At home in the city
Donovan Roberts Witmer '97
Matt ’01 and Lisa (Kerr) ’03 Zieger enjoy the urban atmosphere of Harrisburg’s Broad Street Market. Since, as Matt states, “the success of any region depends on the health of its urban hub,” the couple invests in the city by living and working there.
Leaman’s hope for her Allison Hill neighborhood—to build foundations for long-term community involvement and growth—resonates in the lifestyles of a growing number of Messiah College graduates who believe that a personal, holistic approach to urban development is the best way to create lasting, positive change.
“When people relocate into the community they’re serving, then new economic capital and access to new social networks are infused into distressed and at-risk areas,” explains Harrisburg resident Chad Frey ’96, a Christian education alumnus who is now director of Messiah’s Agapé Center for Service and Learning.
Hoping to open more people’s minds to the potential rewards of moving to the city, realtor Twila (Jones) Glenn ’03, an international business alumna, educates home buyers about tax abatements, grants for closing costs, and other incentives offered to people who buy homes in at-risk areas, including sections of Harrisburg. Glenn and her husband, Ryan ’03, live in midtown Harrisburg, where they pursue their goals to stay connected to their neighbors and contribute to revitalizing their neighborhood. “Hearing all that the Mayor was doing for the City of Harrisburg and how a lot of people were investing in the city and trying to change perceptions of Harrisburg, we decided to join that movement,” she says. Glenn also wanted to live in an urban area to replicate her experiences as a student studying in Costa Rica with the Council for
Christian Colleges and Universities and in European cities with Messiah’s International Business Institute. In the city, “it’s not about the size of your house but about being part of the community,” she says. “People are outside talking to each other and you can walk to almost anything.”
Not only do alumni add value to urban areas by working, volunteering, and buying their homes there, but as residents of cities, they are often in a better position to help others, because they encounter the benefits and problems of urban living firsthand.
Religion alumnus Chris Book ’78, for example, moved with his wife, Marlys, to Harrisburg in 1985 to work for Paxton Ministries, where Book has been the executive director since 1987. “It made sense to us that if our ministry was in the city, then we would live in the city,” says Book, whose children, now thriving college students, attended the public city schools, where Marlys volunteered several hours a week.
Also addressing urban issues from the front lines, recent graduates Malinda Kirk ’06, social work, and Micalagh Beckwith ’06, human development and family sciences, both work for human service agencies in Harrisburg, where they also share an apartment. Kirk, a case manager for a homeless shelter, believes living in the city means striving “to be loving, hospitable neighbors to the people we are surrounded by.”
And Beckwith, who works with at-risk youth in an after-school program, shares Kirk’s vision for hospitality: “I realized that while it is possible to work in the city and live outside of it, part of my way of showing the people I work with that we are in this together is by living in the city with them. I believe that this is a way that Jesus served people—by living with them,
by becoming one of them, by loving them.”
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