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Photo by Bill Pribisco  

Working on her painting of a Christmas tree at the Family Fun Holiday Painting Workshop on Dec. 21, at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Ligonier Valley, is Sophia Myers, 7, of Latrobe, who attended the event along with her sister Gabi Myers, 10, and their grandparents Paul and Pam Wise of Latrobe. They all participated in an art class taught by Amy Roadman.

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Making New Year's resolutions is a custom 4,000 years old

Did you make your New Year’s resolution yet? What is it? To lose weight? Stop smoking? Find more time to relax or become a better person?

They all sound like good ideas, but no matter what changes you think you’re going to make in 2020, chances are that you won’t change at all. The statistics are against you and everyone else who starts the new year with hope for better behaviors ahead.

According to several internet sources, less than half of the population makes resolutions and the majority of them fail. Wikipedia sources cite that in a study involving 3,000 people who made New Year resolutions, 88% failed, even though 52% were confident that they would succeed.

Making a New Year’s resolution is nothing new.

The Babylonians were the first recorded civilization to celebrate the New Year, which for them began in mid-March around the spring equinox when crops were planted. During a 12-day religious festival called Akitu that marked the rebirth of the sun god Marduk, they promised to the gods to pay their debts and to return anything they borrowed. If they kept their word, their pagan gods would shower them with favor in the coming year. If not, they would fall out of favor with the gods.

Those were considered the first New Year’s resolutions.

The early Romans’ Julius Caesar adjusted the calendar to begin the year on Jan. 1 in honor of Janus, the two-faced god whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches. The Romans believed that he could look backwards to the previous year and forward to the future. To appeal to him, they offered sacrifices and made promises of good conduct in the new year.

Early Christians considered the new year as a time to think about past mistakes and resolve to do better. In 1740, Methodist founder John Wesley created the Covenant Renewal Service, also called watch night services, that transitioned to the new year with scripture readings and hymns.

Some Protestant denominations still hold those services with prayers and resolutions.

Making New Year resolutions is now a secular practice, and statistically, it still has disappointing results.

But Dr. Alok Trivedi, a human behavior and psychological performance expert, offers hope. The founder of the Aligned Performance Institute and author of the book “Chasing Success” has tips for ways to achieve better results with keeping resolutions.

First and foremost, start small.

“Having a big goal in mind is fine, but realize the best way to be successful is to see it as an incremental process,” he said. “Maybe you want to lose 50 pounds. That’s great, but focus on losing 10 pounds at a time.”

That will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and instead, you may become motivated each time you achieve a smaller goal on the way to the big one.

Another bit of advice — don’t tell everyone about your plans.

“Keep your mouth shut,” Trivedi said. “When you keep the goals to yourself, it creates an inner drive to achieve them. Telling everyone else what you want to accomplish only puts more pressure on you and makes the process much more difficult to manage.”

If you need to talk about it, share your failures, he advises. That will make you humbler and give you a learning experience.

“Don’t compare your goals to anyone else’s goals,” he said. “This is your life, your goals and your reality. Set goals that are truly valuable to you.”

Expect bumps in the road and listen to the negative talk. Too much positive encouragement can create a fantasy world. Negative self-talk can pull you away from that fantasy and keep you grounded in reality. Consider that a positive thing.

Likewise, stay away from “vision boards” that can constantly remind you of what you have not accomplished.

“Staring at million-dollar mansions and super fit models with bulging muscles isn’t going to inspire you for greatness,” Trivedi said. “It’s delusional thinking that will leave you feeling down on your luck.”

The last bit of advice? Don’t wait until Jan. 1.

“Why wait until then?” he said. “Thinking you’re going to make a magical change in the new year is delusional thinking that gives you more time to indulge in the bad behavior and dig a deeper hole. If you’re really serious about making a change, start right now, this very second.”

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Local motorcycle club to hold New Year's ride

If taking a plunge in an icy river is not your idea of a fun way to start the New Year, perhaps you may want to bundle up and take a motorcycle ride for a good cause instead.

The Ridgeview Riderz, a local family oriented motorcycle riding club will participate in the Polar Bear Ride, a 30-mile ride will start at the Blairsville Sheetz at noon Wednesday, Jan 1. The group will ride to Black Bull Inn in Dayton. The inn is hosting a pig roast and musical entertainment.

“We decided to initiate the ride after one of our members told us about the pig roast. He is a member of the band that is playing at the event and suggested we take a ride there and make it a fundraising activity for our club,” said Bill Johnson, the club’s president. “The ride is open to anyone who wants to join us. You do not have to be a member of the club to participate.”

