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In San Fran and New Orleans, AMSA will highlight Albion successes

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 April 2013 at 12:00 am

ALBION – When the Albion Main Street Alliance needs help with a community project, whether its crunching numbers from a survey of residents or fixing planter boxes for downtown flowers, the organization can count on Albion high schoolers.AMSA often turns to students to help with projects, a partnership that is drawing national attention among “Main Street” designated communities. Albion in 2008 adopted the Main Street program through the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Students have worked on several initiatives, including building and fixing planters through a technology class, using a CAD program to design a sign along the canal directing visitors to local services, and completing a parking study in the downtown. Many of the drama students each fall also portray famous Albionites in Mount Albion Cemetery as part of annual “Ghost Walk.” Proceeds from that event have been used for some AMSA projects.

AMSA director Katelin Olson and Sue Starkweather Miller, Albion’s grants manager, will discuss the AMSA-school partnership in New Orleans as part of a national “Main Street” conference on April 14. They shared the Albion successes in October 2011, during a national preservation conference in Buffalo.

Starkweather Miller said students are enthused about the Albion projects. They don’t want to just be asked to clean up after an event.

“One of things that is helpful when you are looking to connect students to their community is to make it meaningful service,” she said.

The Ghost Walks and other heritage projects have taught students about local history, including some of the prominent Albion residents from more than a century ago who shaped the town. Starkweather Miller said those residents, and their ambitions and service, inspire the teen-agers today.

“It is very meaningful history to them,” she said. “It builds pride and a sense of place.”
Olson and Starkweather Miller both said it’s unusual from a school district to connect so well with a community organization. Other districts and “Main Street” groups want to hear about the success in Albion.

Olson said the key is for the adults to trust the students with work “that is important and engaging.”

Her main advice: “Don’t just ask them to clean up after an event.”

Olson also will be presenting at the Urban Affairs Conference in San Francisco on April 6. She will be sharing the benefits of the “Main Street” program compared to a Business Improvement District. Olson said a Main Street program spreads into the whole community, focusing on more than a downtown. She sees a BID as very business-focused.

“We’re a civic-engagement organization,” she said.