This time last year, I was considering a move from Asheville, N.C., to Lancaster. I grew up in Pennsylvania, and a close friend from home happens to be Samantha Sweigert, Lancaster Transplant’s blog curator and one of eight members of the team that keeps the organization moving. She suggested checking out Transplant’s website to get a feel for what I might find in the Red Rose City. Poking around the calendar of events and watching posts on the organization’s Facebook group added to my conviction that Lancaster is a little city on the verge of becoming something big, and was the final push I needed to move here.
From the outside, 214 W. Grant St. is nondescript, another small, well-kept building on the alley-like avenue. Walk through the doors, and you’ll find the Lancaster Transplant Welcome Center, a bright little space that could be a tech startup or an earthbound treehouse for artsy kids. An expansive desk greets visitors, which was appointed with a water heater and several mugs the day I came to speak with founder Jocelyn Park, along with team members Drew Bell and Sweigert, about the organization. To the left of the desk, beyond a small reading nook, is a staircase leading to architecture firm Community Heritage Partners. The founder of that business, Gene Aleci, owns the building, and saw Transplant as a natural partner in his vision to help revitalize the West King Street area. Aleci invited the group to take the space. To the right is a rainbow spiderweb of yarn, a collaborative art project to which all visitors are encouraged to contribute, as well as bookshelves of travel guides and board games, a circle of chairs and a couch. What loos like thrift shop finds – most notably maps – adorn the walls. The blue shag carpet on the floor is so dreamily soft and dense that I briefly consider curling up and napping on it; with a laugh, Park tells me that it is the most expensive item in the room – everything else was sourced from secondhand stores or built by Transplant volunteers.
Park started blogging about living in a new place during a long stint in Sydney, a practice she continued upon moving to Lancaster. Around this time, she began attending meetings of Diane Richards’ newly created women’s collective. Most of the women in the group were transplants to Lancaster, and responded positively to Park’s writing on the experience of “not being from here.” The enthusiasm snowballed into several activities co-organized by Park and Richards, aimed at those new to the city, including a mixer at Sunshine Art & Design in September 2013, which attracted about 80 people by word of mouth. Park left her job to focus on the fledgling network, which, to her, marks the point when Transplant was born. In addition to Park and Richards, the core group volunteering their time and expertise (not to mention creativity in inventing job titles) to Lancaster Transplant now includes Michael Siriani (Chief Adventurer), Samantha Sweigert (Word Witch), Shaun Frankel (Ambassador of Fun), Nikki Weems (Archivist), Drew Bell (Consultant & Life Coach), and Andrew Keena (Graphic Design, Web, and All-Around Awesome Intern).
Today, Lancaster Transplant continues to evolve and expand. Park says, “I don’t believe you have to be a non-profit to be a social good”; the business is classified as a social enterprise. The organization offers annual memberships to create a sustainable source of funding; the perks of joining include discounts at several local businesses, emails inspiring the recipient to fun and adventure, and a welcome package full of Transplant swag (I pocketed several adorable coasters before leaving the space; Park has a background in design, which shines through in the group’s branding).
Manpower for events is volunteer-sourced, and interested individuals can give as little or as much time as they like. Transplant has partnered with other community businesses and organizations, with a hand in events such as the Lancaster International Film Festival, Cultivate Lancaster, the Common Wheel’s Slow Ride, and the library’s Story Time After Dark. The Grant Street space still hosts the women’s collective meetings that helped spark the organization’s inception, as well as the starting point for the monthly First Friday meet-up and one-off community events such as a town hall-style forum with congressional candidate Christina Hartman that took place just before April’s primary election. Off-site activities include hikes and camping, and more eclectic offerings, such as Drew Bell’s Tuesday Tastings at the Horse Inn, where a different food is sampled; the April tasting was ketchup (Bell clarifies that the Horse Inn is not a sponsor of the activity).
The Transplant team wants to see the organization grow as a source of information, a place where new Lancastrians can connect with knowledgeable locals in order to find a job that fits their skills, a neighborhood in which to live that fits their interests and, above all, community. Park describes it as a welcome wagon, sans useless coupons. Farther down the line, Park wants to see Transplant centers pop up around the world, based on the Lancaster model.
