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PSU Altoona student leaving mark on community with masks

01/21/21 Mirror photo by Andrew Mollenauer / Penn State Altoona senior Joey Roesch holds masks from his Mask Up Altoona program, and shows one of the group's posters.

On the surface, Joey Roesch is the quintessential college student.

He enjoys Penn State football, music and going out with friends on weekends. Get to know him a little better, and he’s anything but ordinary.

What separates him from his peers?

He hesitated to brag, but said, “I don’t think that everybody has that kind of drive,” referring to his recent outreach efforts.

In November, Roesch was distressed by the impact that COVID-19 was and still is having in the community, and he had an idea to combat it.

He spearheaded an initiative called Mask Up Altoona, which promotes mask-wearing and educates the community on the importance of it.

“I emailed the mayor,” Roesch said. “That’s when we were starting to see our surge, and I was becoming increasingly concerned because the hospitals were filling up, so we had to do something to try and slow it so it’s not out of control.”

Mayor Matt Pacifico was eager to help.

“We wanted this to be something that was organic, home-grown, a grassroots effort and make it personal,” Pacifico said.

The project quickly took off as Pacifico contacted city Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Hileman. Altoona Area Business Committee President LaVonne Falbo soon joined their efforts, helping make the group’s masks, which were printed by The Lightning Bug Gift Co.

The masks have encouraging messages on them like, “We’re in it together Altoona” and “Let’s crush this Altoona.”

The group gives the masks away, and people can pick up their own at LaVintage Decor and B4 Club Therapy downtown.

Mask Up Altoona has had a considerable impact according to Roesch, who said new case numbers in Blair County are trending downward.

“It’s pretty successful,” he said. “The more somebody sees (mask wearing), the more likely I think they are to do it because you’re constantly being reminded of it.”

As he guides the community through Mask Up Altoona, Roesch’s message is simple: “The science shows that (masks) work.”

“These simple things that we can do to avoid being locked down: Think of others, think of the people that have been out of work for months, and these are things that we can do to try and get things back to normal,” Roesch said.

Non-compliance with mask-wearing has been a challenge in the community, but Roesch is optimistic that people are coming around.

“There’s more people with this second surge that have started wearing masks,” Roesch said. “There’s been a shift in the community mindset.”

That shift in mindset is encouraging to Roesch, who was born and raised in Altoona and is proud to call it home.

“This city is everything to me,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to have to go through what some have gone through with this pandemic.”

Roesch has learned a lot through his efforts in the community, including what a city can do when its people come together.

“This community and everybody in it, if we work together, we can do anything,” he said. “We can crush anything. Just persevere. It’s hard, but eventually these things are going to go away, and we have to fight until we hit that finish line.”

Roesch’s experience leading Mask Up Altoona has been the perfect segue into what he hopes to accomplish after he graduates in May. The senior majoring in biology has dreams of going to medical school at Penn State Hershey and becoming a pediatrician.

“I don’t really have a plan B,” he said. “It’s just something I’ve always looked forward to.”

Accomplishing his dreams, he said, “will be my run to the finish line.”

A stellar student, Roesch has gained the respect of his professors, including Laura Palmer, his Introduction to the Immune System and Disease professor who taught him previously in human genetics and advanced genetics courses.

“While all professors love having smart, motivated students in the classroom, I really appreciate when those students also show humility and a larger sense of purpose,” Palmer said. “Joey is one of those students. He has a strong moral compass.”

“I think both his promising academic potential and his strong sense of community will serve him well,” Palmer added. “In my opinion, any community who is fortunate enough to have Joey practice in it will benefit. He has not only intelligence, but humanity — and we need that in healthcare professionals. I’ve honestly never seen him fail at anything he sets his mind to.”

Anthony Avella is one of Roesch’s closest friends.

“In physics class, we were lab partners, but it was more like he did the lab and I was the sidekick trying to keep up,” Avella said. “Our friendship started in physics class with him practically tutoring me through the class.”

Roesch is “a standup guy that is there to lend a helping hand any day,” Avella said.

“Joey is that guy that I know has my back and will keep me grounded when I need him,” Avella said. “Altoona and Penn State Altoona can see that now as he steps up for the betterment of his community singlehandedly.”

Avella is proud of his friend, but isn’t surprised by how much Roesch has accomplished.

“Joey’s work ethic has always been the number one inspiration,” Avella said. “When he does something he puts 110% into it. And it shows with (Mask Up Altoona). He told me he was going to do it, and look where we are now. He went above and beyond with it as he always does.”

Mirror Staff Writer Andrew Mollenauer is at 814-946-7428.

The Roesch file

Age: 21

Hometown: Altoona

Education: Altoona Area High School graduate and current student at Penn State Altoona.

Family: Parents Frank and Kelly Roesch

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