GNA students making a difference


Alycia Knorr

Pictured from left to right: Ms. Amy Scibek (high school principal), Phil, Emersyn Petrini, Mark, Nick Neipert, and Kamea Paresa.

“All I heard was ‘call 911.’ ” Emersyn Petrini recalled, “I knew we needed to help.”

Fred Rogers once said, “All of us, some time or another, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connect us as neighbors – in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.”

It was a frigid afternoon – typical for December in North-Eastern Pennsylvania – when suddenly, flames erupted from the house of Nanticoke citizen Mark Ulatowski, and his father Phil. The fire quickly colonized the lower floor. Within moments, the blaze climbed to the second, to finally tower over the house after 10 minutes. The last of the flames were set to rest close to 5 PM – roughly 3 hours after the first flame was spotted. Emersyn Petrini, a junior at Greater Nanticoke Area, was the first at the scene. 

“Call 911!” yelled Emersyn’s father, Samuel Petrini Sr. “The house is on fire!”

“I ran downstairs as fast as I could and I saw the house was in flames. It’s all a blur from there,” stated Emersyn Petrini. “The wood was crackling. . . glass shattered. . . you could feel the heat on your face from a block away.” This is when Emersyn knew she needed to help.

Emersyn was inspired to assist her neighbors in need. Through all of her charitable acts, Emersyn raised close to $3,000 for the family. The primary funds were sourced from a “GoFundMe” donation page that was shared with friends and family across social media.  The page raised $2,425 itself. The remaining funds were collected by Greater Nanticoke Area through a school bake sale, tacking on an additional $400, most of which came from the GNA student body and faculty.

Senior class president Myla Vnuk stated, “The senior class officers had heard the news about what had happened and we wanted to help them in any way we could.” Vnuk explained they were planning on organizing a bake sale as a fundraiser idea “. . . we decided that the family affected by the fire should get the money earned from it.” The senior, junior, and sophomore class officers chipped in and organized the sale. All proceeds went to the family who was displaced by the fire.

Additionally, the Red Cross stepped in to assist the family to recover damaged items. With the money raised, the family plans to buy new clothes as well as new furniture. A friend also covered the father and son’s grocery bill for a month in support of their recovery.

“I was surprised,” said Mark regarding the outpouring of help they received. “I was just wondering how someone could help like that. . . I was stunned.” Mark and Phil Ulatowski had no prior interactions with the Petrini family, though only living a few doors down. “I wish we had gotten to know each other sooner. I have a friend for life now.”

Mark’s father, Phil, who also lived in the home, is a 1955 Nanticoke graduate. “When I went to school, it was a little building where the CVS now is. . . things are a little different today” Phil joked. “I guess you never lose your Trojan Pride. I mean, I told everyone about how GNA helped us. I’m so thankful that the school is as caring as it is today. And Emersyn, of course,” Mark exclaimed!

One month ago, Mark and Phil Ulatowski left their flaming home with nothing but what was on their backs. Today, they’re healing. “It’s an adjustment. . . moving to an apartment and then changing your address. It’s a lot,” Mark stated. Phil added, “It’s an adjustment for the cat, too.”

Meeting with Mark and Phil allowed for a connection between GNA’s past and present. Stories were exchanged and memories were made. Though much has changed over the years, one thing that remains the same is the caring nature of GNA Students. “If you’re thinking of helping someone, do it!” exclaimed Phil. Mark agreed, and added, “If it starts with the young people, maybe it will rub off on people my age and older. . . I know Emersyn rubbed off on me. I learned from her. She’s a quarter of my age! This truly has been a humbling experience. . . thank you, GNA.”