Riley Allen, Vicky Lonsinger

Teachers aide Vicky Lonsinger poses with Riley Allen, a Greater Johnstown High School junior, in front of the “Be Fearless” sign on the digital billboard near Trojan Stadium on Thursday.

A school project started a few months ago recently turned into something making a positive impact on the Johnstown community. 

Last school year, junior Riley Allen was looking for a project for her independent study in journalism. High school teachers aide Vicky Lonsinger made a suggestion to her that would lead the pair on an inspirational journey.

Riley and Lonsinger decided to work together to find a way to spread positive billboards throughout the Johnstown area.

“There was so many terrible things going on in our community,” Lonsinger said. “We wanted to uplift people and try to get just a little more positivity around – we wanted to inspire some people.

“We were just tired of every time we turn around something bad was happening,” she said.

It’s an issue that Lonsinger said often impacts students in Greater Johnstown School District.

Riley said, “I think we were just both sad and tired of seeing bad things happening in the community and people’s lives being lost, and we felt like we needed to do something.”

The need to make a positive impact was very important to both, but the project would come with a price tag. So they decided to lead efforts to raise money for the billboards.

Greater Johnstown High School principal Michael Dadey said Riley and Lonsinger came to him with the idea.

“Riley and Vicky came to me towards the end of last school year and said ‘Hey, we really have a great idea,’” Dadey said.

“Riley and Vicky, especially Riley, has been a really big motivator.  She sees more of the positive than the negative of what Johnstown has to offer.”

With the help of Dadey, the pair began raising funds.

“We sent out emails to all of the schools in the district, and we raised funds within the building,” Dadey said. “It was a little hairy at first, but the teachers came through, and the billboards were able to be purchased.”

More than $1,000 was raised to fund the project, which enabled them to advertise on five billboards.

The positive messages are now spread throughout town on several billboards.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself,” reads one of the signs near the city’s Prospect neighborhood. 

The rotating electronic sign in front of Greater Johnstown High School says, “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”

Lonsinger said they have received a lot of great feedback and comments from the community about the messages.

“We’re not able to see all of the reactions and hear all of the comments, but we know it’s working,” Lonsinger said.

Riley added, “It makes me happy to see that our project is helping people and bringing them happiness.”

The billboards, which were designed by Riley’s older brother, Johnny Bayush, will be up for 28 days.

Riley said CamTran recently reached out to her and Lonsinger to talk about putting some of the messages on its buses. There are now six different positive messages on six CamTran buses traveling through the area.

To add to the excitement around the new billboards, Lonsinger said Lamar Advertising contacted her about using the billboards in the Altoona area. The outdoor advertising company also spoke about using the messages on all of its flip-boards throughout Johnstown.

“We are really excited about that,” Lonsinger said. “We feel like we’ve already made an impact.”

As Riley and Lonsinger watch the seeds they have sown flourish in the community, they are reminded of how thankful they are to have each other.

Lonsinger, who has been a teachers aide for nearly 20 years, has worked with Riley since the sixth grade.

“I’ll cry next year when Riley graduates,” Lonsinger said, “I’m her school mother.”

Assistant Superintendent Amy Arcurio said the area needs more people like Lonsinger and Riley.

“We are so very fortunate to have students and staff in our district who continuously go above and beyond with a positive attitude,” Arcurio said. “Both Vicky and Riley are believers in our schools, our district and our community.

“We desperately need more of them,” she said. People with the ‘I can make a difference each day mindset,’ instead of those that promote the negativity.

“These two are game changers, and I’m excited to see what they come up with next.”

“I just have a heart to do things for people,” Lonsinger said, “and I don’t like to get anything in return for it ... I just like to help people.”

Dadey said, “I couldn’t be more proud of my faculty, Vicky Lonsinger, and one of my students saying ‘We know that we are the hub for Johnstown and we need to shine the light on all of the positive things.’

“Without those two, who knows if this kind of project would’ve kicked off,” he said. “I think this was a great idea and I couldn’t be more proud to have them within my building.” 

While proud of their efforts, both Riley and Lonsinger said they were not looking for a pat on the back.

“We were looking for people to look at the messages, have a more positive look at life, and see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Riley said.

When asked which positive billboard was their favorite, both Riley and Lonsinger said: “It’s a bad day, not a bad life.”

For more information on this project, connect with Lonsinger and Riley on Facebook at Inspire Johnstown Billboard Project.

Ronald Fisher is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @FisherSince_82.

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