Volume 97 Issue 10 News

ReInvision Huntingdon to connect, revitalize local communities

by Jessica Ware

Since November of 2015, Ryan Gibbony has kick started a local group to revitalize the Huntingdon community and its connection to Juniata College.

“Reinvision Huntingdon is basically a small group of community activists that are interested in seeing overall revitalization (of the Huntingdon Community),” said Ryan Gibbony, the head of the group and an instructor in integrated media arts on campus.  

“When I started Reinvision Huntingdon in the fall of last year, it started out as a very small group and just identifying some projects that we might be able to do or talking to students about them getting involved through the classroom or as volunteers.  I also have several people in the community that had great interest in being participants in different things,” said Ryan Gibbony.

 “I think it is awesome that these young people are encouraging locals to step up and offering them an opportunity to try to improve this community—one step at a time. Lots of people have ideas, but no one asked them before, let alone offer to help.  All we ever hear is Huntingdon has no money.  Well, sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of money to make a big difference!  New friendships, little sweat, time and developing community pride. Sounds like a great idea to me,” said Linda Goodman, scout leader of Boy Scout Troop 28.

When asked what caused her to want to create such a group, Gibbony said, “I grew up in this area and left for about 12 years and came back in the fall of 2013.  Over about a year and a half, I started noticing people saying that they wanted to see something change or complaining about something or identifying a problem not knowing what the solution might be.  I remembered all of the times that I was away, I was a part of several revitalization projects, and I started to feel almost guilty that I wasn’t helping here.”

“In March, we did our first public community discussion meeting, and that was held downtown at the (American) Legion.  We had roughly 65 attendees.  The meeting didn’t have an agenda.  During the entire meeting, we had people write down ideas on boards with markers,” said Gibbony.  “We had people talk about things that they wanted to see (in Huntingdon).  We opened the conversation up to the room, and people started talking about after school programs or the lack of them.  Some people started talking about community food gardens and how those work really well in other downtown areas.”

“Through a lot of conversation of community members, we found out that many people have not only some complains about Huntingdon, but also inspiring ideas how to enrich the town or the relationship between the town and the college again. We want to encourage the community to share their ideas and thoughts with us and each other to inspire the community to work on the realization of those,” said Lena Totzke, an international student from Germany who has worked with Reinvision Huntingdon.

One of the community members who attended the meeting was Nick Miller.  Miller said, “I absolutely love that Reinvision Huntingdon exists; I think groups like this are integral to community improvement.  Reinvision provides a way for different sectors of the community to network and better assist one another.  Through networking community projects become more holistic rather than individualistic.”  Miller is now currently working with Gibbony on the Community Garden project.

Until projects get approved, Reinvision Huntingdon hosts local meetings to listen to the members of the community.  “All of our meetings are focused on community input.  For the most part, anytime you see an organization have a meeting in the public, it is normally for them to talk to the people that attend, but we flipped that idea and whenever people attend our meetings, we hope for them to be the ones talking and to be sharing their ideas of what they like to see.  If they have lived somewhere else and have seen something else that they think would work here.  That is how we have been running,” said Totzke.

At the previous meeting on March 22, there was a very large representation from Juniata College.  “It wasn’t just students, and not just faculty, but administrative people.  We also had people from other local community colleges there, and I think that is an exciting thing to get the local colleges together in the same room,” said Gibbony.  “I think anytime you can get students and administrative people excited about the community it’s a good thing because then they are going to want to participate and share their ideas.”

A $500 grant was given out from Reinvision Huntingdon to Linda Goodman to help clean up the area around Portstown Park.  “I applied for a grant to ‘spruce’ up the area to the right of the Smithfield Bridge, before you go across – across from Laney’s Feed Mill,” said Goodman.

“I wanted to have the borough dig up the section of old blacktop road in the middle of the area and plant it all in grass.  Just looks like an eyesore.  Add a couple benches and picnic tables.   Cut the invasive trees growing up in the fenced in area by the electric box.  It will depend on how far I can stretch the money,” said Goodman.

One of the goals of the group is to become a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, allowing it to have a federal tax exemption.

“I look at this as something that I could come up with some ideas and we could have public meetings and they could just fizzle out, but by making ourselves a non-profit we are opening the opportunity to file for larger grants and to show that we are a full functioning organization.  We’ll also make people interested in making donations, and they will be able to get a tax-rate off to supply a donation to our organization.  Last year this was definitely a project, but it is now becoming a full functional organization,” said Gibbony.

There are more projects coming up, but Reinvision Huntingdon has decided to keep them a secret until they get more approval.  “As soon as those are announced, I definitely encourage students to get involved.  It’s a great way to get connected with the community and learn what is going on in Huntingdon,” said Gibbony.

“I think you cannot expect a change in one week or even one year, to make a difference needs time, but since a lot of Huntingdon’s residences feel positive about the project and actually share their thoughts, ideas and also their concerns with us, we already made a step in the right direction,” said Totzke.  

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