Kristen Miller-Hahn created NEPA Strong with one simple goal in mind: to bring the community and small businesses together.

The licensed clinical social worker and mother of two from Jermyn created a Facebook page called NEPA Strong to connect small businesses with their surrounding communities. NEPA Strong was created in March following the announcement of Gov. Tom Wolfe’s stay at home order.

NEPA Strong provides an opportunity for local people to help local people, according to Miller-Hahn. She began to raise money for the group to be able to buy from one local establishment and then send items and gift cards to an identified group of essential employees within the community. The group’s first giveback took place in Carbondale, when the Cottage Hose Co. received a package of cookies from Barbour’s Bakery, Miller-Hahn said.

The volunteer-run Faceook page chooses a daily Business of the Day and Mystery Business of the Day as a way for its members to connect on a personal level. The campaign serves as a free platform for Lackawanna County’s small businesses to promote daily specials, hours, websites and services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Small businesses are vitally important to a community’s well-being. Locally owned businesses build strong communities by sustaining vibrant town centers, linking neighbors in a web of economic and social relationships, and contributing to local causes. Nowhere is it more apparent than in the state of Pennsylvania where 1 million small businesses employ 2.5 million residents.

“The interaction between business owners and members has been phenomenal,” said Miller-Hahn. “This forum has been eye opening, even for me. I became aware of literally hundreds of small businesses right here in NEPA that I had not know about prior to the formation of NEPA Strong. I sampled different types of food, ordered services from new places and learned about opportunities available for the community. NEPA Strong also partners with businesses to provide givebacks to essential workers and community members. During these givebacks, many businesses have donated items. However, we never expect a business that may not be in the position to donate to feel obligated and will then assist in paying toward the costs for the items and services sent.”

One of the most popular posts in the Facebook group are the weekly threads where people post photos of takeout meals or recent purchases from local businesses. Miller-Hahn said posts of live music on the weekends have also become popular.

However, creating a massive county-wide campaign for the support of community commerce doesn’t come without its own set of challenges. For Miller-Hahn, learning to take a break from the fast-growing group was difficult.

“This group continues to grow and amaze me. There is so much potential and opportunity to continue to promote small businesses, recognize the amazing members in the community and to keep giving back,” she said. “I had to learn to take time to check in with myself, be present for myself and my family and friends and to ask for assistance and delegate when needed.”

Scheduling certain givebacks has also proven to have its own set of challenges, she added.

“Due to COVID-19, we need to follow the necessary precautions for the restaurants and the essential employees receiving the givebacks. Prior to arranging the givebacks, we need to ensure that we are following the business’s safety plan and requirements,” she said.

Still, each time a planned giveaway is announced, Miller-Hahn experiences a sense of overwhelming gratitude.

“I have truly enjoyed the space itself,” said Miller-Hahn. “I also love our daily features. Each day we feature a community member and Class of 2020 Senior of the day. I have enjoyed learning about each one. All of their stories are so unique and wonderful to read.”

For more information on NEPA Strong, visit the group’s Facebook page.

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