“I think there’s an appreciation locally for who you are and where you come from. It’s that small town feeling when someone meets you and knows your name. For me, that’s always made me feel at home.”
At a young age, Wilkes-Barre native, Anthony Melf learned that family is what bonds you to a place. He’s one of seven – a classic NEPA brood. He grew up in that “it takes a village” ideal. Mom and dad, six siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins – they all lived close (like on the same street). No matter what, someone was always there to pick him up, to push him forward, to help him out.
Anthony carries that wherever he goes. From Holy Redeemer to King’s College to his role as a Project Coordinator for EDSI Solutions at the PA CareerLink, he’s built a reputation as a genuine helper. He advocates for the disenfranchised, volunteers for the voiceless and sits on several nonprofit boards. And he’s only thirty.
We grabbed a quick lunch with this tall tale in the making at the quintessentially bohemian Canteen Park in Kingston. And between hummus and White Russians, he sweated out an answer to the ultimate question on everybody’s mind – Why NEPA?
How long have you lived in NEPA?
Thirty years and so many days… Still counting (laughs). Did you ever read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road? It’s that. I’m on the road and I don’t know where it ends. Yeah… I’ve been here my whole life (long pensive pause). Wow.
What do you love about your town?
You know, I don’t want to sound cliché, but what I love about my town is the people. That’s my biggest reason for staying – in a lot of ways. It’s not only people like my family, my friends, the sense of community, the downtown partnerships, but it’s also the visionaries – the people that actually want to make something happen and who are driving the area forward. I think of people like Holly Pilcavage at Coal Creative. And I think about Lindsay Griffin at the Chamber. These are people who are not only driving the area forward and have ideas for how to do that, but who are also inviting people in. There’s a mindset there that says, “How can we all work together to make this a better place.”
What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?
That’s not a fair question at all… but it’s Canteen Park. It’s always been one of the first places I recommend to people when they’re visiting and we’re catching up. It has this big city feel, but it’s intimate with an appreciation for arts and culture. The space alone with the cool garage door to the outside is great, but my favorite part of Canteen Park is that I can be myself here. Abby and Bhanu created a space where I can just be me and I don’t feel judged, or that I have to put on an appearance. Everyone is welcome here. It’s super relaxed. Oh, I also love coffee. So, Abide is a local coffee shop that I really like. Not only do they bring the coffee, but they bring the environment. You want to sit down in there and enjoy your coffee. Oh, and Pour, I can’t leave them out because they’re another one of my favorites.
What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?
That’s a tough one! Most of what I like to do involves meeting up with friends, I guess. We’ll take a short drive for a day trip to Jim Thorpe, or visit a friend on her family acres up past Tunkhannock. I like to hit the road and see where it takes me (laughs). What else? Seriously, this is another tough one. I enjoy the arts scene, like attending the Scranton Fringe Festival, or seeing a play by the Gaslight Theatre Company, or a show at King’s College. There’s really no shortage of community theatre here. When I’m on my own, I’ll run over to the River Common or Kirby Park and get some steps in, and then sneak some dessert at AmberDonia Bakery (laughs). That’s so bad, I know.
What’s next for you?
Oh boy… Ok, I’m a man of many passions and interests. So, it’s hard to say exactly what’s next. I mean, I’d like to see through the efforts of some of the nonprofits I’m volunteering with at the moment. I joined the planning committee for Northeast Sight Services. They have an awesome event coming up in late October. It’s called the No Show Annual Awards Dinner. I’m working with the NEPA Rainbow Alliance and Coal Creative on a really cool video for National Coming Out Day in October as well. I also think it’s important to recognize that you can pivot. You can change. There’s plenty of work to do, so follow what speaks to you. And when you’re ready to move on, there’s always something else that can benefit from your attention. I hope to approach the months ahead with that mindset. We’ll see where it leads me, I guess.
Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?
Ultimately, my hope for Northeastern Pennsylvania is that we can transform the way people see Northeastern Pennsylvania. I want people to see it as young. I want people to see it as diverse. And I want the boards that govern the organizations in our area to reflect their communities – more women, more people of color, more LGBTQ voices. We need representation that’s fair and accurate. Decision makers and boards need to reflect the people that are impacted by the decisions of these organizations. And I think that I’ve seen a committed group of pioneers, if you will, in the area, really driving that vision forward. They’re taking chances and trying new things. I hope to see all of that come to fruition, and that it’s no longer the vision, but that it’s the reality, it’s the present, it’s the now.
Because NEPA is full of opportunity. It has many different flavors. NEPA is urban. It’s rural. It has influenced so many people who would literally rather live here when they actually work in major cities nearby. You’re always just a short drive from nature and hiking trails. NEPA is family and friends from yesteryear and it’s also your future. It’s new people, new connections. You can build your reputation, your career and your future right here at home. And I don’t know if that’s necessarily true elsewhere. There’s a blank canvas here to work on, and I think the area is finally ready for us to create that picture. And I think we’re seeing a lot more people getting involved in that. We’re hearing and embracing new voices right now more than ever. This is the time. If you want an opportunity to be on the front lines of change, and not just working toward someone else’s vision, but you want to make your own vision become reality, then you’re in the right place.