LION Walk designed to promote community spirit

A joint initiative between Penn State and State College Borough has started spreading a new, neighborly message: We Are...one community.

On a recent August evening, groups of four people -- each representing local police, the student body, borough government, or the University -- took part in the inaugural LION (Living In One Neighborhood) Walk.

The teams went door to door, visiting about 250 homes in State College's Highlands and Holmes-Foster neighborhoods, areas where students and permanent residents live side by side. They distributed packets containing tips on how to be a good neighbor and other information on ordinances regarding trash, parties, noise, parking and recycling.

Despite the fact that Penn State and the surrounding community have co-existed for more than 150 years, both the University and State College borough recognized that assimilating tens of thousands of students is not always peaceful and harmonious.

"Both through the planning and the implementation, this project has clearly been a wonderful collaboration between the University and the borough," said Penn State's new vice president for Student Affairs, Damon Sims.

The planning stage for LION Walk has been a few years in the making.

"It was really collaborative, originating in some goal-setting borough council did in 2004, and in 2006 when neighborhood issues figured prominently in our planning," said State College Borough Manager Tom Fountaine. "We were looking for ways to improve some issues and conflicts, to preserve neighborhoods, for students and non-students alike."

University and borough representatives also examined successful town-gown practices in leading college towns such as Fort Collins and Boulder, Col.

State College then tabbed Chelsea Puff, a Penn State graduate student and borough intern, to coordinate LION Walk, beginning with background research into with the neighborhoods having the greatest mix of students and permanent residents -- the focus of this year's LION. Puff worked extensively not only with borough staff but also with Penn State's Division of Student Affairs and Penn State's Off-Campus Student Union.

When it came time to put together the four-person teams, even the most visible representatives of the University and the borough embraced the project and offered to participate, including Penn State President Graham Spanier, Vice President Sims, State College Mayor Bill Welch, and others.

When the groups roamed the neighborhoods, knocking on doors and greeting students and non-students, reaction was almost universally positive.

"The people we met and the members of our group seemed to enjoy the interactions," Sims said. "As one new to the community, I was pleased by the sincere warmth I found in the exchanges I had. The event should continue, and I hope it becomes a longstanding tradition."

Fountaine, too, related positive interactions. "Some students were surprised, partially because we had uniformed police officers with each group. But they were all very receptive and genuinely pleased to see it. One student remarked that this was the first time anyone had welcomed him back," he said.

Now that the first LION Walk has been deemed a great success, it is likely to be expanded next year, with more participants visiting more area residents.

"The vast majority of the residents we visited were really receptive and grateful for the effort," Puff said. "It's very encouraging for our future efforts."

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Last Updated August 24, 2012