Helping Youth Build Community in Ellensburg, Washington

The start of the new academic year is just weeks away, and the Ellensburg Downtown Association (EDA) is gearing up for the back-to-school arrival of Central Washington University (CWU) students. The association's MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter pages are attracting new friends, fans, and followers daily as students begin packing for their return to Central.   

Ellensburg Downtown Association Director Timothy Bishop works with students at Central Washington University

Credit: Ellensburg Downtown Association

CWU and the Ellensburg Downtown Association have been intentionally collaborating over the last few years to connect the campus community to the downtown district with great success. CWU regularly places student interns with the EDA to support special events and projects such as the Girls Night Out, Festival of Trees, and this summer's week-long Fourth of July Independence Day Celebration. The students not only provide much needed staff support for the local Main Street Program, but have also become some of the downtown's biggest fans and advocates. Last spring, a CWU recreation and tourism major, Hilary Davidson, nominated the historic downtown district for inclusion as a cultural attraction as part of the National Geographic's Central Cascades Geo Tourism Project. And over the summer another CWU intern, Steven Smith, helped revamp the Main Street program's social networking sites and increased student participation on those sites by nearly 30 percent.

The EDA also reached out to several campus clubs for support with amazing results. Students in the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) spent the last academic year working on public relations projects for the EDA by creating press releases; writing blog posts; and submitting story leads to state, regional, and national media outlets.  

The Ellensburg Downtown Association works with the business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, on an Emerging Entrepreneur project that showcases the downtown's most innovative businesses.

Credit: Ellensburg Downtown Association

The Main Street Program has also worked with the business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, to host a one-day Emerging Entrepreneur Symposium featuring guest speakers from the local business community and a Main Street Entrepreneur walking tour that showcased the downtown's most innovative, and successful businesses. 

In May, the Washington Main Street Program celebrated the success of the collaboration between CWU and the Ellensburg Downtown Association with an Excellence in Downtown Revitalization Award for Outstanding Public Private Partnership.

With the new school year right around the corner, CWU and Main Street are forging new partnerships through the Don and Verna Duncan Center for Civic Engagement. The Center's mission is to provide opportunities for students to participate in service experiences that benefit their personal, academic, and professional development while simultaneously supporting off-campus communities. 

As part of this new partnership, the Civic Engagement Center and the EDA will be working together to develop service-related opportunities for students across the continuum of service, including:

  • Volunteer/direct service experiences that are easy, task-oriented activities;
  • Co-curricular service activities that are related to the students' potential academic or career interests and help develop professional competencies;
  • Service-learning experiences that capitalize upon students' academic knowledge to support community needs and tie classroom objectives directly to service projects;
  • Service internship experiences where students are assigned to a community-based organization to provide advanced support in a topical area related to the student's focused of study and intended degree.
  • Service capstone projects designed to encourage students to create, develop, and implement complex, multi-dimensional service projects that showcase their academic and professional competencies.

The Main Street Program and the Don and Verna Duncan Civic Engagement Center are in the process of building a series of campus and community partnerships through "Campus and Community Think – DO Tanks" that link knowledgeable, community-based individuals with key students, staff, and faculty both in and out of the classroom. These mutually beneficial partnerships are being designed to capitalize upon the intellect and resources found throughout the greater community to develop a successful downtown culture in which we all take pride and responsibility

It's uncertain what new and exciting projects will emerge from this new collaboration, but the idea of a Downtown Center for Entrepreneurship - identified by the consulting firm TIP Strategies in their recently completed county economic development strategy - will likely be part of the discussion. 

Based on the past success of the two groups, it's clear that Main Street and Central Washington University make a great team. 

Timothy Bishop, CMSM, is executive director of the Ellensburg Downtown Association. Lorinda Anderson is director of Central Washington University's Don and Verna Duncan Center for Civic Engagement.

Learn more about teaching young people to recognize and value the rich heritage of their communities at Teaching Preservation.