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Carlisle’s Community Action Network and Dickinson Leaders Honored for Service During Pandemic

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Local and college leaders honored by Pennsylvania Humanities Council for efffective, collaborative work

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Carlisle’s Community Action Network (CAN), founded and led by President Margee Ensign, was recently lauded by a congressionally mandated organization for its remarkable community service during the current health crisis.

The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) bestowed its 2020 Heart & Soul Hero award in recognition of CAN’s quick and effective response to the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the Carlisle community and the exceptional interorganizational collaboration that made this good work possible.

“The community leaders in CAN are dedicated and compassionate people from a cross section of community life, and the work we have accomplished together is humbling,” says Ensign, who has seen the network grow to approximately 90 members since its founding three years ago. “It’s an honor to have that work recognized.”

The PHC presented the award to CAN during a May 26 ceremony hosted on Zoom and also bestowed separate Hero awards to Ensign and to Dickinson’s Assistant Chief of Staff Jennifer Love for recent related work reflecting the college’s commitment to civic engagement.

The awards are linked to the PHC’s Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Communities initiative, established in partnership with the Orton Family Foundation. Its mission: to provide civic-engagements grants and a model for cities and towns across the state to improve local decision making and strengthen social, cultural and economic vibrancy. Seven communities participate in the program statewide.

Remarking during the May 26 virtual award ceremony, the PHC's Jen Danifo noted that CAN, Ensign and Love put the Heart & Soul mission into practice in exemplary fashion when addressing the complex local issues posed by the global pandemic.

Since national news broke about the global pandemic, CAN has met weekly by phone to share information and pool resources for navigating the pandemic in Carlisle, tackling issues such as increased need for support for those who lost their jobs. Representatives from local emergency services and health care organizations and the state government soon joined the effort, working side by side with nonprofit, business, education and faith-based leaders to address formidable challenges in challenging and fast-changing times.

Together, they’ve made informed decisions, based on best practices and the latest information across several fields, about how to best serve the community within their own organizations. They also worked together on several initiatives, including support of the Project SHARE food bank and the construction of a community-resources website, dickinson.edu/covidhelp, created in partnership with the college’s Center for Civic Learning & Action. Additional Dickinson initiatives include connecting local businesses with students to help them get online-sales and grantwriting services up and running. Dickinson also has worked with UPMC Pinnacle on contingency plans to provide housing for medical staff should it become necessary. 

“It’s been extraordinary to see how quickly our network has been able to respond to needs in the community,” says Love. “The relationships we have built will continue long after this crisis, and Carlisle will emerge a stronger and more resilient community.”

“If every community could unite like this, drawing on our many talents, skills and goodwill, we would solve a lot of challenges,” Ensign said.

Read more stories about how members of the Dickinson community near and far have responded to emerging needs and challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Published May 28, 2020