Posts Tagged ‘Face of America Journey’

Happy Anniversary: Our Journey Continues

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

Happy Anniversary: Our Journey Continues

A Year of Memorable Moments

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Kitch Loftus-Mussari and
Tony Mussari, Sr.
Copyright Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD 2015
All Rights Reserved

To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye, to restore it, and to render it more fit for its prime function of looking forward. Margaret Fairless Barber

The Numbers

On this the last day of February in 2015, Kitch and I celebrate the fifth anniversary of our Face of America Journey.

These are the numbers for 2014:
FoA Map sm

We traveled 5,100 miles visiting 24 cities in eight states;

Eight screenings of our documentaries were held in seven cities;

We posted 36 articles in our blog;

Ten of these articles focused on medical issues as we documented every step in Kitch’s total knee replacement surgery and other medical experiences at Geisinger/CMC in Scranton;

Ten articles were posted about our documentary Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg.


As we review our travels, there are several moments that we will never IMG_6889_240_forget. The naturalization service in Binghampton, New York, on the day Dr. Rex & Viola Dumdum became American citizens is in a class all by itself. Rex and Viola are two people who personify America at its very best, and they define genuine friendship in acts not words.

Celebrating the people we met during Kitch’s knee replacementIMG_5627 surgery at Scranton Orthopaedic Specialists and Geisinger/Community Medical Center in Scranton brought both of us great joy. The people who cared for Kitch were thoughtful, kind and professional in every sense of the word.

Working with Drs. Judith and Bob Gardner and their associates in the Education Department at Wilkes University was an honor and a pleasure.

The opportunity Dr. Bill Kashatis gave us to work with Dr. Mollie Marti to tell the story of Judge Max Rosenn at the Annual History Conference at Luzerne County Community College was a delightful experience.


Our visit to Eagles Mere in July was simply beautiful. We enjoyed the setting, and the people we met were delightful. If all goes as planned we will return to this wonderful community again this year.

Our friend, Amy Clegg, invited us to participate in two seminars Amy Jack2sponsored by Express Employment Professionals. Amy is a consummate professional as is Jack Smalley.

We made two trips to Baltimore, Maryland: one to celebrate Vicki Perez and to present a short film about her heroic daughter, 2d.Lt. Emily Perez; the other to celebrate our friend Mary Jane Norris at the 15th Annual Women in Maritime History Awards Ceremony.

In the spring, we traveled to Marywood University to speak at the annual ethics conference. We returned to Marywood 11 months later to keynote a Speed Networking event. Both experiences produced special moments and new friendships that we treasure.

In May, we screened Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg at the high school in North Plainfield, New Jersey. Five months later we joined a delegation of wonderful people from North Plainfield at a screening of the same documentary at the Convention Center in Atlantic City.



Anyone who has followed our travels since 2010 knows that we have spent more time in North Plainfield, New Jersey, than anywhere else in the country. These are the numbers:

We produced four documentaries about students from North Plainfield and their educational experiences during their visits to Shanksville, PA and Gettysburg PA;

We produced three short videos about North Plainfield students for our website, and we published 44 articles about North Plainfield students, administrators, teachers and school board members in North Plainfield in our blog;

We averaged four trips a year to North Plainfield. If you add the location scouting and post-production trips we made to Shanksville and Gettysburg for location shoots, we have logged over 10,000 miles while working on these projects.

During our first visit to North Plainfield, we saw what we believe to be the Face of America’s tomorrow today in the high school. That a_20yardline7beautiful mosaic has not changed. In fact, it is forever enshrined in a special place in our hearts, in our minds and in our garden.

The road to and from North Plainfield is paved with all the things that life has to offer. There were beautiful moments of discovery. There were challenging moments of obstacles to be overcome. There were community moments of celebration and there were many, many wonderful teaching moments of growth, learning and transformation.

Unfortunately, the prophetic words of Candy Villagomez accurately describe the effort, energy and time we invested in the work we have done in North Plainfield: “Nothing lasts forever.”

The day before his death, Leonard Nimoy beautifully expressed this thought about endings with these words:

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memories.

This is the year our work in North Plainfield came to an end. The perfect moments will live on in our memories of this very special place.

The Dream

When we began our journey, we had three objectives:
FoA Logo copy

We wanted to visit every one of the 48 continental states;

We wanted to build a mosaic of the Face of America on its best day;

We wanted to write and publish a book about our discoveries.

