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38 Years as MVP

Sports fans are fiercely loyal and prejudice towards the teams of their liking. Only one team can be crowned the champion of their particular sport. Only one player in a league is selected as the MVP. Only very few players earn recognition as All-Stars during a given year. But the realities of these scenarios don’t stop fans from arguing ‘that their team is the best’ or ‘their player deserved a better fate.’

During the on-going NBA playoffs crowd chants of “MVP, MVP” were heard loud and clear for LeBron James in Cleveland, James Harden in Houston, and Kevin Durant in Golden State. Yankee fans touted Aaron Judge for last year’s American League Most Valuable Player Award while Houston partisans did the same for eventual winner Jose Altuve. New England fans smiled as ever-present QB Tom Brady was again named NFL MVP, while fans in other cities strongly supported their own favorite candidates. But one thing is for sure — they can’t all be right!

All those participants in team sports begin their respective seasons wanting to win as many games as possible to gain ‘home field advantage’ for the playoffs and do everything they can to make it happen. Indeed, sometimes having that most decisive game played on one’s ‘home turf’ proves to be the deciding factor. Sometimes the MVP emerges as the shining star of a playoff run. Other times players of lesser renowned step forward and lead the way.

As MVPs’ talents wane, the cycle of sports produces new players, fans gain new favorites, and the teams play on into a new era. While it may have happened somewhere along sports history’s long recorded tales, I am not aware of any locale that lost their franchise because an MVP was lost.

All those various sports circumstances came to mind recently with the news that St. Anthony’s Center at 125 East Willow Street announced its doors would close on June 1. On that day the Center held a final meal at noon with local nuns on hand to pay their respects to an undeniable people’s champion and undisputed Most Valuable Provider for the past 38 years, Sister Henry Lambert who left for her final road trip on May 4.

If St. Anthony’s Center were a sports stadium, the wrecking ball would have done its deed a long time ago. As an edifice, it wasn’t much to look at, but the team Sister Henry had developed on the inside provided a most definite ‘home field advantage’ for those with no place to turn, nothing to eat, and medical issues that needed addressed. And truly, Frank Sinatra had nothing on her when it came to doing things ‘my way.’ Let there be no mistake; Sister Henry was in charge.

Her passing at age 82 ended a remarkable run of selfless service to others. Upon coming to Williamsport, she managed the kitchen at Divine Providence Hospital in 1972 and then became the coordinator for Meals on Wheels operating from the hospital in 1975. Realizing that Meals on Wheels couldn’t reach all those in need of daily nourishment, she founded St. Anthony’s Center in 1980. Every day the non-descript Willow Street location fed people first and asked questions later.

Like some of you, I joined other volunteers serving meals or providing foodstuffs to Sister Henry’s mission of love over the years. While our personal meetings were few one specific occurrence remains vivid in my mind.

During the earlier part of my professional career with the Lycoming County United Way, our organization was providing funding to St. Anthony’s Center. For several years, donor designations earmarked for St. Anthony’s had been on the rise and had reached a point where we wanted to consider making St. Anthony’s one of our Program Partners. We scheduled a meeting with Sister Henry to discuss the subject.

With United Way, Program Partner status brings with it additional funding, but it also requires a much more detailed paper trail. Following a comprehensive explanation of the proposal, we were making we were somewhat taken back by Sister Henry’s response. She turned down the funding opportunity and the accompanying paperwork by simply stating, “God will provide.”

Sadly St. Anthony’s Center ran out of options when its lineup card was devoid of Sister Henry’s presence. Sports are full of trilogies where less talented teams remain competitive via effective leadership. The local human service network doesn’t name an MVP, but no one deserves that permanent identification more than Sister Henry.

With one team now ‘out of the league’ it will now be incumbent upon the combined efforts of many others to provide those very basic human needs that Sister Henry was so instrumental in conveying from the ‘home field advantage’ of those Willow Street grounds.

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