A handful of residents are volunteering their time and investing their money to help make McCandless more neighborly.
The group, known as the McCandless Community Association, was formed last year under the leadership of Cindy Waeltermann. Each board member chipped in between $500 and $1,000 of his or her own money to help offset costs for the first few community-wide events so they could offer them to residents for free. They hope to secure grants to pay for future activities.
“We plan to do a lot of things, like activities for kids and seniors, and recreational events for families,” Waeltermann said.
In February, the association organized and funded a Valentine’s Day party for children at the McCandless-Northern Allegheny Heritage Center. About 45 kids attended the free event and enjoyed pizza and crafts.
This spring, the association offered a free Easter Egg Hunt at McCandless Town Hall for 180 children. Again, it was funded from the association members’ own pockets.
“I personally filled 2,000 eggs with candy. The fire department brought trucks and we raffled gift baskets,” Waeltermann said.
In June, the association secured its first grant — a $4,500 grant from Highmark and Allegheny Health Network. It will be used to purchase outdoor movie equipment so the association can offer Family Movie Nights for the community.
“We’re going to buy a movie projector, large outdoor screen and sound machine. We also want to get a popcorn maker,” Waeltermann said.
Family Movie Nights will be held at Hosack Elementary School and Devlin Park in July and August, at dates to be later announced. It will be open to all residents, free of charge. People are welcome to bring lawn chairs, blankets and food. No alcohol will be permitted.
“Our first movies will be ‘The Sandlot’ and ‘Iron Giant,’ Waeltermann said. “We’re taking suggestions for the third movie.”
Future possibilities include a Haunted Halloween Hike in North Park for ages 5-12, in which Allegheny Park Rangers will take the children on a short hike. Afterwards, they can enjoy story-telling and eating s’mores at a bonfire.
Waeltermann also hopes to organize a live concert featuring the band Totally 80s, which has a band member living in McCandless. She would like to attract upwards of 800 people and use the event as a fundraiser.
“I’d like to raise $30,000 for our local firefighters,” she said.
The association has submitted grant requests to establish a community garden, as well.
The idea is to create a one-acre garden in order to teach community members and young students lessons in pollination, remediating soil, collecting rain in rain barrels and growing plants. The resulting vegetables will be donated to local food banks.
“There are so many people who say they don’t have a green thumb, but with a basic understanding of how things work, we can help educate the community as a whole by getting our hands dirty and growing a community garden,” said Dan Heckert, a McCandless resident who is helping to lead the project. His expertise comes from a long family history of vegetable farmers and his own experiences tending to the 1,200-square-foot garden in his backyard.
The ultimate goal of the association, according to Waeltermann, is to raise funds to build a community center in McCandless.
“I envision a place where we can offer afterschool childcare so kids can hang out and make crafts and have fun. I’d like to offer educational and recreational community events there for kids and seniors,” she said.
“All of us who started this McCandless Community Association just want to see a bigger sense of community. I love seeing kids have fun, and it’s great to get people together.”
For details about McCandless Community Association events and programs, go to www.mccandlesscommunityassociation.org.
Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributor.