AK CARES, Grandpa Gang work to get Light Up Middletown ready

About 30 AK CARES volunteers recently teamed up with the 15-member Grandpa Gang to begin setting up some of the several dozen displays that are part of Light Up Middletown.

Lisa Jester, AK Steel’s corporate manager for communications and public relations, said while AK Steel employees have always given back to the community for decades, the AK CARES employee volunteer program continues to encourage employees to give back to the community year-round through a variety of volunteer efforts. Jester said this program operates at all of AK Steel facilities was started in 2016.

“Through the program, employees donate countless hours to local charitable efforts to help show that AK CARES about our neighbors and our region,” Jester said. “Employees share their time and talent at food banks, schools, health and human service organizations and other agencies supporting needs in their local community.”

She added that employees at the Middletown Works volunteer at the organizations that are important to them. Jester said AK CARES volunteers will be back a few more times to help out before this year’s event begins. Light Up Middletown will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2018.

Bill Becker, former Middletown police chief and city manager, is the chairman of Light Up Middletown and works with the 15 active members of the Grandpa Gang. He said about 10 to 15 of them show up Monday through Friday as they set up the displays.

“We’ve had retirees work on this since the beginning,” he said.

Barney Strassburger, a Grandpa Gang member who used to work in the former AK Steel research lab, said the set-up work for Light Up Middletown begins on Oct. 1 and takes until the popular attraction’s opening on Thanksgiving Day. After New Years Day, the Grandpa Gang begins tearing down the displays and putting them into storage.

Strassburger said in 2016, there were about 50 volunteers from AK Steel helping out. But it’s the end product that makes Light Up Middletown special to him, he said.

“Just to see the kids and everyone enjoy it is worth it,” he said.

Jester said Light Up Middletown is one of a number of projects that Middletown Works employees have taken on.

“This will be our third year of participating as part of AK CARES for Light Up Middletown” she said. “We are pleased to be able to help with the set up of this long running holiday event that means so much to the Middletown community.”

Melissa Benedict, senior manager for community relations and executive director of the AK Steel Foundation, works with AK Steel employees at all sites to support the AK CARES program.

Jester said other volunteer projects that AK Steel employees from Middletown Works have participated in have included planting and sprucing up the area around the Sorg Opera House; raking, planting and picking up trash in parks as part of the community’s annual spring Clean Up Middletown day; countless hours supporting Middletown schools; and the many nonprofit programs in the Middletown community such as Hope House, SELF and Shared Harvest Food Bank.

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