SRU alumna leads community development project in Greensburg


People Painting

From left, Slippery Rock University graduate Jessica Hickey instructs volunteers during a community cleanup event in Greensburg organized by the Downtown Greensburg Project, an initiative that Hickey co-founded in 2015. Photos by Savannah Butler.

July 18, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - As a student at Slippery Rock University, Jessica Hickey honed her voice and vocational skills by contributing to the campus community. Now, as co-founder of a community development project, she's using her voice and skills to improve one of the 50 largest cities in Pennsylvania.

"Being in a younger demographic, having a voice and being able to make a difference was big for me," said Hickey, a 2010 SRU graduate in communication-public relations who created the Downtown Greensburg Project in 2015 and serves as its director. "I wanted to make a difference in my community, whether that's being able to bring in new businesses, or help businesses, or build more of a community feel."

What's surprising about Hickey's commitment to Greensburg is that she isn't one of the more than 14,000 people who live there. She lives in nearby Irwin, where she runs her own graphic design and social media marketing business. However, when Hickey lived in downtown Greensburg from 2013-16, she and Ashley Reefer, the owner of a bike shop, recognized the need for community events to bring people in Greensburg together, especially young adults living in a county with one of the oldest populations in the state.

Hickey Headshot


"Other organizations that were attempting to throw events, they weren't keen to younger people giving ideas and trying to be involved," said Hickey, who by 2015 left her job at an ad agency to run her own company, BIA Creative. "So we said, 'OK, we're going to do it ourselves,' and we started this project to have a website and use social media to post what was going on (in Greensburg)."

The DGP grew from an information source to a community initiative, bringing together local businesses to host events, like Greensburg Craft Beer Week, a community park cleanup and activities related to fitness and the arts.

Like many young professionals, Hickey came to realize the importance of the local community.

"When you are just out of college you are so focused on 'I need to find a job,'" said Hickey, who graduated from SRU after the financial crisis of the late 2000s and first found work doing social media marketing in the fitness industry. "Once you find a place where you want to be, you realize you need to be involved in the community and meet (your) neighbors. You want to make it as good as it can be."

A heightened sense of physical community is underscored by the ubiquity of social media and online communities, she said.

"You are online so much you don't realize what's in front of you," Hickey said. "I feel like that's what this project is doing, opening people's eyes to things that are in the community. We are showing what we have (in Greensburg). You can read about it and see it online but people are starting to realize that being a part of something and experiencing something is more important."

Although she didn't enroll at SRU with a plan to become a graphic designer and event planner, Hickey credits her college experience with providing the confidence she needed to succeed.

"SRU helped out a lot because I did a lot of (event production) while I was there," said Hickey, who was involved with Rock PRoductions, a student-run integrated marketing firm. "I learned a lot and I was involved with a lot of organizations and programs that prepared me to do a lot of things at the same time."

Among Hickey's other influencers were being an active member of Slippery Rock Student Government Association and "having a voice in the University community." She also cites the Communication Department, including Ray Pastore, a former assistant professor who taught Hickey web design and interactive multimedia, and Katrina Quinn, associate professor, with influencing her. Quinn, who recently visited Hickey, advises Taylor Ciccarelli, a senior communication major from Irwin, who is interning with DGP this summer.

While the DGP staff now consists only of Hickey and Ciccarelli, and the project is self-funded, collaboration with local businesses and organizations, sponsorships, advertising and a few ticketed events help DGP continue to grow. DGP is hosting Yoga Under the Stars on the top floor of a downtown parking garage, July 21, and the project's signature event, Craft Beer Week, Sept. 21-29, will feature more than 30 events including two DGP productions: a competition for home brewers and a messy game show for professional brewers based on the Nickelodeon show, "Double Dare."

Overall, the success of DGP has exceeded Hickey's expectations.

"We thought this was going to be something small," Hickey said. "Because I built websites since college, throwing one together to start the project wasn't a big deal. I always tell people, 'Just do it,' because you never know. (A project might) might fail, it might do well, but you don't know unless you do it."

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