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The Spark


When people come together and talk about really interesting topics, great questions spark better understanding and opportunities for new ideas to form. On The Spark from WITF, hosts Scott LaMar and Aniya Faulcon start the conversations about what’s happening in the world and at home. Share your ideas at


Chambersburg, PA






When people come together and talk about really interesting topics, great questions spark better understanding and opportunities for new ideas to form. On The Spark from WITF, hosts Scott LaMar and Aniya Faulcon start the conversations about what’s happening in the world and at home. Share your ideas at




Fmr. Secretary of State Kathy Bookvar discusses elections security with new business venture: Athena Strategies

Kathy Boockvar gained national attention during the 2020 United States presidential election as Pennsylvania became a focal point of scrutiny and legal challenges. Boockvar's work and decisions were central to the election process in the Pennsylvania. She is currently serving as the President of Athena Strategies LLC, which has emerged as a key figure in fortifying election security and promoting democratic values in the United States. In her role at Athena Strategies, Boockvar collaborates with a diverse range of organizations, government officials, and academic institutions. Her focus is on strengthening election security measures, fostering a deeper understanding of the electoral process, and nurturing civil discourse surrounding elections. Boockvar's wealth of experience includes her tenure as the Pennsylvania Secretary of State, where she served as the chief election official. In this role, she led the Department of State in implementing measures to ensure secure and resilient elections. Her commitment extended beyond elections, encompassing initiatives to safeguard public health and safety through professional licensure, as well as supporting economic development efforts. With a comprehensive background in election administration, Boockvar brings a nuanced perspective to the broader discourse on democracy and electoral processes. Her work at Athena Strategies reflects a dedication to building robust systems that uphold the integrity of elections, fostering civic engagement, and contributing to the overall well-being of democratic institutions in the United States. Support WITF: See for privacy information.


Rachael K. Williams and her SOAL team continue to revitalize Lincoln Cemetery after decades of neglect

In a poignant and transformative journey, Rachael K. Williams embarked on a mission to restore the historic Lincoln Cemetery in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the final resting place of over 107 Black Civil War Veterans, a Revolutionary War Veteran, a Mexican War Veteran, and numerous influential figures from Harrisburg's Black community. Williams, tracing the footsteps of her formerly enslaved ancestors who sought refuge in Harrisburg during the Civil War, discovered the cemetery in a state of disrepair, with sinking and broken grave markers and mounds of fresh dirt suggesting neglect. Upon returning to Buffalo, New York, Williams encountered legal barriers, as Pennsylvania lacked effective laws protecting cemeteries. Undeterred, she founded SOAL: Saving Our Ancestors' Legacy in June 2021. This descendant-led nonprofit aims to restore Lincoln Cemetery through volunteer-based conservation and preservation efforts, public history research, and digital humanities initiatives. Lincoln Cemetery, established in 1877, holds the legacies of Harrisburg's early Black leaders, including Underground Railroad activists, politicians, educators, and civil rights pioneers. SOAL's formation marks a crucial step in honoring and preserving this vital piece of African American history, ensuring that the contributions and stories of those buried in Lincoln Cemetery endure for future generations. Williams' commitment reflects a powerful dedication to rectifying historical neglect and ensuring the lasting legacy of those who shaped Harrisburg's vibrant Black community. Support WITF: See for privacy information.


How to keep live Christmas trees, poinsettias and Christmas Cactus healthy

It’s almost December and the plants many people are thinking about are red and green – Christmas trees and poinsettias. Horticulturist Erica Jo Shaffer was on The Spark Tuesday and said watering a real tree is very important,"It usually takes two or three days for the tree to start drinking and then suddenly it really starts drinking. So you would get your tree, you would shake it, make sure a lot of needles aren't going off, whatever stand you've got. And then it should be in water within an hour or two after they put a fresh cut on. They should take off about an inch and then it's going to be ready to drink. But then you need to get it in water. Even if you're not ready to set it up, then stick it in a bucket of water so that that cut is in water. And then follow it every couple of days or every day (with water)." What if a family opts for a potted Christmas tree,"Potted Christmas trees are a good idea, especially for people who don't want to cut one and they don't want artificial. And if you've got the space to plant it afterwards, the trick on that is they are right now going into dormancy and all the plants are. So, if you buy a potted tree and then bring it into your 70 degree house for three weeks or a month, it's going to wake it back up. And then you're going to throw it out in 20 degree temperatures and that's most likely going to kill it. You're going to want to bring it in only for 3 to 5 days. You don't even water it before you brought it in and then you don't water it again until you take it out. It's a good idea to have the hole dug already because that way if the grounds frozen and your hole is already dug, you could put the the soil that you took out of the hole and take it in the garage so it's not frozen. Make sure it's at the right depth. A lot of times the tree is too deep in the root ball too. The trunk stops, the roots start. That needs to be ground level." Shaffer said stores and holiday customers make mistakes when it comes to poinsettias, "They're tropical plants so don't put your poinsettia near your front door that every time you open (the door) and it gets a cold blast." Poinsettia pots are often wrapped in foil and Shaffer said that's not good for them,"When you water it, that water gets trapped in, and they'll immediately start to root rot. And then they start wilting because they can't drink water. And then you give them more water. And totally drown them. So that would be another quick way to kill your poinsettia." . Support WITF: See for privacy information.


