By Konstantine Fekos
Local business owners and organizational leaders gathered with the I (Heart) Meadville Club by the Market House on Saturday afternoon to officially welcome new and returning students to the city of Meadville.
The club, comprised of college students who feel a genuine connection to Meadville’s culture, organized the welcoming event to establish a stronger bond with the city and Allegheny.
“It’s important to remember the students are not just visitors,” Meadville Mayor Christopher Soff said. “The reality is while Allegheny students are here, they’re citizens of our city.”
Soff and Joe DiChristina, Allegheny’s dean of students, made opening statements while groups of students perused booths set up by local businesses and organizations.
“If you don’t know what’s down here, the city can be kind of intimidating,” said Paige Conley, an Allegheny senior and I (Heart) Meadville member. “We’re trying to get students to come downtown more and get a feel for the community.”
Credit for organizing the official welcome went to Allegheny senior Paige Missel.
“It was initially intended for the freshman class,” she said, comparing the event to a student orientation. “It’s turned out great so far.”
More than 20 businesses and organizations were represented, including Park Avenue Cinemas, Meadville Council on the Arts, United Way of Western Crawford County and Crawford Area Transit Authority, which conducted city bus tours for students attending the event.
Also present were restaurants participating in the approximate year-long Gator Cash program, an initiative that basically turns an Allegheny ID card into a cash card at certain downtown shops.
“It’s a good thing that they’re involving students with local businesses,” said Michael Wood, owner of Pizza Villa. “Word has gotten out gradually and use of Gator Cash has increased.”
“We have a card machine where college students can use Gator bucks to buy anything in the store,” said Viki Allin, co-owner of Creative Crust. “We love it. Students that stayed here used it all summer.”
In addition to attending the town’s welcome, students took part in Service Saturday, a monthly volunteer event, earlier that morning.
“It’s like a mini Make A Difference Day,” said Dave Roncolato, Allegheny’s director of community service. “It’s a way of getting students connected to the community.”
By his count, more than 200 students worked to put new coating on the roof of a local resident’s trailer in only a few hours.
“She broke into tears she appreciated it so much,” Roncolato said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The relationship between Meadville and Allegheny College is even a topic of study for students like senior Steve Thomas, who gave cultural history tours of the city Saturday afternoon.
“We found out a lot of people don’t even realize Meadville’s part in Allegheny’s creation,” he said, noting that the city’s volunteer efforts eventually led to the school’s successful establishment in the early 1800s.
College research studies indicate a potentially negative stigma surrounding Meadville, possibly resulting from a decrease in student to city interaction, according to Thomas.
“Hopefully we can give students a positive view of the town,” he said.
“I’m hoping this will continue in the years to come,” Missel said. “I have grown to love Meadville and I wanted to give my perspective to others in the first week of school.”
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.