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Alums stand at the forefront of Harrisburg’s revival

For a core of Messiah graduates—each with varying backgrounds and ambitions—Harrisburg represents a home for innovation. The once-struggling city has welcomed a push for restoration, with several graduates working as pioneers of the revival. Alumni Liz Laribee ’07, Adam Brackbill ’12 and Rebecca Porterfield ’09 stand committed to change.

A neighborhood of urban artists

Laribee, a graduate of English and master of creative design, left her first mark on the city during the summer of 2006, when she co-created the Sycamore House intentional community. Focused on service and outreach, the home immediately caught on with Messiah students, enabling graduates to understand their future vocation while developing a spirit of service. For Laribee, the Sycamore House served as the beginning of an extensive journey.

“Right away, I was in contact with the sort of individuals whose lives are committed to their neighbors, their cities and the work to make things brighter,” she said. “The experience helped me carve a niche for the sort of work I had an interest in carrying out.”

Laribee’s passion for service helped establish a new initiative, one that directly taps into Harrisburg’s progressive art scene. Her project—entitled The MakeSpace—provides a creative, affordable studio space for aspiring artists. Although her campaign provides an ideal supplement to a freelance art and writing career, Laribee uses the MakeSpace as a means of building relationships and empowering fellow artists.

“[Harrisburg’s] struggle is not the only story being told,” she continued. “This is my home. The people that live here are my neighbors.”

A critic, an advocate and an innovative professional

This “well-networked city” caught Brackbill’s attention as a young adult, when the Mechanicsburg native first uncovered its friendly atmosphere. Several trips into Harrisburg enabled Brackbill to transition from skeptic to supporter, finding value in the city’s people-first culture.

“I immediately got to see how much change was happening,” he said. “Harrisburg has unbelievable potential – it’s easy to get involved, both with the people and with the community.”

With a background in marketing and visual design, Brackbill used his Messiah College education to open Render Innovations, a web design agency based in Midtown Harrisburg. The one-time critic now finds motivation in serving his home.

“I know I can make a difference here,” he said. “This city is not tired or run down; it’s reviving. I can now say, with 100 percent confidence, that Harrisburg is coming back.”

In early 2013, Brackbill broke ground on “Startup,” a business venture that provides independent workers with an affordable, innovative workplace. His project focuses on community, Brackbill’s principal passion.

“Nobody wants to live in a place with a bad reputation,” he concluded. “The more people band together, the greater the difference will be.”

A community of like-minded professionals

For Porterfield, contributions to Harrisburg’s revival followed a much different path. After graduating from Messiah in the spring of 2009, she moved to Chicago to jumpstart a career in marketing and public relations. A job opportunity in Harrisburg brought Porterfield back to Central Pennsylvania, enabling the marketing specialist to settle into the city.

“I had grown to love the walkability of city living and the buzz that’s always in the air,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of that lifestyle again.”

Now working with Suasion Marketing and Communications in nearby Dillsburg, Porterfield has found a niche with Harrisburg Young Professionals, a networking organization that seeks to “make Harrisburg a great place to live, work and play.”

“By living in the heart of the work that we’re doing, I’m able to see the transformation firsthand,” she continued. “We have more 1,500 members who love the city just as much as I do.”

While serving the city, Porterfied has developed a sound community filled like-minded professionals. Although Harrisburg presents its challenges—and holds onto its “trouble spots”—Porterfield finds motivation in the city’s unwavering progress.

“After living in the third largest city in the country, I can truly say that the friends I’ve found here are like none other,” Porterfield said. “Together, we are working to revitalize Harrisburg.”

Home to unmistakable community—and a core of inspired young professionals—Harrisburg seems destined for a comeback.

“My life is full of encounters with friendly people and creative projects,” concluded Laribee. “That is my experience living and working in Harrisburg.”

Story by Nick Hemming `13.

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