Hi everyone! Welcome back to the blog; today’s post is a wrap up of the semester. This was an incredibly valuable learning experience and one that I will remember for a long time. The deliverables that our team created consisted of several recommendations to the Connellsville community as well as suggestions for future groups working with the Fayette County Cultural Trust through this program.
The first recommendation that we had for Connellsville was to increase emphasis on creating new businesses and assisting young entrepreneurs, encouraging them to invest back into the community. Connellsville’s Main Street Program, which gives thousands of dollars in grants to local businesses, is a great start to revitalizing businesses in the area. Business classes training for prospective young entrepreneurs was also one of our recommendations for the community. The new business parks in development right now in Fayette County with state funding and grants from the ARC will also bring in new jobs and help small towns grow.
An effort to increase utilization of the Internet and social media platforms would also help bring in local business. We saw that a few businesses in the area have already begun utilizing social media as a way to let their customers know about sales, specials, etc. so that was great to see. These initiatives will help businesses better relationships with their customers and within the community. Increasing social media literacy would be an inexpensive way to help businesses grow and expand their customer base, potentially bringing in clients from outside the town and from counties that might not shop or work with their businesses. We saw this in action with the Appalachian Creativity Center. They utilized Facebook to communicate with customers and artists from other areas of Fayette County and beyond. They were working towards expanding their social media outreach through help from high school student workers at the Center.
We saw that Connellsville had a major focus on public art and music. We would like to recommend that the town continues to uplift talented individuals. This would improve beautification efforts in town, support local talent, and provides work for up-and-coming artists in the area. They could host more art fairs, commission more murals, and work on improving the town’s history through their public art. We also feel that venues around Connellsville would be great for hosting music nights where local musicians could come show their work and talents. This could also provide incentive for people outside of the town to come and watch, and it could even bring in a younger crowd.
Our team also suggested looking into wind farms that could bring new jobs to the county and also conserve the beauty of the Youghiogheny River and the surrounding landscapes. I think that this would be a great way to improve sustainability efforts and economic development. One of our initiatives was looking for ways to make the town more sustainable and environmentally conscious so this would be a great way to do this.
We also recommended expanding local transportation, in and out of Connellsville and throughout the town itself. Additionally, utilizing local venues for social events that could engage Connellsville’s community (young or old). Bingo nights, art classes, drinking social events, and more would really help bring more life and fun to the town.
I also found that communication between businesses, restaurants, and the Comfort Inn Hotel was lacking which made it difficult to keep tourists and visitors engaged. I think that this is my biggest recommendation- to improve this network of communication. When we visited the Comfort Inn, the manager told us that she never knew when restaurants in the downtown center were open, she never really knew what to recommend to guests, and that this really didn’t help her business, or the town’s. It is really important for guests and tourists of Connellsville to see and experience the town in all of its wonderfulness so having the communication necessary is key in doing creating a better experience for them. Additionally, opening up more attractions and restaurants that cater to healthier lifestyles and younger individuals would really help business in Connellsville because there is a big market for these amenities in the area. With the GAP trail and young, fit individuals coming through town, these businesses would have a real shot at success.
I think that my perceptions of Appalachia and rural towns across the country have changed. I wrote my final capstone paper on this shift because it was extremely eye-opening, and I felt incredibly strongly about it. I had thought that these parts of the United States were racist, uneducated, and all these negative things because of Trump’s presidency. I put a huge blanket over everyone and categorized the communities this way. I was completely wrong. After meeting people in Fayette County and talking closely with them, I found that they were so nice, welcoming, and wanted to improve their communities. Samantha Nicholson was the woman I interviewed, and her perspective was so intriguing to me because I was able to see that education and community engagement was so important to her and to those around her. After talking with Daniel and Michael, they were so invested in their community and wanted to work towards improving it. They are both hardworking and were so inviting to our project this semester, even though I thought that they’d hate bringing us into their community because we were this big group from the city. My perceptions of rural communities have been completely changed. I really enjoyed speaking with community leaders, members, and all of the people in Fayette County because if I hadn’t, I would just go about my life thinking things about them that I should not have at all. I thought we’d have a hard time getting to know everyone and that people wouldn’t like us because we were outsiders to their community, but each person that we met was so incredibly nice!
I would consider doing this type of research professionally because I love talking to people and hearing about what they would like to improve in their communities. Community-based research is something that I would love to continue doing in my future because many people feel unheard and misunderstood because no one takes the time to invest in these areas. I think that these same problems occur also in underdeveloped and underfunded urban communities as well, and this is where I would most likely go to work professionally. Although I loved meeting all the individuals in Connellsville, I do not know if I would return specifically to Fayette County. The towns were just too small for me, and I am not sure that I’d be able to adjust well. If in 5-10 years, there’s a major revitalization of Fayette County that turned it into a hub for younger individuals and with entertainment for people around my age, I would consider going back and helping the community.
When I am old and grey, I will tell my grandkids that I spent a semester of college getting to know a community that I was completely unfamiliar with and had bad perceptions of. I will tell them that this was a really great experience where I was able to meet a whole community of people that was different from me and understand their differences and hopefully make them feel like they’re important and heard. They would hear about my valuable conversation with Ann from the Creativity Center and the cool tour at the Youghiogheny Glass Factory. I really enjoyed getting to know everyone from Connellsville, and I hope that the coming groups will love it as much as I did.
The course was completely different from any college course I have taken. I found it really amazing that we were able to control what we did for the research and what initiatives we took with our interviewing and recommendations. The community-based research was such an amazing experience and talking to all of the people was really insightful. All of my other courses had us do online research, look through readings and textbook chapters, and find information through secondary sources while this course was completely new and different. Getting first-hand knowledge and talking with real people about real problems was so informative. We were able to do real, productive research that wasn’t just a search on Google Scholar. This was an incredible experience that I hope all political science or urban studies major should have because it really changed my mind about many people and ideas.
My experience working on this project this semester was really great and I would definitely recommend it to peers. There were some bumps in the road because we were the first ever group to do the research, and we had to do everything on our own, but this did not hinder us. We worked together well and came out with a great presentation and hopefully will guide the next group in the right direction to doing this type of research.