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Carla Messinger named 2022 Unsung Hero


Special to The Press

May 18 was no ordinary day for several very extraordinary people.

Lehigh County Office of Aging and Adult Services organized its 22nd annual “Tribute to Unsung Heroes” award presentation.

This event honored 17 older Lehigh County residents who displayed exceptional generosity with their time and talents to enhance the lives of others throughout their communities.

Carla Messinger of Allentown was among those honorees nominated as Unsung Heroes.

In 1965 then President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the older Americans Act., declaring May Older American Month. Lehigh County has celebrated this event annually for 22 years.

The theme for this year’s nominees was “Age My Way.”

Guests were welcomed by Lehigh County Office of Aging and Adult Services Executive Director Clayton Reed Jr.

Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Aging Robert Torres gave the opening remarks.

Both gentlemen presented certificates and citations to each recipient.

According to Messinger’s tribute:

“Carla Messinger’s long history of volunteerism and service in Lehigh County deserves to be recognized and celebrated.

“For 25 years she was the full-time unpaid acting executive director and primary docent of Allentown’s small Lenape museum. There she presented programs and organized events on-hand off-site for thousands of school children and the general public, including people of every age and ability level - all without receiving a paycheck, benefits, or health coverage.

“Carla went on to found Native American Heritage Programs in 2002 and, as its director, presents programs at schools and colleges, social groups, businesses, government agencies, and festivals, often accepting such modest compensation that she is a de facto volunteer!

“Moreover, for over 35 years she has regularly bought, gathered, and distributed clothing and personal care items to William Allen High School students, working with Donna Balascak until that teacher retired, then with others until the pandemic arrived. Carla also makes monthly contributions to food banks and donates supplies to Cedarbrook at Fountain Hill.

“Her ongoing outreach and achievements in the local and regional community deserve all the positive adjectives named in this application. She is inspiring because she so completely embodies the spirit of volunteerism while tirelessly pursuing her life’s mission - sharing the contributions Native Americans have made to the culture now shared by those living where her Pennsylvania Lenape ancestors did at the time of Columbus.

“Carla is also courageous, because she tirelessly advocates for a minority’s rights at a time when equality and inclusiveness are very controversial issues. Her work is unusual and to some extent innovative, because 40 percent of Americans believe Native Americans no longer exist, and no one else in this area is as committed as Carla to making them visible and describing their legacy.

“Extraordinarily generous and kindhearted, she is a very supportive person who is always ready to respond helpfully to teachers and students consulting her information-packed 100 plus page Native American Heritage Program website.

“She’s a wonderful friend as well - volunteering often to do necessary shopping or driving, share information or home-cooked food, provide companionship when it’s needed, or perform other errands or favors. Deeply compassionate, she readily goes out of her way to help anyone in trouble. And while doing any of the above, she is unfailingly cheerful!

“Carla’s pro bono efforts as an educational consultant reach and impact many people in the community. She has donated copies of her prizewinning children’s book, “When the Shadbush Blooms,” to libraries and several schools in the Lehigh Valley, writes opinion pieces for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Morning Call, and recently did a half-hour appearance with John Pearce on Bethlehem’s WDIY NPR station (88.1FM) and a 15-minute segment on the Sunrise Show on WFMZ Channel 69 TV.”

Carla Messinger is congratulated by L.C. Office of Aging and Adult Services Executive Director Clayton Reed Jr. May 18 at the 22nd annual “Tribute to Unsung Heroes” award presentation. PRESS PHOTO BY JENN RAGO