What constitutes a thriving community? Fifteen Franklin & Marshall College juniors and seniors explored this theme over the summer through the eight-week Public Service Summer Internship (PSSI) program.
The program, run by F&M’s Ware Institute for Civic Engagement, places juniors and seniors at different nonprofit organizations in Lancaster County while challenging them to learn about ways to address a community issue.
Students convened each week as a cohort to reflect on their internship experiences. They were tasked with creating development plans that combined theory with a hands-on investigation of the factors that make a thriving community. This year, it was the borough of Columbia, Pa.
At the start of the College-funded program, Ann Hughes, director of the Ware Institute, and Associate Director Lisa Wolfe took the interns to New York City for a workshop on placemaking with the Project for Public Spaces. The group learned about ways that design of public spaces can serve community residents.
“When you go to a community, you don’t know what the intentions were in its organization,” said Hughes. “How is the space used and who is drawn to it? What kind of barriers could get in the way of achieving the intent?”
The placement of each student’s internship is connected to the cohort theme. Just as they used Columbia to think about thriving communities, they saw their own organizations’ contributions to Lancaster.
“Because of the intensity and immersive nature of the program, PSSI is the equivalent of the capstone experience offered by the Ware Institute,” Hughes said.
“Everyone at my organization, Community First Fund, is really driven toward working for the common goal of helping others from a basic humanity level,” said senior Emily Faller, an economy major and religious studies minor from Newport Coast, Calif. “They’re living for others. The experience has taught me that there are so many opportunities out there. I really like what I’m doing, so maybe I’ll want to pursue this sort of work in the future.”
Hughes said Columbia was the perfect place to think about thriving communities.
“Last year, we thought about the issue of poverty in Lancaster County,” she said. “This year, we wanted to look at something and ask, ‘What could it become?’ The borough has one local government, one school district, and a town that brings it all together under one umbrella. All the stakeholders are invested in the same municipality.”
Every Wednesday, the cohort met with different stakeholders in Columbia, including members of the government, school district and fire department, as well as various entrepreneurs and organizations dedicated to health care, religious life and history. They made a point to have lunch at local eateries and to speak to residents.
“None of the students had been there before, so they were learning the community through fresh eyes,” said Hughes.
At the end of eight weeks, the cohort presented their development plans to a crowd of 65, including Columbia stakeholders and their internship supervisors.
“Our goal is that stakeholders get a nugget of an idea through the lens of students who are invested in the borough in a very different way. They are invested because they’ve started to care,” Hughes said.
In their presentations, the interns described Columbia as a town with pride and potential and offered ideas for stakeholders to continue conversations with each other.
“A thriving Columbia is a place of community connectedness where people care for where they live and for one another. It’s a place that feels like home,” said senior Katelin Dao, a public health major from Bryn Mawr, Pa. who interned with Lancaster General Health.
“You get it!” Rebecca Denlinger, Columbia borough manager, told the F&M students. “I feel so blessed to have an opportunity to work in Columbia. It’s about the people and the pride that they have in this community. Thank you for your wonderful ideas and great energy. I appreciate that you took the time to get Columbia.”