Historic Harrisburg celebrates 50 years of historic preservation

Fifty-years-ago, preserving history usually meant protecting historic sites where the big moments in history occurred. But in the 1970s – a new movement took hold and gained momentum -- historic preservation. It meant preserving or remembering what made a place special – like its buildings, landscapes or objects. The Historic Harrisburg Association was founded in 1973 to promote historic preservation, urban revitalization, and smart growth. Historic Harrisburg’s Executive Director David Morrison was with us on The Spark Monday, who said attitudes toward historic preservation have changed over the past five decades,"I think certainly 50 years ago when the preservation movement was really getting underway nationally and here in Harrisburg, a lot of people saw preservation as sort of an impediment to progress. And as time went on, and partly through the messaging that Historic Harrisburg has done, people have begun to see it as a positive force. And really a lot of the great things that have happened in Harrisburg have been through historic preservation and some of the things that we've been encouraging, whether it's by large developers or projects initiated by the city itself or individual homeowners, all of that has a positive impact." Morrison was asked what have been a few of Historic Harrisburg's most tangible successes,"The Tracy Mansion, which later was Char's restaurant, Char Magaro, that was slated to be demolished, as well as Shipoke (after the 1972 Agnes flood). Several other front street mansions where were slated for demolition and historic Harrisburg, my predecessors really fought back and won those battles one way or another." Morrison pointed to restoration of the Brick Market House at the Broad Street Market that was destroyed by fire earlier this year and possible other uses for William Penn high School as preservation priorities. Support WITF: See for privacy information.


Poll show Pennsylvanians delay treatments because of healthcare costs; Have medical debt

The two biggest expenses most Americans have traditionally faced is a mortgage or rent and a vehicle. It looks like the cost of healthcare can added to the list of largest debts for many. Results of a statewide poll released last week finds 57% of Pennsylvanians say they struggle with affording medial care and half are delaying or avoiding medical care due to its cost. Other results of the poll include: Joining us on The Spark Monday were Antoinette Kraus, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network and Laura Smith of Allegheny County, who survived cancer and the removal of a tumor but faced medical bills she couldn't afford afterwards. Support WITF: See for privacy information.


What questions do Pennsylvania motorists have about rules of the road?

More Americans travel over the Thanksgiving weekend than any other period of the year. They’ll be going to family gatherings for the holiday, college students are returning home over break, and in Pennsylvania, many deer hunters are heading to camp. Most of the travelers will be driving. Traffic is already heavier on some highways than usual. There’s no doubt that some of us will asked ourselves whether we’re following the laws or protocols of the road. More likely though, we’ll be critical of another driver. On The Spark, we take this timely opportunity to talk about rules of the road – answering questions about what’s safe, what’s legal, what’s not and how to be better drivers. Joining us on the program Wednesday were Lt. Adam Reed, Director of the Communications Office for the Pennsylvania State Police and Fritzi Schreffler, Safety Press Officer with District 8 Penndot. Schreffler said that motorists should be on the lookout for deer this weekend and this time of year overall,"I think people forget it's rutting season. They're (the deer) all looking for a mate right now. So they're not paying attention or whether they're running across the road. But also hunting season is upon us. The farmers are clearing out their fields, and that's the area where they like to hang out. And the more construction, the more development that we have. They're losing their habitat." State Farm Insurance has these tips for avoiding a collision with a deer: Lt. Reed said the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest party nights of the year and as a result, stopping drunk driving is a priority,"Thanksgiving weekend, really through the holidays, but specifically, Thanksgiving weekend is a very DUI focused weekend for PSP. In addition to enforcing and being present with the increased traffic volumes. Our troopers are also going to have special details out there, checkpoints out there on the lookout specifically for impaired drivers." Support WITF: See for privacy information.


