‘Millvale Loves Jenny Day’ recognizes resident’s tireless commitment to her community
Tuesday, November 19, 2019 | 12:01 AM
Millvale loves Jenny Jo Mendak so much that the borough’s residents and visitors adorned pins Sept. 27 declaring their adoration for the 34-year-old.
Since June, she has volunteered to organize monthly youth dances at the Millvale Community Center. Attendance reached 75 at the inaugural “school’s out for summer” bash. Mendak’s favorite dance had a galaxy theme — complete with a giant UFO, moon platform, bubble machines and foil hat and “Moonville” flag craft stations – in honor of the moon landing’s 50th anniversary. If children didn’t have costumes of their own, they could choose some to keep from a costume closet at the Halloween party.
“That way, everyone got to be a part of the costume contest,” Mendak, a piercing artist at Millvale-based Three Rivers Tattoo, said.
The dance also featured a pumpkin patch because Mendak remembers how difficult it was when she moved to Millvale at 19 from Burgettstown and lacked the transportation to access holiday decorations.
She doesn’t charge an admission fee for the dances, thanks to community donations for refreshments. Attendees may still donate if they choose to do so, though.
Admission is available in two shifts: Earlier for children ages 2 to 11, and later for those 12 through 18. Children need not reside in Millvale to attend.
Volunteers, who have their Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearances, chaperone the festivities and will walk children home if requested.
Mayor Brian Spoales refers to Mendak as “Awesome Jenny” and “thanks her for her generous gift of love and devotion to the children of Millvale.”
“Jenny identifies as a knight in shining armor allowing many here in Millvale to believe that there are still good people that will step up and give up their own time to make a difference. The dances alone have enabled the children of Millvale and surrounding areas to be seen and active in their community. Because of Jenny’s kindness to the children, the smiles of joy that radiate when they see her either at a dance, on the street or when they visit with her at the tattoo shop, speaks volumes to her personality and gentleness.”
Mendak said that she and friend Crystal Lehmeier devised the idea over breakfast while discussing possible activities for Millvale youth. Later that evening, Mendak further explored the idea with friend and Millvale Community Development Corp. secretary Melissa Mason. Mendak approached Millvale Council to request usage of the Community Center, which the borough operates, for the dances.
“I love when someone has the passion and initiative to get things done. Her generosity and commitment has been contagious. She has inspired businesses, residents and borough officials to donate money, food and even their own time to decorate or chaperone.
“Jenny really promotes that broader sense of community and I’m even seeing it trickle down to the youth. I’ve witnessed new friendships being made, teens volunteering to decorate and kids donating their own money to continue enjoying these events. … She’s gone above and beyond being just an event planner — she’s become a role model, an inspiration and a friend. Jenny is truly making differences in the community of Millvale,” Mason said.
Mendak used monetary donations from the first dances to take nearly 80 Millvale children and community members on the Gateway Clipper Fleet in September. It was the first time many of the youth had traveled on the sightseeing cruise.
The day prior, the borough celebrated “Millvale Loves Jenny Day,” with people donating $1 or more to purchase pins from Millvale’s First National Bank proclaiming their affection for her, with proceeds supporting the boat ride and future events.
The entire operation was a secret. A friend sent Mendak a message saying that he was wearing something “cool to work” that day.
“I said, ‘You always dress cool to work.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ As I saw him, he had the button on. As I walked everywhere, everyone had the buttons on. I was like, ‘Oh, man, this is so sweet,” she said, of the fundraiser, raising more than $300.
Mendak reminds the kids when they benefit from donations so that they gain a sense of appreciation and “pay it forward” through activities like the street clean-up contest she hosted earlier this month. She treated the winner to a restaurant and museum visit.
“I feel like we get the ideas of what we want to grow up and become by having experiences, and I think because we kind of lack transportation in Millvale, I think our kids lack those experiences. So, I feel excited about wanting to give them experiences and wanting to give them that,” she said.
“I just try to tell my kids that I see greatness in all of you.”