As you know, we accomplished all but one of these goals. We could not find a publisher who was willing to take an interest in our book.

IMG_8304 for Article

This year we found an alternative.

Knowing that I am in the last quarter of my life, I decided to do something special for my grandchildren this Christmas. With encouragement and help from Kitch, we wrote a book entitled Papa Tony’s Gift: Life Lessons from the Heart.

It is a visual narrative. The majority of the pictures in the book were taken during our journey. The 214 graphics in the book speak to all of the values we associate with America on its best day.

The idea for the book is rooted in our experience at the 2013 Medal ofIMG_5862dp Honor Convention. Four months later during the screening of Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg, I looked out at the audience and my eyes focused on my grandchildren. Without thinking I spoke these words from my heart:

“I am worried about your future, your generation and the challenges you will face in your lifetime.”

I also made the point that we must not permit digital relationships to replace personal relationships.

Shortly after we returned home, I began researching and writing in February 2014. During their Christmas visit, we presented a draft copy of the book to the children. Recently, we picked up the final edition of the book at Offset Paperback Manufacturing, Inc.

Of all the things Kitch and I have had the opportunity to do and see during our journey, writing and publishing the book was the most challenging, difficult and rewarding experience.

Looking forward, we will be doing more writing and less documentary production. To be honest, as much as we enjoy the documentary process, writing is our first love.


Our year ended with a wonderful experience provided by a student at Marywood University. Matthew Parkyn needed a keynote speaker for a Speed Networking event, and he turned to us for help. That opportunity enabled us to spend five weeks researching and writing a presentation that has opened many doors for future activities.

To everyone who offered encouragement, empathy, help and the steadfast loyalty of friendship and understanding during this transitional year of our Face of America Journey, Kitch and I thank you with a promise. We will continue our search for examples of the Face of America, the people, the places and the values that speak to America at its best. We will continue to write about these experiences.

Looking back on our Face of America Journey in 2014, the words of a great writer and statesman come to mind:

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see. Winston Churchill

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Gettysburg Documentary Educates, Informs, Inspires

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Walking Into The Light At Gettysburg: A Review

Written by: Gale & Robert Jaeger
Photography: Bill Gaydos & Kitch Loftus-Mussari
January 19, 2013
Lenfest Theater, Visitor Center
Gettysburg National Military Park
Copyright 2013 Face of America, Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

On a recent bright and shining Saturday morning, weGNMP_0768_250 traveled from our home in Waverly PA to a most enchanting and inspiring place… the Gettysburg National Military Park.  Although it has been on our list of places to visit for many years, it was the first opportunity we have had to actually get there, and we were not in any way disappointed.

The purpose of our trip was to attend the premier of a production by Dr. Tony Mussari and his wife and able partner, Kitch Loftus Mussari. We knew that our travels would reward us with an exceptional experience and we were correct in our supposition. It was an evening we will long remember.


As we all assembled in the theater, having been warmly welcomed by Tony and Kitch, people prepared to settle down and see the show. Mr. Frank Orlando, a former public school principal clearly devoted to education and learning, was the master of ceremonies.  He and his wife, Bonnie, were attired in civil war costume and proceeded to act their roles while providing the audience with charming reflections and historical facts of the era.

Following the Orlandos was Mr. William Troxell, longOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA time mayor of Gettysburg. He gave some history of this historic town – really a lovely hamlet of sorts – and told of his many generations of relatives who had resided here before him.  He was most gracious in his welcome and made us all feel quite at home.


Ms. Stacy Fox, VP of Sales and Marketing, Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, was exuberant in her discussion of the military park and all that it stands for in terms of American history.  It is easy to see why she holds the position she does!

Finally, just before the actual screening, Dr. Tony Mussari gave some reflections on why he and Kitch had decided to produce this documentary.

He spoke about visiting Gettysburg for the first time with his brother. Tony was 15 at the time and the experience, in his words,”changed his life.”

A part of the Face of America Project, Walking Into the Light is indeed enlightening. It educates us about the infamous Battle of Gettysburg. As important, as we view the monuments and battlefields through the lens of period photographs and renderings, we feel both the terror and the courage that these 161,000 soldiers must have experienced in this history making three day battle.