Would JFK have gone to Dallas if he went to Gettysburg in 1963?

November 22nd, 1963 – 60 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. It was one of the defining moments of the 20th century. During that week in November, 1963, there was an observance of another seminal moment in American history – the 100th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. President Kennedy was invited to speak in Gettysburg, but declined and went to Dallas later in the week. On The Spark Wednesday we talked about that week in 1963 in Gettysburg, documents that survive and Kennedy and Gettysburg. Appearing on the program, Jill Ogline Titus, Associate Director of the Civil War Institute, Co-Coordinator of Public History Minor at Gettysburg College and author of the book Gettysburg 1963 Civil Rights, Cold War Politics, and Historical Memory in America's Most Famous Small Town, said Kennedy could have chosen to attend both the commemoration of the Gettysburg Address and gone to Dallas as well,"The Gettysburg Centennial Commission did invite Kennedy to come for the anniversary and the the anniversary commemoration wasn't just the (November) 19th. The events really spanned from the 17th through the 19th. There were a few more things on the 20th, and the invitation to Kennedy was to speak on the 19th itself. But there were a number of other activities that the Commission would have loved to have him involved in if he had been here for longer than just the 19th. That it's definitely true that people involved with the commemoration, as soon as word of the assassination reached them, immediately drew the conclusion that if Kennedy had come, his life would have been saved. They wrote about that very extensively. You know, if President Kennedy had only accepted our invitation, he'd still be alive and the country would have been spared this this horrible tragedy. But I think the documentation shows us that it's not quite that much of a black and white issue." Titus indicated that Kennedy went to Texas because there was a political feud amongst Democrats on the state level and Kennedy wanted to shore up support in an important state in the 1964 election. Andrew Dalton, Executive Director of the Adams County Historical Society said on The Spark that documents in the Historical Society's archives include plans for President Kennedy if he came to Gettysburg, but he added those plans included someone who had a significant role after the president was killed,"It's actually just very kind of hastily put together notes from a meeting that was held, sort of a memo that was created based on this meeting held on September 5th, 1963, between Louis Simon, who was the secretary of the planning committee here in Gettysburg, and Malcolm Kilduff, who was the assistant press secretary. I just wanted to point out, I didn't know this until a few hours ago, but Malcolm Kilduff ended up going to Dallas with Kennedy a few days after and was actually the acting press secretary there with Kennedy. He was in, I think the third car of the motorcade that went to the hospital. He was actually the man who informed Lyndon Johnson that Kennedy had died. He gave the statement in front of TV cameras to the press and then actually recorded the oath of office on the plane when Johnson was sworn in. So this guy, just a few days later, is right there on the front lines of what was going on in Dallas. But fast rewind 78 days and you have this meeting in the press office at the White House between the folks in Gettysburg and Kilduff." The document Dalton referred to (see below) included logistical questions about Kennedy's time in Gettysburg and the activities surrounding the 100th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. One question from the White House was whether Kennedy would ride in a car through the streets of Gettysburg to the National Cemetery, where Kennedy would speak, or if there was a place for a helicopter to land closer to the cemetery. Dalton speculated there...


Robin Spielberg discusses her 24th studio album

Renowned pianist Robin Spielberg has marked a milestone in her illustrious career with the release of her 24th album, "By Way of The Wind." Breaking away from her previous solo piano and piano/ensemble compositions, this latest offering presents a collection of Spielberg's original works fully orchestrated for a complete symphony and piano and string orchestra. The album represents a departure from her established repertoire and showcases her versatility in a fully orchestrated context. A remarkable aspect of "By Way of The Wind" lies in its unique recording process, as Spielberg collaborated with the Budapest Scoring Orchestra remotely over Zoom. Notably recognized for their work on the score of the acclaimed film "Parasite" and various other projects, the Budapest Scoring Orchestra contributed to the distinctive sound and texture of Spielberg's latest release. The album not only demonstrates Spielberg's artistic evolution but also reflects the adaptability of musicians and orchestras to virtual collaborations. "By Way of The Wind" stands as a testament to Spielberg's enduring creativity and ability to push the boundaries of her musical expression, captivating audiences with a symphonic journey that adds a new dimension to her extensive discography. Support WITF: See for privacy information.


Book explores how children grieve.

