and on others.

Karen Hendricks  (37:51):

The 50 races for 50 causes not only helped me personally running helps me personally, obviously, but it also allowed me to hopefully make a small difference in the world around me—to give back to causes that I believed in, to create a little more awareness of needs that exist in our society, as I had conversations with friends who asked me about my races. Running is life-changing. And I knew that before this campaign, but it became so much more so this year, I think, than any other year. Because of the pandemic, running became more therapy than ever before. It hopefully helped me to change others’ lives for the better, just a little bit. There were amazing people and amazing charities I met along the way, all overcoming challenges, doing innovative cancer treatments, for example, or supporting volunteer firefighters protecting their communities, supporting families wounded by opioid addiction. So many life-changing causes. So it became a very eye-opening experience and a very, just a very meaningful experience.

Peterson Toscano (39:09):

Even if you're not a runner, Karen hopes the challenge she took on will spark an interest in you to consider how to pursue your own challenge.

Karen Hendricks (39:18):

Hopefully, by sharing my story, it might inspire others to set goals of their own, whatever they are. It doesn't have to be about running. If running inspires you, that's great. But if you're inspired to do something on this level that might support causes, then that's great too. I think the bottom line, is our lives have to matter. We have to find meaning and purpose. And helping others, I think, has been very meaningful for me. Maybe by hearing my story, it might inspire others to set goals and to possibly reach out and help others any way that they can.

Peterson Toscano (39:54):

As a passionate runner, Karen encourages everyone to consider running. She gives some pointers on how to connect locally with runners’ communities.

Karen Hendricks (40:02):

There are a multitude of different ways you can learn about races. Get involved in a local running club or a running store. Once you kind of find your tribe and make friends in the running community, it just spirals out of control from there.

Peterson Toscano (40:23):

Karen Hendricks’ website is She also hosts and produces The Burg podcast. You will hear the interview she conducted with me in The Burg’s November episode. Learn more at The Burg podcast is available wherever you get podcasts. And also you can read about Karen in Susan Ryder’s article, “50 races for 50 causes.” It's available in the winter 2020 issue of Susquehanna Life magazine. 

Before I end this episode of Susquehanna Life Out Loud, I will tell you about other features you will find in the winter 2020 issue of the magazine, including a cookie recipe for the holidays. I learned so much from an article about 34th president Dwight Eisenhower, and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. Their home and farm is just outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It's now a National Historic Site. Stephanie Kalina-Metzger writes about Mrs. Eisenhower's exuberance for Christmas decorating. If you tour the house during the holiday season, you will see the rooms decked out just like Mamie Eisenhower liked to do each year. Before you visit, though, check the Eisenhower National Historic website for winter hours and any changes due to COVID-19.

Peterson Toscano (41:42):

If you're spending the winter months indoors on your own or with family members and you're running out of things to do, you will definitely want to check out our list of “10 Ideas for Indoor Fun.” For example, one idea also gets you outside. You can create your own decorated rock garden: collect rocks, then paint them with inspirational pictures and sayings. You can even leave these inspiring creations in front of friends’ and neighbors’ homes. And even in the cold weather, we have a lot of gorgeous outdoors to enjoy in the Susquehanna Valley. There's nothing quite like a scenic refreshing hike to revive the body and spirit during the long winter months. Erica Shames shares with us winter hikes to otherworldly water features. Find out about stunning waterfalls, creeks, and the trails to get you there. Winter is the perfect time to curl up on the couch or in bed with a good book. In the winter 2020 issue of Susquehanna Life magazine, you will find a list of nonfiction books, all about the region, its history and the land. These include Abolitionists of South Central Pennsylvania, written by Cooper H. Wingert. Learn about Ruthless Tide, the Heroes and Villains of the Johnstown Flood, by weather authority, Al Roker. And for more outdoor adventures, there's the book, 60 hikes within 60 miles of Harrisburg, by Matt Willen. Each issue of Susquehanna Life magazine includes a list and description of new books about our region. Finally cookies, cookies. My mom and my sisters have made trays of cookies during winter holidays. As we know, this year will be different from others we experienced before. Because of the pandemic we will not get to spend as much time with each other. That doesn't mean we can't try out new recipes. In fact, it might be the perfect time to bake something new, then mail or hand deliver these goodies to loved ones.

Peterson Toscano (43:44):

I never baked cookies before, but I plan on spending a Saturday afternoon in the kitchen, likely covered in flour, as I attempt to bake Moravian Spice Cookies. This recipe originated in the 17th century among communities of the Moravian church and the Pennsylvania colony. The blend of spices and molasses, rolled paper thin, has earned the reputation as the world's thinnest cookie. While mine might not meet the ancient Moravian standards, I can already smell the ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and molasses in my mind. Find the full recipe for Moravian Spice Cookies in the winter 2020 issue of Susquehanna Life magazine. Oh, and wish me luck.


Thank you for listening to Susquehanna Life Out loud. Our podcast is available on Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher Radio, and Apple podcasts. By rating and reviewing our show you will help increase our visibility.   If you like what you heard, please share the podcast with your friends. 

Many thanks to my guests Joanne Troutman at Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way, Dr. Mel Zimmerman of the Lycoming College Clean Water Institute, and Karen Hendricks, host of The Burg Podcast and a serious runner. 

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Susquehanna Life Out Loud is written and edited by me, Peterson Toscano. Erica Shames, founder and publisher of Susquehanna Life Magazine is our co-host.

Thank you for listening. 

This episode of Susquehanna Life Out Loud has been brought to you by the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership. The LDP supports downtown Lewisburg businesses and is responsible for many beloved Lewisburg events.  Come downtown this winter to see “Lewisburg in Lights” as we light up our beautiful downtown.   Also, “Late Nights in Lewisburg” takes place every Friday in December—three opportunities to visit downtown for a late night shopping experience with free gift wrapping, music, and vendors on Market Street.  Thank you to everyone who supports downtown Lewisburg. Visit or our Facebook page @downtownLewisburg for the most up-to-date information on Lewisburg events, activities and businesses.

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