Ideas and perspectives for community engagement and business development in the Borough of Collegeville from the directors of Pottstown’s Hobart’s Run.
Twila Fisher and Cathy Skitko, Director of Community & Economic Development, and Senior Director of Institutional Public Relations respectively for both the Hill School and Hobart’s Run, met to discuss their work with Collegeville Borough Business Development Committee members at their Nov. 25th meeting.
About the Organization
Hobart’s Run is a non-profit created in Pottstown in 2016 to help transform The Hill School’s surrounding neighborhoods and the town. The group works by partnering and collaborating with residents and property owners to improve the community near the school. They also work with the Borough’s business community to generate positive, sustainable commercial and retail development.
The name Hobart’s Run refers to the stream that feeds the School’s Dell pond and also runs beneath much of the shared neighborhood. Hobart’s Run’s Board of Directors includes Hill School officials, neighborhood block captains and other community advocates: A symbiosis of people with leadership and community action skills.
The Hobart’s Run Neighborhood District
Although Collegeville is blessed with a high median household income of $105,662 a year, the median household income of Pottstown residents is less than half of that. And a neighborhood a few blocks from The Hill School is one of the poorest in Montgomery County.
As a well-known private high school with a 200-acre campus, The Hill School reached out to form partnerships with the neighborhoods and existing neighborhood organizations including Pottstown Community Action, Habitat for Humanity and more.
Hobart’s Run created a neighborhood district, and among other things organized Block Captains and neighborhood cleanups, created an adopt-a-trashcan program, raised money for the installation of neighborhood security cameras, and partnered with Pottstown Community Action on neighborhood improvement initiatives.
In spring 2019, they obtained a $100,000 Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Multi-Modal Grant and a pledge of $37,000 from The Hill School to increase and improve street lighting, replace deteriorated sidewalks, and raise awareness around Borough-wide multimodal transportation efforts.
And to encourage home ownership in the district, where 60 percent of the homes are rented, Hobart’s Run offered a loan of $5,000 to help residents cover closing costs. They also bought two formerly distressed properties near the school and involved their students and volunteers in renovating the houses to be rented to members of the School’s staff.
Nearby the neighborhood district, the 12-acre Edgewood Cemetery was not being maintained. Hobart’s Run provided support for several volunteer cleanups on various weekends over the last 1 1/2 years. They also found an investor interested in buying an unused section of the cemetery for a mixed-use commercial building. They hope to arrange for the lease income to fund an endowment to pay the $25,000 a year needed to keep the cemetery tidy and the grass mowed.
- 2nd Annual Cleanup at Edgewood Cemetery Pottstown Mercury
They listened when local children said that following the closing of the Memorial Park Pool, what they wanted most was to have access to a swimming pool in the summer. Hobart’s Run created $7,500 in swim scholarships for those with financial need to be used at the North End Swimming Club.
Support for Business Investment
To attract new businesses to Pottstown, for the last three years the Hill School and Hobart’s Run have been organizing Investors Conferences, where investors, developers, entrepreneurs, government officials and other interested parties are invited to learn about available properties. This year the conference was attended by 150 individuals who enjoyed a trolley tour of the properties in the Pottstown business district, and “A Taste of Pottstown“ lunch provided by local restaurants.
Hobart’s Run and The Hill School also invite local businesspeople, investors, government officials and community leaders to monthly breakfasts at their Main Street office or, more recently, hosted by other community organizations that regularly participate, to network and share ideas.
And Hobart’s Run collaborates with Pottstown Area Industrial Development (PAID), Inc. to organize the annual “Fete en Blanc“, or “Party in White“. “Fete en Blanc” is a popular, end-of-summer celebration of local food, drinks and live music. The event is held outdoors at the picturesque Smith Family Plaza at Pottstown’s Borough Hall, 100 E. High St.
- A short video of the 2019 Fete en Blanc event YouTube 1:10
The Hill School and Hobart’s Run are modeling behavior for the community and their own students by running the Pottstown Area Social Innovations Lab, which brings together Pottstown High School and Hill students to brainstorm about local concerns; they work with East Coast Volleyball and Hill’s squash teams to run free clinics in these sports for local residents; and they sponsor The Hobart’s Ram Run 5k to raise money toward local facade improvements.
Created in January 2018, the Borough of Collegeville Business Development Committee oversees economic development and business recruitment in the borough. It is made up of volunteers from the borough and administered by a Borough Council member.