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Critical Community Connections

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It all started with a simple breakfast. When President Margee Ensign first joined the Dickinson community close to three years ago, she made it a priority to forge strong connections with other local leaders. And she started developing those connections by inviting a few folks to breakfast at her home. Those breakfasts grew from a handful of community leaders to nearly 65 local and state leaders representing the Carlisle borough, school district, chamber of commerce and police force, as well as representatives from nonprofits and the U.S. Army War College. 

As the coronavirus started to spread across the United States, leaders from emergency services, UPMC Pinnacle, Sadler Health Center and state government joined the group, which transitioned from monthly in-person breakfasts to weekly hourlong phone meetings to provide updates and discuss needs.  

And Dickinson is stepping up to meet those needs. When the group learned there were small businesses in town without the knowledge and skills to build a web presence that would allow them to continue serving their customers, Ensign contacted Professor of Computer Science Grant Braught, who connected those businesses with students to help them get up and running online. In addition, Dickinson’s Center for Civic Learning & Action is assisting business owners in a variety of ways, including helping them to apply for funding, utilizing students to help them write grants, to stay afloat. The center also compiled an extensive online collection of resources and volunteer opportunities for members of and businesses in the Carlisle community. The college also worked with UPMC Pinnacle on contingency plans to provide housing for medical staff should it become necessary. 

And at a time of year when Dickinson’s costume shop would otherwise be busy creating and finalizing costumes for the spring play, Professor of Theatre & Dance Sherry Harper-McCombs, Costume Studio Supervisor Juli Bounds and Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre & Dance Karie Miller put their sewing skills to use making cloth masks. They started making the masks for Cumberland Goodwill EMS, so the first responders could reserve their medical-grade masks for when they needed them. The Dickinsonians then made masks for loved ones and members of the Carlisle community, including the small group of Dickinson students who still reside on campus. Miller also makes masks available to passersby during weekly trips to the grocery store.

“I’ve lived all over the world and this is the most extraordinary, helpful, compassionate community that I’ve found, and that’s really important at this moment,” Ensign said.  

Dickinson also boasts strong ties with Project SHARE, a Carlisle-based food bank run by Bob Weed ’80. In addition to Dickinson providing the space for SHARE’s operations free of charge, dozens of students serve as volunteers for the organization each year. In the midst of the pandemic, Weed had to shift gears and innovate numerous times to serve the growing needs of the community.   

“There’s a need in Carlisle, and there’s a spirit in Carlisle that go hand in hand. It’s inspiring how people turn out to help,” he said. “I’ve been here three years now, and when I see what volunteers from the community do to help others and what our clients do to help each other despite the challenges they face, I’m humbled every single day.” 

Read more from the spring 2020 issue of Dickinson Magazine.


Published May 11, 2020