Narrative 5: “It’s a very nice town … It hasn’t been that bad”

I’m James. I’m 38, and an Hispanic male.  I live in Sunbury.  My wife, she’s never really left this area.  We have two kids in 5th & 1st grade.

I was born in New Jersey, and I was raised in Florida, but I’ve been here ever since the early 90s.  I started at a small Bible institute outside of Sunbury when I was 18.  I was there for a few years. It was a post-secondary educational institute. They offered a diploma in the Bible with a minor in human services. I had some Biblical study there, and then I kind of sprouted my wings, if you will, and went to undergraduate school in Massachusetts.

I actually met my wife in 1991, while at the Bible institute.  But then we kind of reconvened through mutual acquaintances and started dating in 96/97 and then got married in 99. I decided after I finished undergrad in 97 to just stay here in the area, rather than to move back down to Florida. By then I was in my mid-20s – I’m 38 now. I just decided to make this my home.

I have family in New Jersey, 3 ½ hours away. They come here every so often. I have one cousin who lives about 25 minutes from here, up the river.  He comes here a couple times a month. He met his wife who’s from central Pennsylvania. They got married about 7/8 years ago.

I’m a social worker in Lewisburg. It’s for a private non-profit foster care agency. I’ve been there almost 10 years – actually 10 years this month. Our agency contracts with Children & Youth’s kids. The kids that are more at a disadvantage and they’ve been through a lot of dysfunction.

Sunbury is my home. And I like it. It’s a very nice town. In the 19/20 years I’ve lived here, it hasn’t been that bad.

When you look at the city of Sunbury, it’s kind of like “behind” a little bit, kind of slow. You know, like, if you were to go to New York City there might have been things that came out a year ago whereas now it’s coming to this area a year later. You know what I mean? It’s a little slow in terms of technology, trends in fashion, stuff like that.

Yes, Sunbury is a good place to grow up. My wife’s never really left this area. She ended up a decent person and she has some good acquaintances and friends. She likes it here. The school district is pretty decent – especially Beck Elementary because it’s a smaller school and they have smaller group instruction versus the newer school, Chief Shikellemy. My kids, they go to Beck.  There are a lot of nice things for kids to do here. They have a skate park.

You also have the Susquehanna River. The recreation there on the river is wonderful. You have the North Branch and the West Branch that join there at Lake Augusta. And I just think it’s a really nice place … especially at the marina there in Northumberland which is kind of like a part of Sunbury. It’s nice because it’s a nice place for families to go to. Honestly, other than my family, the river really keeps me here; I really enjoy it because there are just so many different breeds of fish you can fish. I think it’s just a beautiful place to enjoy. Above the dam and below the dam: there are just so many different places to fish.

One thing I like about Sunbury: They have a lot of community things; they’re just very community oriented. I think it’s just – it’s nice.

Obviously you have your ups and downs in any community.  There are other places that people – even people from Sunbury – would consider better to live, like in Lewisburg, Selinsgrove, Northumberland, Elysburg. Those are like within 15 to 20 to 30 minutes from here.  I think it’s because of what you would call “the influx” [a perceived flood of non-white immigrants to the area]. You know, me being Latino – Cuban/Columbian heritage – sometimes people kind of view this area with a stigma, especially the ones that have been here for a long time – you know, the old-timers. Where, if you’re of color, of a different ethnicity, whether you’re black or Hispanic, sometimes you’re not viewed from a positive light.

I just don’t really see this being a negative place to live. I think a lot of times people attribute their negative perception to the prisons.  If you were to put a pin in the middle of Sunbury on a map and do like a 30 to 40 mile radius, there are so many state, federal, county prisons – 30 or 40 probably. This is one of the highest populated areas in the nation, from my understanding, with prisons and jails. I think people don’t like that. With that, you’re going to have family that moves in from other states; you’re going to have crime, influx, people that are transient coming through regardless of their race or culture. I just learned about that through some gang task force awareness through Northumberland County Probation. They did a presentation for our Neighborhood Council about 2 months ago.  I never really thought about that. They had all these pins on this map, and I’m like wow, that’s a lot of prisons!

You know, sometimes I wish there would be more homeowners, that there would be more opportunities for those who aren’t able to afford housing. There are also some run-down properties here. We need more code enforcement, lazy landlords that aren’t being attentive to their renters. Or even homeowners for that matter, who aren’t properly taking care of their property. Maybe some of the crime in the area, but I’d like local officials to work on that.

I wish the town would have somewhat of a face lift, certain parts of town. Like, you go to downtown Lewisburg and there’re all kinds of novelty shops, craft stores, clothing stores, whereas here there’s not so much of that. Whereas 30 to 40 years ago it’s my understanding there was a lot of stores like that. I know that they’re trying. Cameron Park was recently renovated. But I would like to see more improvements and maybe some of the history of Sunbury be restored to local buildings and such.

I’m an Hispanic male, and I’ve made a decent mark here in this community. I’m involved with the Neighborhood Council. I’m president. I really enjoy it, you know, I’m involved with the events and activities committee. So, you know, it’s nice. It’s nice in that I’ve started to volunteer more and get involved in community engagement and trying to make our community a safer place to live. We do community clean-up efforts, block parties, whatever. I wouldn’t mind maybe at some point getting involved with City Council as a volunteer.

Close to 20 years ago, I’m not going to say there wasn’t a lot of Spanish or blacks here, but there wasn’t as many. So I think there’re more people of color here. You know, that’s a positive thing. It’s good to have diversity.

We live in a relatively decent part of town – versus downtown. Every part of Sunbury has its, I guess, negative spots, but I like it here. It’s pretty nice.  I think they’re slowly working toward some positive changes. I think people that aren’t really involved with the different community programs don’t see it. But I’m involved with different programs through a volunteer capacity and I see some positive things. I see more unity. So some people might feel that it’s not changing for the better but I do see some positive things.

If you don’t possess some type of trade or higher education it’s hard to get ahead, unless you’re going to do labor, just work in fast food restaurants, chain stores, or whatever. Wages around here I don’t really think are that good. But if you budget right you can make a decent living out here. I mean, this is a rural area. This isn’t like inner-city Philadelphia or Harrisburg or New York City, so the cost of living is going to be a lot more in those types of places.

If you look at the malls across the river – Monroe Market, for instance, brought a lot of jobs to the area, so maybe I’m contradicting myself. I mean that’s not Sunbury but it is only 10 minutes away. Maybe I need to take back what I said. Maybe in hindsight, the job market wasn’t good in the past 20 years, but all these new businesses coming to the area has helped out.

Sunbury added an educational program: McCann School of Business; Triangle Tech – they have a welding school. I would like to see more educational opportunities for people, like Community College. I’d like for there to be some type of educational program here. For children too, some type of learning center would be nice. There is a beautiful new library. That’s probably been there four to five years. I think that’s a positive thing.

You know Sunbury Hill Council – I’m on the board and such. I’d like to get involved with more local government things, you know I think that would be interesting just to kind of broaden my horizons. Maybe even to assist as a bilingual server – “Yo soy Latino…” you know? – to help out people?  It would be nice to kind of help out with some people who maybe have a language barrier so that they could acclimate better.