We were inspired and moved as the Battle Hymn of the Republic and other very moving music, well selected for this documentary, played in the background with footage of our great flag imposed across the screen, undulating in a stiff breeze. It was truly inspiring and our hearts were filled with pride for our new republic and for what it has become.

Central to this documentary was the presence of ten OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA students from North Plainfield High School in New Jersey. A diverse group, there was clearly one thing these students had very much in common: a thirst for knowledge and a true sense of astonishment and amazement at what they learned through this life changing experience – exactly what Tony and Kitch had hoped for.

Articulate and insightful beyond their years and life experiences, these students learned how much their forefathers sacrificed for our collective freedom. It caused them to do some critical thinking and express gratitude for all that they enjoy today. It clearly changed them in very real ways. We wondered how this experience might also move and inspire university level students who might come to Gettysburg with a higher level of understanding and perhaps see things that might have been lost on such young students. Clearly, people of all ages leave this place enriched and inclined to learn much more about our nation’s history during those Civil War years.


Also notable were the many comments made by General Robert E. Lee, so nicely interpreted by Frank Orlando.

While we never understood him as well as we did after hearing some of his “commentary,” we were reminded that even those whom we might disagree with ideologically, have something to say and, when given the opportunity, it is often something we can admire. We wondered what General Grant might have told us about and what memorable quotes we would have taken away from his commentary had he been a part of the proceedings!

And finally, the memorable quotes from President3a11366r Last portrai 300t Abraham Lincoln, a man who overcame so many obstacles to be a president who changed the world in so many ways, touched our hearts once again. Some were new to us, other we had known. All were words which are timeless and could have been spoken today with just as much meaning and power.

Iconic in today’s world for his many contributions, Lincoln was often misunderstood in his lifetime. One who understood him was T.V.Smith who said:

“This Lincoln, whom so many living friends and foes alike deemed foolish, hid bitterness in laughter, fed his sympathy on solitude, and met recurring disaster with whimsicality to muffle the murmur of a bleeding heart… and won through death what life disdains to bestow upon such simple souls –lasting peace and everlasting glory.”

While Lincoln and the soldiers who fought so valiantly at Gettysburg may not have provided for a lasting peace – perhaps humans are not capable of that –they did provide us with everlasting glory.

Gettysburg groupThank you Tony and Kitch for this extraordinary film and for all the expertise, insight and love that went into it.

Surely you changed the lives of many of us in your audience just as you changed the lives of your ten students, and just,Tony, as your own life was changed when you first visited Gettysburg many long years ago
with your beloved brother. He is surely proud of all that came of that visit and smiles on you today.

Godspeed to you and to all who helped to make this fine documentary a reality.

Making Learning Contagious

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Making Learning Contagious

written by Tony Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

“The essence of teaching is to make learning contagious, to have one idea spark another.” Marva Collins

West End in the Morning

This week, I was impressed, inspired and encouraged in ways I will never forget. The magical moments happened in room 9 at the West End Elementary School in North Plainfield, New Jersey.

I was there to record scenes for a Face of America documentary about mentoring. Once inside the building, I was drawn in by the welcoming way of the people I met and the magical touch of a teacher and the enthusiastic response of her students.

Megan Schutz is a gifted teacher who loves her job and the students in her care.  She is ably assisted by Christina Moscatello, a Special Education co-teacher, and Corie Williams a paraprofessional.

On this unseasonably warm February morning, I watched these women work their magic with students who were interested, engaged and enthusiastic about the work they were doing. In my opinion, it was a radiant painting of education at its best.

From the warm greetings as students entered the room, to the artful blending of technology with tried and true traditional teaching techniques, this classroom was alive with the sights and sounds of children learning, growing, thinking and enjoying school.

The day began with a heartfelt recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag. It was followed by a series of announcements that ended with a tone setting thought for the day:

“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”

After hearing the words of Helen Keller, the students took their seats, opened their math workbooks, and their teacher, Megan Schutz, got down on her knees to be at eye level with the fourth graders who responded to her questions and her encouraging suggestions.

One of the students got an enthusiastic “hi five” accompanied with the Merlin-like, affirming words, “Great Job.”

