Kristen Miller-Hahn sees the impact the world’s troubles can have on people’s mental health in her work as a therapist, so when the coronavirus turned everything upside-down last year, she stepped up to help.
The Jermyn resident and mother of two founded NEPA Strong — Small Business and Community Support, a Facebook group dedicated to supporting people and businesses across the region in the wake of COVID-19. Since March, the group has grown to approximately 9,000 members, who each day see posts promoting local businesses, asking for help with specific needs and guiding people struggling with live to others who can support them. It has facilitated donations for food pantries, health care workers and more.
“I started it the day of the stay-at-home order just based on (how) every time I went on social media, it felt like it was getting continually heavier,” Miller-Hahn recalled. “It was getting more sad to scroll through … I feel like here needed to be a space for people to come together and support and empower one another that wasn’t focused so much on politics or COVID facts.”
The passion to help others started early on in Miller-Hahn’s life. Growing up around an uncle with a developmental disability and in “a family of helpers,” she said, supporting others in need has “always been a part of my family.” Her mother, Maria Miller, and grandmother, the late Jeanne Vosefski, influenced her in particular.
“Both of them have always put their needs beyond others and helped their families and other people so much that it’s been inspiring to grow up with them, and (I want) to raise my kids similar to how they raised me,” Miller-Hahn said.
After graduating from Lakeland Junior-Senior High School, Miller-Hahn earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from East Stroudsburg University. She had loved the idea of working in broadcasting or public relations and using those platforms to share stories and connect people to resources. As she neared graduation, however, she “fell in love with the idea of therapy” as a career.
Miller-Hahn switched gears, going on to earn a master’s degree in social work from Marywood University.
“I loved all of my internships at Marywood, which kind of reinforced I was where I needed to be,” she said.
Miller-Hahn became a licensed clinical social worker the following year and works part-time as a therapist at a private practice, CB Counseling LLC in Clarks Green. She loves creating connections with people and watching them gain self-esteem and confidence.
“Seeing them become empowered and believe in themselves and start achieving the goals that they set, it’s a really amazing feeling,” she said.
Her full-time gig, though, has a much different clientele: she’s a stay-at-home mom to toddlers Carson and Chloe. When she was younger, Miller-Hahn never envisioned herself as a mom, but now it’s hard to see life any other way.
“I just love watching them grow,” Miller-Hahn said. “I love all the stages. … Overall, just to experience the world through their eyes has been (an) amazing thing, especially with everything going on in the worldSometimes it gets heavy. To see them thrive and love it, it just makes everything feel bright despite the darkness.”
As a therapist, Miller-Hahn specializes in treating children through young adults. She did some counseling at a private school and said working with this age group has “been a passion of mine since going into the field.” And being a mom has helped her “see things from all angles,” she added.
“I can see the children and where they’re at, and I can empathize with the parents. … It’s given me a lot more patience as a person and a therapist, and it’s given me a lot of insight,” Miller-Hahn said.
In her work with NEPA Strong, she sees her undergraduate and graduate studies coming together as she uses her communication skills to help others. Watching the page grow has “been really amazing” for her, as she feels like she gets to share her joy with others.
Miller-Hahn pointed to the Salted Pixie, a salt-therapy facility in Archbald, as one of the local businesses that inspired her to start NEPA Strong, since she could envision the negative impact losing those services could have on the community. Through her page, she has brought attention to local businesses in addition to organizing fundraisers. Auctions raised money for meals and Easter baskets last spring, and NEPA Strong partnered with Anthracite Events to give gift cards to local businesses to veterans. NEPA Strong also helped give out 2,500 meals between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Miller-Hahn said.
She praised local businesses for giving back to the community even while they took a hit because of the coronavirus, and she has watched as people have found local places to buy clothing, new pizza shops to order from and much more.
“It’s been eye-opening for myself,” said Miller-Hahn, who was honored by the Borough of Jermyn for her work. “I learned of so many local businesses that I didn’t even know existed.”
Two women Miller-Hahn met through a local moms group, Ruzhka Raynova and Tara Corrigan, and other locals, such as Rich Cox, have stepped up to help her manage the NEPA Strong page, especially when her godson was in an accident and she couldn’t dedicate as much time to the project. Her husband, Jeffrey Hahn, works full-time but is “probably my biggest supporter and helper,” she said.
Miller-Hahn sees NEPA Strong continuing in some way after the pandemic, whether it’s becoming a registered nonprofit organization or just continuing to bring like-minded people together to continue that support. She knows difficulties will continue even after the pandemic ends, as the region recovers from such a trying time.
For Miller-Hahn, this whole experience with NEPA Strong has “been honestly really humbling.”
“I think I didn’t expect it to become what it has so for me,” she said.
Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest