NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — When walking along Fifth Avenue in downtown New Kensington, one may notice a plot of land between two buildings. The space, once occupied by the Pittsburgh Beauty Academy until fire caused its demolition, has been home to the New Kensington Community Garden since 2012 — and Penn State New Kensington is playing an important role in making the garden a space the entire community can enjoy.
“Every year it’s gotten progressively larger,” said Patrick Coulson, volunteer coordinator of the garden and director of Westmoreland County Community College’s (WCCC) New Kensington Center. “Every year it seems like we’ve gotten more people involved.”
As the years have progressed, so has the garden and Fifth Avenue. A portion of the avenue has been officially dubbed as the Corridor of Innovation by Penn State New Kensington as part of the campus' commitment to ongoing revitalization initiatives in the city. The corridor — which spans from WCCC New Kensington to Penn State New Kensington’s innovation hub The Corner — includes the garden, as well as small businesses and vacant properties.
“It makes me feel good, helping someone who needs help, and at Penn State, that’s part of our goal, to be in the community."
—Candee Christy, administrative support assistant and volunteer
The campus’ commitment to local community also is carried out through volunteer opportunities, including helping to prepare the community garden for its upcoming summer planting season. This has a lasting impact in the community; as vegetables and fruit ripen throughout the summer, the food is then donated to local food banks and organizations in New Kensington.
“It’s important to show that we are an active community member,” explained Kary Milan, director of development and alumni relations at the New Kensington campus, adding that beautification projects like the garden “make the city a little bit brighter and a litter bit better.”
Seven New Kensington staff, alumni and campus advisory board members recently helped make their city a little brighter by donning work gloves and heading into the garden with Coulson to move and spread mulch, remove weeds, apply weed blocking material to garden beds, repair a fence, and build a greenhouse.
“It makes me feel good, helping someone who needs help, and at Penn State, that’s part of our goal, to be in the community,” said Candee Christy, administrative support assistant at Penn State New Kensington and garden volunteer.
The New Kensington campus has put Penn State’s institutional value of community at the forefront in its work and presence in the city, not only through volunteerism, but its ongoing commitment to local revitalization and sustainability efforts.
“It’s all about our presence here,” said Steve Molitierno, a campus advisory board member and volunteer during the garden preparation day. He also hopes that more Penn State students, faculty and staff will continue to volunteer at the garden in the future.
The volunteers hope that their presence at the garden will cause others to take notice of the significant project that is going on along the corridor and encourage them to want to contribute to it and other initiatives in the city.
“Even today there was a gentleman who was just walking along the street, and he stopped and said 'looking good!” remembered Christy. “It made you feel good, and maybe he’ll stop some day and help.”
Coulson said that although the garden started seven years ago before some of the more tangible revitalization efforts began to take shape in the city, its location along the corridor has helped the project in numerous ways — including helping form partnerships with other organizations like Penn State New Kensington, the Northern Westmoreland Career and Technical Center, New Kensington-Arnold School District, and the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County, among others.
“It’s nice that we are on the corridor,” said Coulson. “It has really been a catalyst to revitalization and to having the community and even people outside the area take another look at New Kensington and to look at it in a new and different way.”
Brian Magnus, a senior journalism major and embedded intern at the New Kensington campus from the Penn State Office of Planning and Assessment, contributed to this article.