At the appointed time, the students lined up. The line leaders took their places, and then everyone walked to the music room for an experience that can only be described as “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”

Music with Meaning

Type the words “Proud to be an American” in a Google Search and you will get more than 4,000,000 hits. I am sure all of these items are interesting and informative. None of them, however, will evoke the emotional reaction I experience watching Milan Lazistan, a substitute teacher, work with the 21 students who sat on the floor of his classroom.

Granted, the words of the song are powerful. They were written to elicit emotion.  When you plant them in the innocent and unpretentious minds of children like these and you ask them to sing along with a recording of Lee Greenwood’s voice playing in the background, you get more than mom, apple pie and the 4th of July. You get a rendition that is from the heart, and tailored to the experience of youngsters, many of whom have origins in places far away from Lady Liberty’s Light in New York Harbor.

I am not ashamed to say that tears filled my eyes while I recorded the chorus of beautiful faces and voices from America, Dominican Republic,  Ecuador, India, Kenya and Pakistan, singing these powerful words:

If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life,
And I had to start again with just my children and my wife,
I’d thank my lucky stars to be living here today,
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom
And they can’t take that away.

I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free,
And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me,
And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today,
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land God Bless the U.S.A.

If ever there was a picture of America on its best day, this is it. Genuine in every detail and beautiful in everything it implied. For me, it spoke to everything our founders hoped we would become, and everything our country represents to people at home and abroad who yearn for freedom and equality for everyone in the family of mankind.

Before I left the classroom, I asked Mr. Lazistan what he hoped music would do for these children. His answer was to the point and very instructive.

I hope it will teach them to enjoy music. I hope it will help them enjoy life.  I hope they will learn something from it so they can gather their own personal creativity and give it out to others.

Opening Minds

As I made my way back to room 9, I thought to myself, it can’t get any better than this. As is often the case with generalizations made in the wake of an emotional experience, I was wrong.

Shortly after the students settled into their seats, Megan Schutz started a discussion of American symbols. Just as she was finishing her introduction in which she made reference to an earlier class when the students defined what it means to be an American, I asked her if she would review that class for me.

She paused and replied with words that I never expected to hear. “May I do it with the help of the students?”

My answer was an enthusiastic, yes.

What followed was a brilliant mosaic of America drawn by children who spoke from their hearts, their experience and their love of country.

With hands extended ramrod straight above their heads and hands waving in every corner of the room, Chelsea spoke first. “America is people who live here.”

Parijot told her teacher, “America is people who promise loyalty to our country.”

Valarie spoke quietly but resolutely. “People come to America for freedom or a better life. It’s for opportunity, more jobs and more freedom.”

Emily said that America is about people who come from many different countries.

Muhammad defined America as a place where people are free.

Isaiah pictured America as a place where people join together for a single cause, freedom.

For Dave, America is a place where people show patriotism to our flag.

Sophia added, “It is a place where we do the pledge of allegiance.”

James wanted his teacher to know that in America people form alliances, they come together with one another.

Kenny had a different and very interesting take on America. “It’s a place where we don’t look the same,” he said enthusiastically, “but we all have the same parts.”

Someone once said, “A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer.”

In room 9 at the West End Elementary school, I listened with great delight to children who gave simple, but profound, answers to the question what is America?  Their answers came from the beauty of their hearts and the purity of their souls.  There were no hidden agendas. There were no expectations of reward. There was only a child-like innocence to cooperate, and share their deeply held beliefs.

It was a memorable and moving example of America at its best, teaching at its best, and love of country at its best.

It underscored the carefully crafted art work I saw hanging outside one of the classrooms I passed on my way to the music room.

“A Teacher opens a mind, holds a hand, touches a heart.”

If only all of us could have the privilege of visiting the classrooms like classroom 9 in elementary schools all over America, the fact that America is better than we think, our children are better than we think and our future is better than we think might begin to take flight. 

All we need to do is realize that we all look different, but we all have the same parts.

Thank you, Christina Moscatello.
Thank you, Corie Williams.
Thank you, Milan Lazistan.
Thank you, Megan Schutz.
Thank you, Alexa, Brandon, Brian, Chantal, Chelsea, Dave, Emily, Faith, Isaiah James, Janybeth, Jasmin, Kenny,  Muhammad, Parijot, Sara, Sophia, Timyan, Valerie, and Zohaib,

You are the Face of America on its best day, and what you did in your classroom personifies America at its best.  

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