– A new monthly event in Steubenville, Ohio, is hoping to revitalize businesses and build community between residents and Franciscan University students.
It is the “first time anyone in Steubenville has really seen the connection of locals who have nothing to do with Franciscans [students], and Franciscans who have nothing to do with locals,” said Therese Nelson, a special projects manager for the events.
It is “trying to bring everyone together and realizing that you can have a community, and a thriving community at that, without everybody having the same mindset or the same interests.”
The premise is simple: on the first Friday of every month, a majority of Steubenville’s businesses on Fourth Street will stay open later than normal in the evening, while activities are offered for all ages, including face painting, games, craft breweries, vendors, art, and music.
Called “First Friday on the Fourth,” the event is an opportunity to drum up more business for the community and to give locals and students something to do in a town that has long faced financial struggles.
Since the collapse of the U.S. steel industry in the 1980s, the town of Steubenville has been suffering economically. According to Data USA, nearly 27 percent of Steubenville’s population is in poverty.
Two First Friday events have already taken place: The initial one saw an estimated 800 people, and the second saw well over 1,000.
“We usually have a big focus on art as much as possible. For the first, we just had local artists bring in their paintings and we set up our coffee shop as an art gallery,” said Nelson. “We always have live music for four hours out of the evening.”
The residents of Steubenville have already seen the project’s effects. Montana Skinner, a Steubenville resident and one of the vendors at First Fridays, told CNA that the gatherings have raised awareness of local business inside the town.
“It shows things you didn’t know were down there,” she said. “I don’t think people really realize what [businesses are] still left here and what we can build upon to bring the town back up.”
Each month’s event will have a different theme. In May, the theme was art, and temporary galleries were set up to give local artists a place to show their work. In June, vendors and shopkeepers dressed up in colonial wear for a frontier theme.
Nelson hopes to eventually connect the town events with the Catholic devotion to the Sacred Heart. The devotion consists of receiving Holy Communion on the first Fridays of nine consecutive months, in reparation to Christ’s Sacred Heart.
“We actually want to start having a Mass said at one of our downtown churches with the novena on the First Fridays right before the event starts,” she said.
The program is a combined effort of the alumni-run Harmonium Project and the Catholic family-run Nelson Enterprises, both of which are dedicated to revitalizing Steubenville’s community.
The Nelson family has introduced new businesses and community projects in the town. Several years ago, Nelson Enterprises bought large portions of Steubenville property, opening a popcorn company, coffee shop, Christmas store, seasonal market, and other buildings for future projects.
One of its projects, which began with a student making San Damiano crosses at Franciscan University, has grown to become the biggest Catholic manufacturing company in America, “Catholic to the Max.”
The Harmonium Project began about 6 years ago. Maura Barnes, a social media manager for the organization, told CNA that it focuses on connecting Franciscan University’s Catholic social teaching with the social issues of the town.
“It was really born out of the realization that many of the Franciscan students were spending a lot of time studying Catholic social teaching…but not a lot of them were really taking the time or care to get involved with the community where the university finds itself.”