NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — From AKEG to WEDIG, community development has been the cornerstone of Chancellor Kevin Snider’s eight-year tenure as the head of Penn State New Kensington. The efforts were recognized recently with a “Points of Light” award from the city of New Kensington.
The New Kensington Points of Light committee honored the campus and three other nonprofit organizations for their commitment to foster economic development and create jobs in the city. The Points of Light name pays homage to President George H. W. Bush‘s 1988 Republican nomination speech that likened volunteerism to “1,000 points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.”
“The award honors the entire campus for its efforts to be involved in the community,” Snider said. “From students working to help businesses through developing business plans, to faculty consulting on area projects, to working with 15 school districts to improve STEM education in the region, to economic development initiatives, we have sought to improve the area around us and give students exceptional learning opportunities. We are grateful and humbled that this work has been recognized by the New Kensington Points of Light.”
The campus’ new entrepreneur center, tentatively named AKEG (Alle-Kiski Economic Generator), was the impetus for the award. After a demolition ceremony in January, the center, which is located in downtown New Kensington, is in the process of being developed. When completed later this year, the center will launch a business accelerator program to attract and nurture innovation and small business development across the Alle-Kiski Valley.
"The building will serve as both a meeting space for business folks and as an incubator for entrepreneurs," Snider said.
AKEG is the delivery vehicle for affecting change in the city of New Kensington and the region. The program is a collaboration of students, faculty and campuses working with businesses and communities across the state to improve the lives of Pennsylvanians. AKEG is funded by a $150,000 grant from Invent Penn State, an initiative that brings together Penn State’s intellectual resources, alumni, private and public businesses and investors to support the efforts.
“Penn State is committed to helping to drive economic development in communities throughout the commonwealth,” Snider said. “With the help of the mayor of New Kensington, Beauty Shoppe, and Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation, our efforts will make a real difference. AKEG is a great way to bring energy and vitality to downtown.”
AKEG complements WEDIG (Westmoreland Economic Development Initiative for Growth), an organization representing five local townships that work together to achieve economic growth and global competitiveness through private-public partnerships. Snider spearheaded the establishment of the group in 2009 to foster quality development in communities throughout the county. Members come from five Alle-Kiski municipalities: Allegheny Township, Arnold, Lower Burrell, New Kensington and Upper Burrell. Snider organized WEDIG into committees that deal with five issues: infrastructure; education and training; quality of life; business and investment; and health, wellness and spirituality. Penn State New Kensington students serve as interns to help each committee.
“WEDIG has had tremendous success in bringing a focus to economic development initiatives in the area,” Snider said. “I have been pleasantly surprised by the longevity and activity this group has managed to bring to the area over the last seven years. We are proud of what our partnerships have accomplished and continue to be involved in the organization.”
In addition to receiving a certificate, Penn State New Kensington was added to a plaque that contains names of past Point of Light honorees. The plaque hangs at city hall. Sharing the spotlight with the campus are three other newbies on the marker — Allegheny Valley Association of Churches, Community Clothes Closet, and New Kensington/Arnold Social in the Park.
The campus has a connection to Allegheny Valley Association of Churches. The Penn State New Kensington Alumni Society sponsors a food drive in conjunction with its annual TV football tailgate party. All items are designated for the association’s food bank.
Members of the society often volunteer for “Produce for People," a monthly program for low-income families that provides groceries to 360 local residents during a two-hour period. Organized by the association and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, the program is held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month at two distribution sites: one for cold weather and one for warm weather. During the winter months, December to April, the distribution site is the Tribune-Review’s Valley News Dispatch newspaper plant in Tarentum. During the spring, summer and fall months, the site is Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Harrison.
“This type of consistent giving of time and effort by our students, faculty, staff and alumni is an example of why Penn State New Kensington received a Points of Light award,” Snider said. “I am extremely proud of our campus community for getting involved in the local community. This work builds the area, provides meaningful learning experiences for students, and allows us to be a contributing partner to the region in which we work, live and play. Hopefully it is also making a difference in people's lives.”