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Reasons to smile: Luzerne County mom leads massive initiative to help put Pennsylvania in the national spotlight for America’s 250th birthday

Newswatch 16's Ryan Leckey introduces us to an area mom who’s helping to put Pennsylvania in the national spotlight in this Reasons to Smile segment.

LUZERNE COUNTY, Pa. — The event's name is a mouthful, Semiquincentennial, but it’s expected to be quite the celebration of America’s 250th birthday.

Although the actual event isn’t until 2026, one mom from Luzerne County is the one making sure our area and all of Pennsylvania are well represented.

She’s the focus of this Reasons to Smile segment.

If you’ve ever spent time in the political world in Luzerne County,  you may have heard the name, Cassandra Coleman.

At the time when she was sworn in as Mayor of Exeter back in the day at the age of 20; she was considered the youngest female mayor in the United States. It’s also how her political career began.

Now, the single mom has a whole new challenge ahead of her. One she’s making sure will help put our area and our state in the national spotlight.

When it comes to serving her community and our area, it’s truly in Cassandra Coleman’s blood.

"So being from Exeter, northeastern Pennsylvania always has my heart," said Coleman. "As a bittersweet thing, my grandfather, as a 30-year public servant here, used to always say we want to put northeastern Pennsylvania, Greater Pittston and specifically Exeter Borough on the map. And last month, when I presented to 50 States and territories, it said Exeter Borough, Luzerne County. And that was a really proud moment for me!”

That unforgettable presentation ties into the campaign Coleman is the executive director of; it’s called  "America 250 PA."

"It's a historic project that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania created a Commission to plan and coordinate all of the programs, projects and events around the 250th anniversary of the United States in 2026," added Coleman. "And Ryan, we did that actually in response to congressional legislation that was passed in 2016, designating five priority cities of celebration in the country, and one of those priority cities actually being Philadelphia. So Pennsylvania saw this as a truly unique opportunity to get out of the gates first and really lead the country on these efforts. "We're so excited because this was done in a bipartisan manner."

Although America’s 250th birthday isn’t until 2026, Coleman and her team are working hard now day in and day in to make sure all Pennsylvanians in the Commonwealth’s 67 counties are well represented.

"We've been reaching out to local communities, local mayors, council folks, township supervisors, county commissioners because we want them to truly control this narrative. We want to listen from them of what they find most important in their communities and utilize this statewide in America, all to uplift those stories and tell those stories and spotlight those stories on a national stage," explained Coleman.

"And Cassandra, hearing all of this and obviously the huge celebration is still years away. But to amp up all the excitement around it, where's the money coming from, and who pays for this? asked Ryan Leckey.

She said, "So honestly, this project is a true public-private partnership. We have had so many generous private businesses, individuals, organizations from across the Commonwealth step up very early, and the Commonwealth has provided us with some funding this year. But again, this is one of those opportunities to truly show that partnership between public money and private industry."

As America 250 PA continues to gain momentum, it’s expected to have a positive impact on Pennsylvania’s Tourism industry right now.

"Ryan, this is such a huge opportunity, and we acknowledge the potential this has to drive people to Pennsylvania, to shine a light on Pennsylvania in a way that we haven't done in many, many years. We've all talked about what this means to us as Pennsylvanians, what this means to Pennsylvania's role in the founding of this country, to what it means for the country," said Carrie Leport, Pennsylvania's Deputy Secretary Office of Marketing, Tourism, and Film. "But we in the tourism office are looking at this as an international opportunity. It is not just at our state borders or in the northeast of Pennsylvania of the country. This literally has international implications of what we're hoping to do to shine a light on Pennsylvania's role, helping to be a foundational part of the country. We have helped build this nation."

Former Governor Mark Schweiker, who’s also helping with the effort points out, our region of the state is a big part of not only the Pennsylvania story but also America’s.

"Whether it's present-day Ryan in 2022 to two decades gone by, northeastern Pennsylvania has provided just brilliant governmental leadership. And I'll be specific. I mean, Bob Casey, the 42nd governor of Pennsylvania, Bill Scranton, the 38th governor of Pennsylvania, the Scranton name, so to speak, the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden, a Scranton boy," said Pennsylvania's 44th Governor Mark Schweiker.

A leader and champion for our area who has held many titles during her career but the most important one is being called mom.

"What does your son think of mom doing all this?" Ryan asked Coleman. 

"Jimmy loves it. Anything red, white, and blue he wants," answered Coleman. "He's in first grade. I look to him and I'm like, what would he be interested in as we're starting to talk about and develop these things? And again, to have him here and to know that he'll be part of this historic project with me. It means the world!"

As American 250 PA continues to roll out, Cassandra has special plans to involve young students across the state.

Of course, her big goal right now is making sure every Pennsylvanian's voice is heard no matter their background.

So how can you chime in now? Click here to connect with America 250 PA. 

There you can submit ideas, follow the organization's social media, and really share why you’re Pennsylvania Proud.

Check out the full Zoom interview below.

For more feel-good stories, check out WNEP's Youtube page.

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