Jul. 21—The Jefferson Grange 1384 chapter reorganized this year to serve the southern Schuylkill County community.
The chapter is part of a nationwide fraternal organization that aims to provide opportunities to its members and create "quality places to live," Amanda Brozana-Rios, secretary for 1384, said.
"We are trying to make sure we make an impact in southern Schuylkill County," Brozana-Rios said.
The 1384 chapter, which originally formed in Auburn in 1908, disbanded in 2019 but was reorganized in May, now with around 30 members.
Rachel Brobst, president of the chapter, said she joined the previous group hoping to "do some good," but she hoped it could become more than meetings and working booths.
"Helping with the reorganization and being part of a diverse and enthusiastic group of people, it has the potential to be everything that I hoped for," Brobst said. "It is my hope that we are able to meet the specific needs of our neighbors, get in the trenches with them and advocate for real change."
Jefferson Grange is open to everyone and aims to serve people of all ages, Brobst said, from youths, elderly and families.
Brobst's two daughters, Torie Konkus, 16, and Abigail Konkus, 14, are also Grange members.
Torie Konkus serves as the civic engagement advocacy director and has worked on the Grange's Quilts of Valor, presented to local veterans and active duty service members.
"She is an Air Force hopeful," Brobst said. "The Grange will allow her to earn scholarships and help her gain exposure to our state representatives."
Abigail Konkus is the Grange's chaplain, helping to run meetings and planning youth projects.
"The Grange will also provide her with meaningful friendships, a chance to do something for her community and earn scholarships for college so she can become a teacher," Brobst said.
Michelle Zimmerman, the junior director and assistant steward, also joined the 1384 chapter with her family.
"I feel it's a great opportunity for getting the whole family involved in community service projects," Zimmerman said. "It doesn't matter your age. There's something for everyone to contribute or learn at the Grange."
Brozana-Rios said the Grange aims to help its younger members develop skills like leadership, public speaking and "hard skills," such as using tools, building and sewing. One project youth members will be working on to learn those skills is building cornhole boards and bags.
At the monthly meetings, William Bildheiser, the activities director, offers tips for daily life to members, such as how to make do-it-yourself ice packs.
Through offering these opportunities to members, Brozana-Rios said, the organization works to promote "local resiliency and sustainability."
They also work towards that goal by supporting small businesses. For example, Brozana-Rios said, the Grange bought their T-shirts from Mystic Screen Printing in Pottsville instead of ordering from a cheaper company.
"We're making sure we're helping businesses in the community," Brozana-Rios said. "It's not always about finding the lowest price."
The Grange plans to take part in local events such as Schuylkill Haven Borough Day, Orwigsburg Heritage Day, Haven in Harvest and the Schuylkill County Fair.
"We want to allow people to make memories and enjoy living in a small town community," Brozana-Rios said, adding that she hopes Grange chapters will form in other parts of the county, as well.
The Grange will also hold a softball tournament in October to raise money for the Schuylkill County Special Olympics.
Greg Bott, development director, and Josh Stranix, Team Schuylkill global messenger for the Special Olympics, attended the Grange's meeting last month to talk about their plans to offer more sports and competition opportunities in the county.
"The funds raised by the Jefferson Grange will help us to restart our softball team in Schuylkill and will help get our athletes back to action after being sidelined due to the pandemic," Bott said. "Special Olympics in Schuylkill County is run by volunteers, and we appreciate that another volunteer-led group has decided to raise funds for our athletes."
The next meeting will be Aug. 20 at Bubeck Park, with a potluck at 6:30 p.m. before the meeting at 7.
Brozana-Rios said anyone interested in joining can contact her at 301-943-1090 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or attend the meeting to join.