LEWISBURG, Pa. — Navigating the uneven sidewalk of the 1200 block of Market Street in Sunbury, Pa., Bucknell University student Harrison Mills, Class of '14, stopped in front of a Victorian home. Half its siding was missing. Strips of duct tape hung peeling from the gables. The lawn was overgrown.
"This is the kind of house we're looking at," he said. A summer intern for Sunbury's Revitalization Inc. (SRI), a nonprofit organization focused on economic development and neighborhood reinvestment, Mills is collecting data on blighted houses so that SRI can set priorities for which houses to buy and either tear down or rebuild. The project is one of many he's helping with that may lead to improvements to the struggling city 11 miles south of Bucknell's campus.
"They only have enough money to buy up five properties a year, so they need to choose really good properties that would have the most effect," said Mills. To help the agency determine which houses to buy, he is compiling code violations and crimes for the past four years and mapping them using geographic information systems, or GIS, software.
"Even just entering the crime data, it's easy to see physically the problem areas," says Mills. "It became apparent just looking at the map: It's like a giant bull's eye where the crimes are."
A physics major, Mills became interested in social services after taking a human services course with Professor of Sociology Carl Milofsky. Co-director of the Nature and Human Communities Initiative of the Bucknell Environmental Center, Milofsky conducts research on social assets — the human, physical and institutional elements of communities that can be the means to improving life. He connected Mills with SRI.
"We focus on types of data that communities really value and need — what's there that people could use to make their community a better place," said Milofsky. "Student researchers like Harrison collect data we can use to help organizations design and implement programs."
To support Milofsky's work, Mills is collecting information on all the social services available in Sunbury. Milofsky will enter the data into the Central Susquehanna Valley Community Platform, an online resource for people seeking support, and share the information with the Northumberland, Snyder and Union County 2-1-1 system, a call center that provides information on food, housing, counseling and other services.
Mills is also developing for the Nature and Human Communities Initiative an interview guideline for a skills asset audit. "Once it's in place, it'll be used in the coming years to interview as many people as possible in the Sunbury area and figure out what kind of skills they have," said Mills. "Maybe someone's trying to start a business or needs someone to help with plumbing or painting. They'll be able to contact SRI, who can put them in touch with other people in the area."
Because Mills' internship with SRI would be unpaid, he applied to the Bucknell Public Interest Program (BPIP) Internship Fund, which provides $3,000 stipends to selected undergraduate students who have secured unpaid internships at nonprofit, public service and public interest organizations. "Often, organizations in these sectors are unable to offer paid internship positions," said Marilyn Shull, assistant director of BPIP.
SRI's Elm Street Manager Kristin McLaughlin said Mills has been researching initiatives SRI hasn't had the time to pursue. "He recently put together information about how other communities run a tool lending library, which is an idea we have considered for the last five or more years," she said.
"I hope that in the process, Harrison takes away a sense of the breadth of what community revitalization organizations do and seek to achieve, as well as gain experience in largely self-directed and independent work," said McLaughlin. "Also, obviously, we hope he has an enjoyable summer exploring Sunbury."
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