Some six million children in the U.S. will experience the death of a parent or sibling by the age of 18. Their grief is personal and not widely understood by those around them. When Natasha Daniel’s healthy 42-year-old husband suddenly died of a blood clot, she and her three children were thrown into the darkness of grief. Her children experienced difficulty eating, sleeping, and focusing. People treated them differently and they lost some friends. Inspired by conversations with her own grieving children, child therapist Natasha Daniels wrote The Grief Rock: A Book to Understand Grief and Love. Natasha Daniel was on The Spark Tuesday, who described what she and her children went through when her husband and their father died suddenly,"It really was like a boulder came and cracked our foundation. I never realized that, physiologically, grief really impacts your body and brain. And so it's like everything shuts down. I couldn't really communicate. I really couldn't speak, I couldn't read, I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. My kids were having their mini versions of this. You just feel like you kind of woke up and everything looks the same. But it's all in a foreign language." Daniel said her three kids grieved differently,"My youngest -- she sobbed. It was so hard to adjust. Hold that space for her because I feel like I was like literally in shock. And so, just her sobbing was exhausting. And my son was quiet, like, everything was fine, like he didn't want to rock the boat. Everything's fine. And my older daughter became very parental very quickly. At 18, she kind of just swooped in and was very concerned about me. And I had to kind of let her know that she doesn't need to be a parent." What does she want parents of grieving kids to know? "This is what grief can feel like, and it's normal. It's going to feel horrible, but it's normal and you're not alone. So I think the first step is validating that and letting them know what the experience of grief may feel like for them." Support WITF: See for privacy information.


What books would make great holiday gifts this year?

Tis the season with the holidays right around the corner. What better way to show your loved ones you care by giving them a great book to read. The Spark is hosting our annual book-as-gifts guide. Books come in all shapes and sizes with a vast array of genres including non-fiction, fiction, mystery, romance, kids books and much more. Quite frankly, there is a book for anyone to be happy with! On Monday’s The Spark, we discussed how books make great holiday gifts with our book experts and heard their recommendations for books to read or give. Joining us Monday were Catherine Lawrence, co-owner of the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Travis Kurowski, (Ph.D.) an assistant professor of creative writing at York College of Pennsylvania, and Carolyn Blatchley, MLIS, Executive Director of Cumberland County Library System. Support WITF: See for privacy information.


The Spark Weekly 11.19.2023

Highlights from last week's shows! Support WITF: See for privacy information.


ExtraGive 2023

Marquis Lupton and Scott LaMar speak with some of the organizations involved with ExtraGive 2023 live at LNP/Lancaster Online Lancaster office. Support WITF: See for privacy information.


Comedian Allan Massenburg discusses his upcoming comedy album

#WeGotAction Alan Massenburg, the multifaceted comedian, writer, and actor hailing from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has carved a distinctive niche in the entertainment industry. Notably, he earned recognition as a finalist in the American Black Film Festival stand-up competition, an accolade presented by HBO, showcasing his comedic talents on a prestigious platform. Massenburg's humor found a broader audience as he appeared in the "Dad Joke" segment on the Drew Barrymore Show, adding a touch of his comedic flair to the national stage. The comedian further solidified his presence by gracing the legendary Apollo Theater as a featured performer, leaving an indelible mark on one of the world's most iconic venues. Additionally, Massenburg brought his comedic charm to Sirius XM's "Sway in the Morning Show," contributing to his growing reputation in the industry. Despite expressing a "hate/hate relationship" with TikTok, Massenburg has defied the odds, with his social media content amassing over 10 million views online. This digital success underscores his ability to connect with audiences across platforms, showcasing the comedian's versatility and resilience in navigating the ever-evolving landscape of entertainment. As Massenburg continues to captivate audiences with his humor and talent, his journey from Philadelphia to the global stage reflects a promising trajectory in the world of comedy and entertainment. Support WITF: See for privacy information.


Consumer confidence is flat. What does it mean for holiday shopping?

Black Friday is a week from tomorrow to unofficially open the holiday shopping season. Then there’s Cyber Monday for online shopping too. The holiday shopping season is make or break time for many retailers who see it as the best chance their bottom lines get into the “black.” The nation’s economy has not followed traditional patterns since the COIVID pandemic. For the most part, consumers have been flush with cash and have continued to spend. That’s even though overall inflation increased prices substantially for some products. The latest government report indicates inflation has leveled off from last year, but it still is the number one complaint and concern for consumers. So, what will the holiday shopping season look like? We’re joined on The Spark today by Dr. Matias Vernengo, Professor of Economics at Bucknell University. Support WITF: See for privacy information.


