Promoting Perry County: New young professionals organization building momentum
When Tyler Schultz first saw the riverfront house in Duncannon that he and his wife Samantha Bise-Schultz now own and live in, he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, which passes through the Perry County town on its way from Maine to Georgia.
When the North Carolina native finished the through-hike in 2012, he bought the house. Living in the area led him to his now-wife, Samantha, originally from Enola. Together, they’ve established a life and community firmly anchored in Perry County.
So it makes sense that the couple is part of a group leading the charge to build a stronger network of young professionals in Perry County through the new Perry Young Professionals organization. Schultz is president, and Bise-Schultz is secretary.
"We love Perry County, and I think there is room for growth with younger generations, too ... I think a lot of people don’t know that there is so much to do," Bise-Schultz said. "There is a certain camaraderie [in Perry County] that I have not experienced anywhere else before."
Perry Young Professionals, or PYP, was started under the umbrella of the Perry County Council of the Arts, a Newport-based nonprofit that supports community arts programming in the county and seven surrounding counties.
Perry County is distinct from its more urban and suburban neighbors like Cumberland and Dauphin counties. PCCA board member Diane Witcoski saw a need to highlight the unique activities and opportunities the county has to offer and set the wheels in motion for PYP in October 2017. She used State College’s young professionals organization as a model for starting PYP because it’s smaller and more comparable to Perry County than Harrisburg Young Professionals or other local groups.
Young professionals value volunteerism, Witcoski said, so along with promoting PYP as a vehicle for them to get involved in the county, she also hopes it might attract some to join PCCA’s board.
"The reality of it is that people who are carrying the load [on PCCA’s board] are getting older," Witcoski said.
PYP’s first event, a social at River Bend Hop Farm and Brewery, was in December 2017, where Witcoski met Tyler and Samantha. At January’s social, Witcoski asked the couple to be on PYP’s executive committee.
Five months later, Tyler, Samantha and the two others on the executive committee are working to spread the word about PYP and plan for the future of the organization. They acknowledge that Perry County young professionals might not want the same structure and offerings that other Central Pennsylvania young professionals groups provide.
"One of our focuses is that we want to make sure PYP is what people want it to be," said Bise-Schultz, a reference librarian and instructor at Central Penn College in East Pennsboro Township. "Networking, I think, is important, but what kind of networking? And also, what kind of professional development? It will look different."
The county faces some negative stereotypes, which PYP hopes to defy.
"The biggest complaint is that there’s nothing to do … Well, if you want to go clubbing every night, then no, there is nothing to do in the county," said Schultz, who works from home as a defense contractor for the Navy. "[But] you go to the open mic nights and there’s poetry and original songs … There’s a lot of amazing things happening in the county that you wouldn’t know if you just come through on a weekend."
Plus, the organization covers the whole county, a much larger geographical area and less white-collar demographic than the areas from which other regional young professional organizations draw. Reaching and recruiting from the western part of the county, an hour’s drive from Schultz’s home in Duncannon, has been a challenge, he said. PYP is open to people who live, work or play in Perry County and who are between 18 and 40 years old, although that age range is flexible.
One way the executive committee hopes to build PYP’s membership is by connecting with recent high school graduates who stay in the county to work for a family business or farm post-graduation instead of going to college.
PYP is also planning family-friendly activities that take advantage of the county’s ample natural recreation opportunities, like kayak and hiking trips and picnics at Little Buffalo State Park, for young professionals who are parents.
The group also hopes it can help fill gaps in resources and collaborate with county agencies for events, another motivation to attract more members. PYP recently helped the Perry County Conservation District with an electronics recycling event and is working with the agency on an old tire cleanup event later this summer.
Currently, membership in PYP is free, and the plan is to always keep it affordable, though the group would like to have funds to buy t-shirts and sponsor events to gain publicity, Tyler and Samantha said. PYP still operates under PCCA but receives little if any financial support from the council, besides access to some facilities.
PYP fits in with renewed economic development efforts taking root in Perry County through the recently revitalized Perry County Economic Development Authority. The committed county residents want to see the region thrive. One major selling point Tyler and Samantha pitch often is the low cost of living.
"We wouldn’t mind if a side effect [of PYP] is to draw younger people to live in Perry County," Shultz said. "The trend is that you grow up, you get out of high school and you leave Perry County. We can prove that we moved here for a reason … You just have to get out there and meet people."