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Penn State University has awarded a $50,000 grant to the Greater Allegheny Campus to support its operation of the new McKeesport Community Center.
The grant was one of $200,000 in "Invent Penn State" awards made to campuses across Pennsylvania. Others were awarded to Penn State's Beaver, DuBois and Hazleton campuses.
Located in the former YWCA of McKeesport on Ninth Avenue, Downtown, the center is designed to offer entrepreneurship lessons and continuing education to McKeesport-area residents.
It had a "soft opening" in October, says Victoria Garwood, director of enrollment management at Penn State Greater Allegheny, but activity has ramped up since then.
"We are very happy with the way things are coming along there," Garwood says.
The $50,000 grant money will be used to support and expand programming, she says.
Besides hosting a Thanksgiving turkey drive and a Christmas toy drive, there have been a new homebuyer workshop and regular Zumba classes, Garwood says.
The provider of the Zumba classes is using the McKeesport Community Center to grow her business in the early stages, in hopes of spinning off into her own facility, Garwood says.
A Penn State spokesman said that the university has 21 "innovation hubs" and programs across Pennsylvania that are designed to partner with start-up businesses, local community organizations and industries.
The hubs are designed to encourage training and mentorship and provide space for new businesses to grow, the spokesman said.
The programs and services of each center are designed to be free of charge to Penn State students and faculty, as well as community members.
"The purpose is to provide the campus and ther city with a way to bring programming and support to residents of the area," Garwood says.
At least one Penn State senior majoring in business is already involved at the McKeesport Center, along with Eric Ewell, Greater Allegheny's director of continuing education, and Aaron Whigham, assistant finance officer, who is coordinating operations of the McKeesport center.
“We have formed partnerships with local banks, environmental health & safety experts, and entrepreneurs to provide resources throughout the community to educate and elevate the citizens within,” Whigham said in a prepared statement.
“We opened the doors to the community center to create collaborators through business incubation and community empowerment," he said. “In the future, our hope is that the Penn State Community Center will serve as a lynchpin between the university, the community and local government as a valuable resource center while advancing the land grant mission of Penn State University.”
The innovation hub program was introduced by Penn State President Eric J. Barron two and a half years ago.
“As a major public research university, we are committed to empowering entrepreneurs and providing the tools to take great ideas to the next level,” Barron said this week in a prepared statement.
He said that Penn State's network of what the university calls Commonwealth Campuses, not "branch" campuses, leaves the university "uniquely positioned" to drive local economies and help spur job creation.
The announcement of the new round of grants was made at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. Barron was joined by Dennis Davin, secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, and Gene Barr, CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
Originally published February 07, 2018.