Winnie Okello talks environmental and social justice.

Winnie Okello is a dedicated advocate for environmental justice, a principle rooted in the belief that every individual, regardless of their background, deserves access to a clean, safe, and healthy environment. This philosophy asserts that the right to environmental well-being should be universal and not contingent upon factors such as race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. At the core of environmental justice is the commitment to rectify historical and systemic injustices that have disproportionately burdened marginalized communities with environmental hazards. One specific facet of this pervasive issue is environmental racism, an area where Winnie Okello has been actively involved. Environmental racism highlights the stark disparities in exposure to environmental risks faced by communities of color in comparison to predominantly white communities. This inequality manifests through a higher concentration of polluting industries, hazardous waste sites, and environmental threats in neighborhoods inhabited by people of color. These disparities are not random but are rooted in longstanding policies and practices that perpetuate systemic discrimination. Addressing environmental justice and racism demands proactive efforts to dismantle entrenched inequities. Winnie Okello has been a proponent of empowering affected communities by raising awareness, advocating for policy changes, and promoting inclusive decision-making processes. Her work underscores the importance of ensuring that the benefits of a healthier environment are shared equitably among all citizens. The discriminatory allocation of environmental harms not only poses immediate health risks but also exacerbates broader social and economic inequalities. Winnie Okello recognizes that achieving environmental justice requires a multifaceted approach that engages communities, challenges discriminatory policies, and promotes sustainable practices. By championing these efforts, she contributes to a crucial step forward in creating a more just and sustainable future for everyone, regardless of their background or where they live. Winnie Okello's commitment to environmental justice is a beacon for positive change, emphasizing the interconnectedness of social justice, environmental well-being, and the collective pursuit of a fair and equitable society. Support WITF: See for privacy information.


Gas-powered lawn equipment is major polluter says environmental group

This past weekend featured crisp, fall weather, including lots of sunshine yesterday. Many homeowners across Pennsylvania took advantage of the weather for yard work. It wasn’t unusual to hear lawn mowers, weed whackers, leaf blowers or even chain saws droning. Ironically, while cleaning up a yard, those machines may have polluting the air at the same time. That’s according to a report from the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center that says gas powered lawn equipment emits 18,000 tons of pollution. With us on The Spark Monday were Ellie Kerns, Climate Change Associate, PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center and Gerhart Arndt, owner of Sustainable Lawn Care Services. Support WITF: See for privacy information.


Pa.'s emergency rooms are overcrowded says doctors' group

Emergency rooms in Pennsylvania hospitals are overcrowded according to the Pennsylvania Medical Society – a statewide organization representing doctors. That’s even though there are more urgent care facilities, and more people have health insurance than a decade ago. The Pennsylvania Medical Society says there are several causes for the overcrowding and is calling on Gov. Shapiro to step in to address the issue. Joining us on The Spark Monday to talk about ER overcrowding was Dr. Kristen Sandel, President-elect of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. Support WITF: See for privacy information.


The Spark Weekly 11/12/2023

Highlights from this past week's shows! Support WITF: See for privacy information.


WITF Music's Joe Ulrich speaks with Tim Alexander of Mansion Concerts

WITF Music's Joe Ulrich has been keeping us updated on the Mansion Concerts, a concert series in Harrisburg that aims to give music-lovers a stellar listening experience. Tim Alexander runs Mansion Concerts, a non-profit that aims to bring world-class musicians to Harrisburg for an intimate and inspiring performance for both the audience and the musician. Tim joins us along with his next artist, guitarist Peppino D'Agostino. Support WITF: See for privacy information.


A discussion about Hidden Brain 2.0 with Shankar Vedantam

In response to the widespread struggles faced by many, November's Hidden Brain series, "Healing 2.0," delves into transformative narratives. Recognizing concerns from global turmoil to pandemic-induced anxiety, the series focuses on coping with traumas, especially poignant during the often stressful holiday season. Through radio and podcasts, it aims to unravel the impact of personal stories, explore the intricacies of loss, challenge conventional views on grief, and question the adage "what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger." The series concludes with a thought-provoking discussion on the art of crafting meaningful apologies, offering a holistic exploration of healing in various aspects of life. By scrutinizing our internal narratives and societal norms, Hidden Brain seeks to provide valuable insights and strategies to navigate the complexities of mental health and well-being during challenging times. Support WITF: See for privacy information.