posted on October 05, 2010 11:56
Editor's Note: This week's we are fortunate to have Lansing's Old Town Commercial Association Executive Director Brittney Hoszkiw as our guest blogger. Prior to working with Old Town Lansing, Brittney helped get the Iron Mountian Main Street and Scottville Main Street programs off the ground serving as the respective communities' first Main Street Manager. In this entry, Brittney follows up Scottville Main Street Manager Josh Spencer's post "The Power of Relationships" with her take on engaging Generations X and Y.
By Brittney Hoszkiw
Old Town (Lansing) Commercial Association
After volunteering for nine months with the Old Town Main Street program, I was overwhelmed with excitement for the small cluster of historic buildings nestled along the bend in the Grand River. Even now, after several Main Street positions and becoming the Executive Director of the neighborhood I love so dear, I still don’t know if I can entirely put it into words.
I was a student and was taking an unpaid position in the Old Town office for completely self-serving reasons. I needed an internship in order to have any hope of employment after I graduated and the position as Communication and Events Intern sounded painless. Little did I know, this one decision would direct my future career, dictate what I now call home and introduce countless faces to my life that I now see as family.
At the time, I was a student with endless possibilities. Bright lights and big cities were calling my name all over the country, but all I could think about after my time in Old Town was the valiant effort of a handful of passionate volunteers in the emerging little nook of Lansing, Michigan.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to wax on about why Old Town Lansing is so wonderful or even bore you with my personal journey into Main Street. That is not the direction I was hoping to go, but instead I wanted to give you a little context. You see, after five years working in Main Street communities all over the state, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I do for a living now as a Main Street Manager and how it is so closely related to my journey as a young professional.
Cities big and small across this great state are looking for people just like I was — young, trained and looking forward to cultivating a life somewhere. Most cities lose their talent to places like Chicago, Austin or Denver. I know, because this is where many of my friends moved after graduation. Now, as a community development professional , I hear the same graveling excuses from city administration: “We need more wireless café, water parks and malls to bring our young people back.” I look around Old Town and see none of that, thank goodness.
I was your typical Middle American college grad that was raised in a typical Middle American way. Both my parents worked full time to make sure I had everything I ever needed. I was a latch-key kid who ate Spaghetti-o’s after school while watching Boyz II Men on MTV. These experiences shaped me and helped develop a craving for the values I would seek later in life, such as community, connectivity and purpose. I am not alone in my search. In a study done by Mark McCrindle, an Australian Social Researcher, Generation X and Y want to be part of a community; to be understood, accepted, respected and included.
What is Main Street if not inclusive? With such a lofty goal as community and economic development through historic preservation and community participation, you could understand how it requires all hands on deck and input from everyone of all ages. While other communities invest hundreds of thousands of dollars on manufacturing personality and vibrancy in an effort to attract their young people back to buy homes, put their children in school and start businesses, what these young people are truly looking for is an opportunity to participate in the solution, just as I was.
We don’t need flashy bars or national chain stores — we just need to be asked. Main Street does just that. This sense of community can be embedded in children at a very early age through focus groups, student-led community projects, etc. In a study done by Dave Ivan of the Michigan State University Extension, students who were given the opportunity to participate in the growth of their community gave their home town a higher satisfaction rating later in life. It was when I heard him speak for the first time that my experience as a volunteer in Old Town Lansing finally made sense.
Old Town may not have skyscrapers, heated sidewalks or digital kiosks at every corner, but we do have exactly the thing that I needed (but never knew I wanted) at a very important time in my life. Main Street was the conduit that allowed me to discover a neighborhood that was right under my nose the whole time. It wasn’t about finding the building and businesses that make up Old Town but about finding the outlet to feel involved and connected with my surrounding community, something that my generation yearns for. I felt like I had a purpose to help my friends demand more for themselves and of their neighbors. It was exhilarating and empowering and I now have the distinct pleasure of witnessing that discovery for others every day.
While communities across Michigan continue to work toward a better tomorrow and find a comprehensive way to retain the talent that seems to be leaving at such a rapid pace, I hope professionals and cities of all sizes do not underestimate the power of participation and find ways to encourage community members to get involved. We know the exponential growth that can happen in a community when we leverage relationships and volunteers, but the real talent retention tool is in the positive experiences that that volunteer, young or old, takes with them through what is hopefully a better and more fulfilled life.