A donation will be collected from all participants and will be donated to a local charity on behalf of the Ridgeview Riderz. Go to the Ridgeview Riderz Facebook page to sign up to participate in this event.

Johnson said the Ridgeview Riderz is a not for profit organization, operating with the sole purpose of promoting good, clean, and safe riding.

“We represent motorcycle riding, family, unity, camping, traveling, and fun and the camaraderie of the members,” said Johnson. “Our mission is to have a motorcycle riding group that people can be part of without dealing with the politics and infrastructure of traditional riding groups or clubs. We are a group of riders that will ride free wherever and whenever they may choose.”

Before they formed their own riding club, the group was part of the Southern Cruisers that started in Tennessee. They started the Ridgeview Riderz in 2016. They have 50 members and 20 active riders.

Most of our members are from Blairsville, Derry, Latrobe, and Indiana. They meet monthly at the Community Crossroads Church in Blairsville.

“It’s nice to ride as a group. If you break down you are not by yourself. You have somebody there who will not leave you behind.” Johnson said.

The members believe in total freedom, no dues, no initiation fees, no mandatory meetings, and no major commitments

“We are actively seeking new members, both men and women. The bike you ride is your choice, not ours, we accept all.” said Johnson.

The group takes several trips during the summer/fall months. They have gone to the Tail of the Dragon road in Tennessee for the past four years in a row. During Thunder in the Valley in Johnstown, they do a 100-mile ride through the Laurel Highlands as memorial run for their Western Pennsylvania Fallen Riders Foundation.

The Ridgeview Riderz actively supports Western Pennsylvania Fallen Riders as its main charity.

“The members wanted to do something to help the community, when we learned about the Fallen Riders group,” Johnson said. “After that group dissolved a few years back, we formed our own 501© nonprofit group to help the families of fallen riders.”

Johnson said the sole purpose of establishing the Fallen Riders Foundation Western Pennsylvania Chapter is to help the families of riders who are injured or killed while on their bike.

“We don’t care if you are a club member or an independent. If you go down, and your family needs help, that where we come in,” Johnson said.

They help with funeral expenses, medical transportation costs, or even assistance to pay an outstanding bill. They opened a food pantry and will help with household chores such as mowing grass, cleaning, and laundry, whatever is needed.

“We are people who ride, who saw a real need in our rather extended family of the wind, and did what it takes to take action about the situation,” Johnson said.

The foundation is totally dependent on donations from individuals for what it does. To make a donation to the Fallen Riders Foundation, submit contributions to 171 Briar Lane, Derry, PA 15717. For more information, call 724-672-0134.

“Sometimes we partner with other groups to raise the money we need for the foundation. We organize poker runs and basket raffles,” Johnson said. “We concentrate on building our funds up during the winter months when we cannot get out and ride.”

Membership in the Ridgeview Riderz is open to anyone that is 18 years of age or older, any race, creed, or sex and has a valid motorcycle license, or a motorcycle permit (limited participation), as well as proof of liability insurance. Members must own and ride a motorcycle. A spouse, or any other person, can also become a member if they ride as a passenger.

Go to Ridgeview Riderz Facebook page for more information.

Pennsylvania sees improving fiscal condition, report finds

Pennsylvania’s revenue growth was slightly above average, and the state has improved its overall financial stability by increasing the size of its rainy day fund, a new report revealed.

Pennsylvania, like Illinois, New York and Texas, experienced slower revenue growth in fiscal 2019 after rapid growth a year earlier, which lowered the aggregate growth rate, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO).

“Pennsylvania’s spending and revenue figures reported in the survey for FY2019 and FY2020 indicate stable growth somewhat more modest than national averages,” said Kathryn Vesey White, NASBO’s director of budget process studies.

In February, Gov. Tom Wolf introduced a $34.1 billion general fund spending plan, a 2.79 percent increase from a year earlier. State lawmakers subsequently passed a general fund budget of slightly less than $34 billion, an increase of 1.8 percent over the previous year’s budget.

“Fiscal conditions continue to vary by state due to differing demographic trends, regional economic performance, revenue structures and other factors,” White said. “Like the vast majority of states, Pennsylvania saw its general fund revenues come in ahead of budget projections in FY 2019, as reported in the survey.

“Pennsylvania does have a rainy day fund, known as the Budget Stabilization Reserve Fund,” White added. “Like many states, Pennsylvania depleted its rainy day fund during the Great Recession. However, after achieving greater fiscal stability recently, Pennsylvania took action this year to make a $317 million deposit into the commonwealth’s rainy day fund, bringing the balance in FY 2020 to $340 million.”

Earlier this year, Republican leaders in the state legislature touted their conservative fiscal policies for helping increase the state’s revenues.

