By Megan Karl
NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – A professor and his small team from Penn State New Kensington are working together with familiar faces in the community in hopes to revitalize New Kensington.
Dr. Allen Larson is an Assistant Professor of Communications at the Penn State New Kensington campus who has managed to find the time to work with the Northern Westmoreland Foundation on this project. Larson and his team have been asked to produce a video that captures stories of community members who lived in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, when New Kensington was a thriving town and ALCOA was a large part of it. The goal is to revitalize New Kensington and bring back the town that it used to be.
Being a member in community activism, Larson was involved in AIDS advocacy which is one of the ways he obtained his public relations background. Being aware of these skills, Chancellor Kevin Snider, who is on the Northern Westmoreland Foundation board, brought this project idea to Larson.
According to Larson, one of the goals of the Northern Westmoreland Foundation is to “encourage community reinvestment and pride.” In order to do that, he believes that the town needs to bring new people in.
“What I do think is that the area and the town have something to offer,” said Larson. “That it could be a place that could attract people that want to form a certain kind of community, and the biggest challenge, and I think everyone knows, is that it requires bringing a lot of new people in. That’s what it’s going to depend on: attracting new people.”
One constraint, however, is that the older generation who are featured in the video, are the ones who want to see a makeover, not so much the younger generation residing there today.
“What I think young people should want and have a right to expect is that they can have a decent life…” said Larson. “It means having a home, a community, the things that make services and institutions, that make living somewhere nice.”
One of the main features of their video and what is being emphasized is that ALCOA was once a big part of the town and of the community member’s lives. Unfortunately, they are no longer present and have moved all of their factories overseas. Larson said in the interview that he does not believe ALCOA will become a central part of the town again, but they do still have a small presence within New Kensington due to jobs and being a supporter of the Penn State New Kensington campus.
Unfortunately, the town has slowly gone downhill from those thriving years, and its reputation isn’t a favorable one.
When asked if that could change with the help of this project, Larson said, “Absolutely. I believe that that’s possible. I think just my experience of showing it to younger people in particular, I know that it could change what people see because your generation, seems to me, has no idea what it used to be like. The fact that it used to be that way doesn’t prove anything, but I think it changes or helps to see the possibilities and that’s the first step in revitalization: changing how people see.”
This project is worth hearing about and the Foundation has a few possible events in mind to get the word out. The event coming up is scheduled in November and involves the screening of the video produced by Larson and his team. It is a fundraiser so all the money donated from purchasing the 200 videos produced will go towards future projects done by the Northern Westmoreland Foundation. Possible future events include setting up a booth at the local Community Days next summer. They also hope to encourage community members to invest in this project if they can.
This being the first time Larson has worked with Northern Westmoreland Foundation, he had nothing but good things to say: “They were great to work with.”