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2016-01-01 / Features

Humans of Happy Valley

Story and Photos by John Mark Rafacz

Everyone has a story to tell. Each person’s account is distinctive, yet tales we tell about ourselves — with our words and through our faces — are universal in their ability to touch the hearts and minds of others. Humans of New York, begun by Brandon Stanton in 2010 with a goal of collecting photographs of 10,000 residents of the Big Apple, has grown into a blog followed by millions of people on Facebook and has spawned a book of the same name.

Inspired by Stanton’s project and others similar, Humans of Happy Valley seeks to offer a glimpse into the lives of people who reside at the core of Pennsylvania. And like those profiles that have come before, we offer glimpses into these inhabitants of Happy Valley anonymously, keeping them nameless with the idea that you’ll see or understand something of yourself in their personal account. And in the process learn a little bit more about the people with whom we share this place we call home.




“You’re with your kids every day. Sometimes it can be challenging, but also rewarding. My 5-year-old has said she wants to be a nurse. She also has said, ‘I just want to do what you do — nothing.’” “You’re with your kids every day. Sometimes it can be challenging, but also rewarding. My 5-year-old has said she wants to be a nurse. She also has said, ‘I just want to do what you do — nothing.’”

Him: “Two years ago today, this is where we sort of started our relationship. We’re both graduating seniors.” Her: “We’re both from New York. When I was born, we lived in Manhattan, and then we moved to Staten Island when I was 5. There’s not much to do on Staten Island. I go to [Manhattan] to hang out. I spend a lot more time there than he does.” Him: “Queens is better than Manhattan. Manhattan has too many people. Queens is quick — a lot going on. I miss it sometimes.” Him: “Two years ago today, this is where we sort of started our relationship. We’re both graduating seniors.” Her: “We’re both from New York. When I was born, we lived in Manhattan, and then we moved to Staten Island when I was 5. There’s not much to do on Staten Island. I go to [Manhattan] to hang out. I spend a lot more time there than he does.” Him: “Queens is better than Manhattan. Manhattan has too many people. Queens is quick — a lot going on. I miss it sometimes.”

“It’s a stressful decision to name a child. My husband will [suggest] something, and I’ll kind of cringe. And vice versa.” “It’s a stressful decision to name a child. My husband will [suggest] something, and I’ll kind of cringe. And vice versa.”

“I started using [a hammock] last spring. I have a lot of friends who go camping in them. I’m not much of a camper, but it’s nice to go outside and sit somewhere that’s comfortable.” “I started using [a hammock] last spring. I have a lot of friends who go camping in them. I’m not much of a camper, but it’s nice to go outside and sit somewhere that’s comfortable.”

Man on Right: “We’re here to serve the community.” Man on Left: “To help people in need. We have quite a few of those. I’ve been very lucky. I haven’t needed this kind of help. I’ve been very fortunate all these years.” Man on Right: “We know quite a lot of people who aren’t so fortunate.” Man on Right: “We’re here to serve the community.” Man on Left: “To help people in need. We have quite a few of those. I’ve been very lucky. I haven’t needed this kind of help. I’ve been very fortunate all these years.” Man on Right: “We know quite a lot of people who aren’t so fortunate.”

“I have been politically active since I was 15 years old. [Barack] Obama was speaking here during the [2008] primary. The crowd was full on the lawn and all the way down to College Avenue. After I saw that, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I’m a field organizer for the Joe Sestak for U.S. Senate campaign. I’m older than most of the students, so I’m here to help them get organized.” “I have been politically active since I was 15 years old. [Barack] Obama was speaking here during the [2008] primary. The crowd was full on the lawn and all the way down to College Avenue. After I saw that, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I’m a field organizer for the Joe Sestak for U.S. Senate campaign. I’m older than most of the students, so I’m here to help them get organized.”

“I have myasthenia gravis. My white cells eat the proteins. It affects my muscles. Some days I have trouble getting in and out of my vehicle. My doctor thinks it’s progressed as far as it’s going to go. But there are no guarantees. It’s called a ‘snowflake’ disease because you never know where it’s going to go. Some days I have slurred speech. People think I’m drinking on the job. Cognition gets rough. Sometimes I have trouble understanding what people are saying. I just fight through it. But there are some Saturdays I just go home and start crying because I’m that exhausted.” “I have myasthenia gravis. My white cells eat the proteins. It affects my muscles. Some days I have trouble getting in and out of my vehicle. My doctor thinks it’s progressed as far as it’s going to go. But there are no guarantees. It’s called a ‘snowflake’ disease because you never know where it’s going to go. Some days I have slurred speech. People think I’m drinking on the job. Cognition gets rough. Sometimes I have trouble understanding what people are saying. I just fight through it. But there are some Saturdays I just go home and start crying because I’m that exhausted.”

“I came to the United States from Russia. All of my family lives here, too. It’s kind of a long chain of family reunion. It’s been a long story. My grandmother moved here after my great- grandmother’s sister in the late 1990s. We got here in 2006. I got married here in the United States. He’s from New Jersey. There’s a large Russian community here. I’m not really part of it. We came to State College to get to know the language and to get help with the culture. Then I went to Penn State, and then I got married. I worked at Penn State for a while in Information Sciences and Technology with one of my professors. For years I thought I missed something about Russia. I thought I missed the people I went to school with. But in recent years I’ve come to realize there’s nothing there that I miss because my family is here.” “I came to the United States from Russia. All of my family lives here, too. It’s kind of a long chain of family reunion. It’s been a long story. My grandmother moved here after my great- grandmother’s sister in the late 1990s. We got here in 2006. I got married here in the United States. He’s from New Jersey. There’s a large Russian community here. I’m not really part of it. We came to State College to get to know the language and to get help with the culture. Then I went to Penn State, and then I got married. I worked at Penn State for a while in Information Sciences and Technology with one of my professors. For years I thought I missed something about Russia. I thought I missed the people I went to school with. But in recent years I’ve come to realize there’s nothing there that I miss because my family is here.”

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