Pennsylvania was one of six states that reported on changes to their budget processes or authorities in the 2020 fiscal year. The Keystone State now develops performance-based budget plans for each agency.

Under the budget, most state employees received a 3 percent salary increase effective in July. The state is also giving a 2.25 percent step increase in April 2020 for those employed by the commonwealth as of April 2019.

On the tax front, an additional 2 percent state tax on casino table games was extended until Aug. 1, 2021. Also, the state, as of Dec. 13, eliminated the inheritance tax for property transferred to a child 21 years old or younger.

In another tax move, starting July 19, vendors who do not have a physical presence in Pennsylvania but whose sales attributed to the state exceed $100,000 must register to collect and remit state sales tax.

Separately, Truth in Accounting gave Pennsylvania score of 85 (B) for financial transparency, and overall, the Keystone State ranked No. 16.

More recently, an “underlying structural imbalance” in Pennsylvania’s budget could have long-lasting ramifications for the state, the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) said in a recent report. The state could experience an “imbalance” of $409 million in the current fiscal year, a shortcoming that could increase to more than $1.3 billion in 2022-23.

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Annual Blairsville Polar Bear Plunge set for Jan. 1

Participants in the ninth annual Polar Bear Plunge, sponsored by the Blairsville Parks and Recreation Board, will brave the Conemaugh River at noon on New Year’s Day at the Blairsville Area Veterans Memorial Bridge Boat Launch.

When the Polar Bear Plunge first began it was not too organized. It was initiated by a group of guys who took it upon themselves to make a tradition for them that they would go down to the river every January first and jump in.

“It is a fun event for crazies,” said Brock Harsh, director of Blairsville Parks and Recreation. “It is a great way for us to be able to give back the community.”

Harsh said the group actually called themselves the “Original Crazies.” The man who started it was on the recreation board. Through the years, the board decided it might be a good way to raise money for the community and put the money to good use.

They focus the donations from this fundraiser on a local family who has experienced recent hardships or tragedy within the past year.

“All proceeds this year will go to an amazing little girl, Rylee Hughes. She sustained multiple burns after falling into a campfire,” said Harsh. “Rylee has and will be undergoing multiple treatments and surgeries for these injuries.”

Harsh said Rylee will take some of the funds and use them to help purchase items for the hospital that will help and assist others who have suffered similar injuries.

“Rylee is truly a selfless person, and with your help, we can help her and others on their road to recovery,” Harsh said. “I have heard wonderful stories of how she helps the other children her age down at the burn unit get through the long process of healing. She has a very big heart.”

For the past two years, the proceeds have gone to the Teddy Bear Fund Drive of Indiana County and Indiana Regional Medical Center. They provide funds to local underprivileged children who are in dire need of medical care. It benefits the Pediatrics Unit at Indiana Regional Medical Center and the Free Care Fund at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Last year, 80 people participated and over the past two years the event raised more than $3,000.

Harsh said some of the participants solicit sponsors to donate money to have them jump in. Local businesses organize a group of employees to make the plunge. They even wear matching shirts. Some even wear costumes to liven up the experience.

“We had a guy dressed as the Pope one year and even Santa Claus,” Harsh said. “People like to have a little fun with it too. It’s a great thing to come out and donate and have some fun and watch people freeze.”

Some years the river is not very cooperative for the Polar Bear Plunge but that does not stop the event from going on.

“Last year the flowing of the river was too quick. So, the fire department brought out a huge trough. It was filled with river water and the people were able to jump in and do it that way. We were still able to have the event.”

In the previous year, the event was postponed three times due to ice buildup on the river.

Harsh said he hopes to do a live Facebook stream of the event so people can watch it online.

“We hope that will encourage more people to participate so they can be on Facebook,” Harsh said.

The New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge is just one of the many holiday events Harsh volunteers his time to help the community. He hopes his actions and those of the other community volunteers will encourage others to step up and help too.

“I am born and raised in Blairsville. Dad’s been a big part of the community in the rec department and the school district. This is our home,” Harsh said.

Harsh said he is part of the next generation that is coming through that needs to carry on these types of events and fundraising activities.

“If we don’t, we won’ have them,” Harsh said. “It would be sad to see my kids and the youth of the community not have these holiday experiences and memories like we did when we were younger. If this is what I can do to help the community make memories then this is what I will do.”

The registration fee to participate in the plunge this year is $20. Registration forms are available at the Blairsville Community Recreation Center.

Those wishing to make a donation only, may drop it off at the center or bring it on the day of the event. Make checks payable to Friends of Blairsville Parks and Recreation Foundation and send to 101 East North Lane, Blairsville, PA 15717.