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By Miranda Alvarez, Community Engagement Manager
There are planners who know how to plan and then there are planners who put plans into action. The latter distinguished Elissa Garofalo as the right candidate for the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (D&LNHC). When she was hired in 2000, the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, then a federal commission, had spent 12 years planning. At the turn of the century, the D&L was charged with putting those plans into action and finding a true doer to make it happen. With a history of main street management and planning background, Garofalo joined the team.
It’s hard to fully summarize what a 20 year and counting career looks like, but if Garofalo had to describe her time at the D&L in as few words as possible, she’d say “no two days are alike.”
As an organization that just may hold the record for most robust mission statement. Much of the work of the D&L is centered on helping the community and stakeholders make connections between the various pillars. For Garofalo, the best part of her job is seeing people realize those connections. A recreation trail and mule-drawn canal boat may not have a lot in common on the surface, but both mutually tell the story of the other at the D&LNHC. As the keeper of the brand, long time staff member, and champion of the mission, there’s no greater pride for Elissa at work than when another person really grasps the mission of the D&L.
“Today we’re blessed with major partners and an amazing board of directors that is chock full with such champions,” said Garofalo. “Our goals cannot be accomplished without the support of our Directors, as well as the support of the National Park Service, PA Department of Conservation & Resources and the William Penn Foundation.”
Resistance and growing pains are guaranteed over the course of two decades. When reflecting on the most challenging points of her career, Elissa noted that one of the hardest shifts was taking the D&LNHC from a completely publically funded organization to a true Non-Profit. As previously mentioned, the D&L started as a government commission. It was under the bold leadership of Garofalo and her predecessor Allen Sachse that the organization took a calculated risk to diversify its funding as a non-profit. While difficult, the change meant that the D&LNHC could benefit from federal, state AND private funding sources. It’s never easy to change the entire structure of an organization, but it was exactly what the organization would need.
Since 2000, Elissa Garofalo has had a hand in almost every operation of the organization, from development projects to marketing. Some stand out initiatives included the technical assistance the organization extended to the White Haven Public Library and the merger with the National Canal Museum. And of course, for a longtime resident of Jim Thorpe, it was a great honor to realize the organization’s plans for the Mansion House Bridge. Each of these projects showing the positive outcome strong plans and people dedicated to them can accomplish.
What do the next 20 years look like for the D&L and Garofalo? More shift and transition. As the trail becomes more continuous, Garofalo imagines the organization evolving from an organization that works on connecting the trail to one that focuses on connecting people to the Corridor. In the next 20 years, the hope is that the D&L Trail will be fully connected and that the D&LNHC will have the opportunity to shape and curate the multitude of ways that people can engage with the Corridor—its history, recreation opportunities, and community impact. As for Garofalo, specifically, the next twenty years will hopefully allow for more of her personal enjoyment of the region.
“Personally, longevity runs in my family, so I see myself contributing to the mission as long as I am able and helpful,” said Garofalo. “But, I look forward to taking more time to enjoy the many benefits of the region and (hopefully) introducing future generations to the joys of the outdoors and our incredible culture, architecture, rivers and historic sites.”