Building a Creative Community at Work
If you were to ask me, Foundry CoWork’s origin story began in 2015 when I decided to stay in Meadville - I just didn’t realize it then. I was getting ready to graduate from Allegheny College; my days left as a student were suddenly becoming countable and I spent many hours crying in a dorm room on Loomis Street without any job prospects or place to call home after 12pm on May 10th, when we were required to have our bags packed.
At the time, going back home to Albuquerque was not an option. This meant spending my days couchsurfing, buying houseplants to fill the void, and continuously applying for community/project coordinator jobs in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Tennessee, Massachusetts, New York and even Wyoming. I think it was pure luck when my friend turned down the Davies Program Coordinator job at the college, a job that I hadn’t even considered for myself but that ended up being a perfect fit.
I spent the next year coordinating student interns with local nonprofits and conducting weekly professional development trainings on things like graphic design, goal setting, communication styles - you know, the basics. And although I loved it, the job was designed to last a year. And I still felt like something was missing.
Staying in Meadville was never the plan. I’ve had to turn down several great opportunities because I was too afraid to sign a contract in case my big break came from somewhere else with more sunshine. But Meadville has a way of capturing you.
Meadville is where my community is and is where I have the opportunity to do the work that makes me happy. Meadville has given me the chance to serve on non-profits boards and bring about innovative and meaningful work in our community. It has given me the chance to help coordinate a Domestic Violence Counseling Group at Women’s Services for almost 7 years (which I love dearly). Meadville has given me the chance to explore my interests in graphic design by helping make countless posters for friends and neighbors doing great work and putting on exciting events in town. Meadville has forced me to put my introvert tendencies aside and talk to people through My Meadville Heart & Soul. It has given me the chance to help coordinate pop-up community gathering spaces through the Meadville Neighborhood Center. Meadville has let me be a part of Voodoo Brewery’s transition into becoming employee-owned, one of the first breweries to do so in the country. Meadville has given me community gardens and concerts in the park. Meadville never gives me a night off.
In a moment of weakness, I agreed to sign the 7-month contract to become the Second Saturday Community Market Director for 2017. I love live music, local artists, event planning, and I had a goal to claim the streets of downtown Meadville as a public space for the community to gather. It was the first long(ish)-term position I accepted in the midst of searching for positions elsewhere.
After a few months of trying to work from our guest room, I was losing my mind. I didn’t have anyone to talk to, the desk had paint chipping off of it, I was begging my friends to print things for me, and I couldn’t focus. I began looking at office rentals in Meadville, but was quickly scared away by the price tag. And a quiet second-floor private office in town wouldn’t solve my yearning for interaction. I think it was a combination of luck and the advice of a friend that led me to discover a concept called coworking, specifically at Radius CoWork in Erie, PA. My friend had toured Radius with a few other folks in town interested in exploring the idea of coworking here in Meadville. After doing a little bit of my own research, I was blown away. There were people working together in the same space, doing their own creative work, and a lot of them were young professionals. And printing was included (!). I couldn’t believe this existed. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t know about this concept sooner, considering it is all I have ever wanted and needed in my professional and social life.
I made the one-hour drive from my house to the Renaissance Center where Radius is housed in Erie twice a month, which worked since I also delivered Happy Mug Coffee to them on those days. Those two days a month were some of the most productive and exciting days of my Second Saturday experience. I met people, asked other members about markets they’ve been to, and made a few useful connections. I’ll be honest, it also kinda freaked me out. I wasn’t used to seeing so many happy young professionals in one place - suddenly I wasn’t such a big fish. And I liked it.
The 2017 Second Saturday season came and went. Vendors and market-goers enjoyed the market’s expansion to Chestnut St, which also gave me more opportunities to talk to and work with small local businesses. Growing up, I always wanted to own my own business, but as my job history proves, I could never nail down what I was really passionate about. I’ve always considered myself a jack of all trades; I love building communities and helping people help themselves, but I also strive for independence in the work I do - as do a lot of the non-profits and entrepreneurs I’ve worked with in Meadville.
I remember very clearly, one evening I had three different board meetings to attend. All for different reasons, in each meeting someone brought up the need for collaboration and supporting work that is already happening in Meadville. We were racking our brains thinking of ways we can strategically communicate with each other and share resources, “maybe a big meeting where we update each other,” “maybe a collaboration between organizations,” “maybe a digital space for everyone to gather”. My mind kept going back to coworking. With coworking, no one would have to sacrifice their mission to collaborate, you would be able to communicate and share resources more naturally, simply by sitting next to someone or ask someone what they are working on while standing by the water cooler. No big commitments. No extensive plan. Just simple, yet still intentional connections. And I knew that, unless I wanted to continue sitting in meetings dreaming and planning and talking about a center for community collaboration and professional development for another seven years, I had to open a coworking space in Meadville. Meadville already exhibits many coworking values including the desire to be financially and economically sustainable, the recognition of the importance of collaboration, trying to find a shared purpose between organizations, and making events, education, jobs, and resources more accessible to people. All the parts are here, they just haven’t been tapped into yet.
If it is done right, Foundry CoWork should act as a snapshot of Meadville. This coworking community should help house our nonprofits, local elected officials, students, educators, agriculturalists, freelance web and graphic designers, project coordinators, small business owners, traveling employees, accountants, set designers, marketing companies, lawyers, dog trainers, and wedding planners.
I am passionate about community. I’ve recently become aware of how difficult, yet fulfilling it is to be in the business of community. And I am also aware that there is no way a shy, but mighty 24-year-old woman could have started this business without the help of her friends and neighbors. With that, I welcome you to come see the space and talk coworking with us.
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