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This Week’s LION: Ron James and Children/Youth Services

One of the strengths of Lycoming County government agencies is that they take the time to recognize those who excel in their work. A rather unusual recognition ceremony took place on June 29th in Courtroom #1 at the Lycoming County Courthouse by the five Court of Common Pleas judges. They gathered the supervisors and caseworkers from the Lycoming County Children and Youth Services (C/Y) to recognize their commitment, dedication, and expertise in their task of ensuring the health, safety, welfare, and social growth of children and youth in Lycoming County.

Judge Joy McCoy has served as administrative judge for C/Y cases for the past eleven years and was the first to share her admiration for the department that is recognized as one of the best in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (By the way, this was not hyperbole. A representative from Harrisburg was in attendance and also affirmed this fact stating, “you guys are awesome.”).

All five of the judges spoke and gave superlatives after superlatives of the incredible work that is required to ensure that children are being protected and, at the same time, every effort made to keep families intact. The challenge that C/Y faces is not just the legal constraints and other difficulties, as specialized services supervisor Heather Wood noted, but finding foster parents or what is now termed ‘resource parents’ for children that need to be placed.

And thus, the recognition ceremony was not just for the incredibly dedicated supervisors and caseworkers who have made their department one of the best in the state, but also for one particular individual who has stood out for being a champion for foster children — Ron James.

For the past three decades, Ron and his wife Brenda have taken in some 50 (!) teenage boys to their home. And these were often those that nobody else would want to take.

But Ron James is not a typical resource parent. His life has gone from dope to hope.

While other kids his age were joining Little League, Ron was joining a North Philadelphia gang. He gained a particular reputation for violence, specializing in homemade guns, knives, and brass knuckles. He was arrested for the first time at the age of 9, placed in jail at 16, and by all appearances, was heading for a long life of crime. On top of this, he was also a serious heroin addict. Yet, even with all this, Ron genuinely cared about his community and sensed that this was the only way he could protect his home turf. He became a member of the Black Panthers because they seemed to be the only ones who were addressing poverty and providing a surrogate family for the fatherless kids. These concerns brought him into the political circles in Philadelphia under Mayor Rizzo and later Mayor Goode, seeking to address the burning social issues of the city.

But Ron realized that to kick his drug habit, he needed to get away from Philadelphia, and that is what brought him to Williamsport in the late 1980s.

When he did get clean, he devoted his life to sharing his experience with gangs and drug problems to local leadership. Williamsport mayors Bloom, Preziosi, and Rafferty gave Ron a listening ear, but mayor Steve Cappelli realized he had a special advisor in Ron James. Cappelli formed an advisory committee that eventually evolved into the Williamsport/Lycoming County Crime Commission, formed in 1996 with Ron as the founder.

This is why Ron has had such an influence with boys in trouble. He knows that ‘tough love’ makes a difference. As Matt Salvatori, administrator of Children and Youth Services, commented at the ceremony, “Ron kept them out of residential facilities and helped them become successful young men. He was a real cornerstone for 25 years.”

Ron was not averse to telling the judges a thing or two as well. Judge Lovecchio noted that he had his share of encounters with Ron but that he did teach him a few things through those encounters. Ron James can teach us all that everyone can do something.

Children and Youth are always looking for resource parents willing to take in children that need temporary placement. Those who cannot do so can help in other ways, like Dwell Orphan Care in Williamsport, which exists to support foster and adoptive families. Ron and Brenda James have served well for over twenty-five years and deserve to step down. It is time for others to step up. Learn more at and

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  • William Triumph
    July 15, 2021, 11:09 am

    As always, great writing Larry Stout. I have met Mr. James and he informed me of the gifts of grace our community is capable of, as testament he described his personal experience escaping despair and certain death that was the life he left behind in Philadelphia. The "step up" reference is the challenge our community must address. Faith Leaders, Political Leaders, Business Leaders and Community Leaders and all who are invested our lives and livelihoods here must "step up".