Beyond purchasing a membership, “just show up” seems to be the overarching guide for getting involved with the organization, for new arrivals and lifelong Red Rose City citizens alike. The organization has an expansive presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and lancastertransplant.com, where events and volunteer opportunities are announced. In addition to volunteers for physical events, the site is hoping to attract more bloggers; any topic is welcome. Shaun Frankel curates a community calendar on the website, documenting Transplant and non-Transplant activities coming to the area. The team welcomes new ideas, and can be contacted through the website or social media.
When speaking with Park, Bell and Sweigert for this article, I asked them about challenges they saw for people relocating to Lancaster. In response, Sweigert summed up beautifully something I had run into since arriving here: “Lancaster feels a lot like a city, but also like a small town, and it’s hard to find a balance. It feels personal, but oddly closed off because of that. You have to do your part to be a part of it.”
Below, check out some profiles of folks involved in Lancaster Transplant.
Hometown: Magburaka, Sierra Leone
Where you lived before coming to Lancaster: Free Town, Sierra Leone
Profession: Professional staff.
What do you do for fun? Hiking, biking, volunteering, and hanging out with friends
What brought you to Lancaster? I won the green card lottery in 2013. Prior to that, I met a friend, Nathan West, in 2008 on his way back to the US, after a stint volunteering with an organization that works with disadvantaged kids/youths. When I won the green card, I called him up and asked if he could sponsor me. His answer was, “let me ask my parents, I know they will be more than happy to have you, my Salone broda.” After months of rigorous background checks by the U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone, I was issued a visa. I arrived in August, and lived with the West family in Lancaster for almost a year.
How do you meet people and find things to do in a new place? The first set of people I met were close friends of my host family. They introduced me to another great couple, Frank & Anne Orban, who invited to my very first First Friday, where I met a lot of other friends of theirs; there and then, I started getting invites from those new friends, and then list goes on.
I would say one there are so many ways one could meet people here in Lancaster. But, you first need someone [already part of the community] to establish some sort of connection. First Fridays are a great way of meeting not only people generally, but people with similar interests and passions. If you’re into biking, Slow Ride Lancaster is also a wonderful way of meeting bike enthusiasts.
Of course, Lancaster Transplant is my family. I was not only welcomed, but was absorbed and given a “Lancasterian” identity through the many events they’ve hosted.
My Global Shapers family is also another platform through which I was very fortunate to connect with like-minded individuals who are passionate about making Lancaster a better place for all.
What is your favorite place in Lancaster (or surrounding environs)? Hmmm, favorite place is a tough one. Downtown is absolutely it, hands down. But, I also hit different trails every other weekend. Long’s Park is also on my list of most frequently visited places.
Most notable recent adventure? I was on a spontaneous trip that took me to Strasburg, where I get to visit the Strasburg Railroad Express Co. That was absolutely fun, getting to see the scenic beauty of green farmlands spreading several kilometers.
On the same day, I also went on my first buggy ride, which was totally awesome. Visiting different Mennonite and Amish farms and barns, learning about their cultures was just great.
What, to you, makes a place feel like home? There is a saying that “home is where the heart is”: Any place I feel welcomed and accepted is home to me. And thus, Lancaster is home away from home to me. I have such a amazing group of friends who wholeheartedly embraced and loved me selflessly, and I love them too.
Hometown: Houston, TX
Where you lived before coming to Lancaster: Pittsburgh, PA
Profession: Technical Lead
What do you do for fun? Anything involving an audience, biking, climbing, and hiking.
What brought you to Lancaster? I moved here to work at Tait Towers in Lititz.
How do you meet people and find things to do in a new place? I mostly read the paper and check out call boards at coffee shops. Transplant has introduced me to some really great people involved in various community and social efforts around town, too.
What is your favorite place in Lancaster (or surrounding environs)? As of late, Peavine Island.
Most notable recent adventure? A couple weeks back, I went to the Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race in the morning (a ton of fun), followed by The Common Wheel’s block party in the afternoon. That was a solid day.
What, to you, makes a place feel like home? If the food and music are good, I can work the rest out.
Hometown: McKeesport, PA, just outside of Pittsburgh. I usually just tell people Pittsburgh.
Where you lived before coming to Lancaster: A brief stint in Philly, but the real answer is Minneapolis.
Profession: Restaurateur. Currently managing BUZZ, Street Food for Lancaster!
What do you do for fun? I’m a sports fan (You have to be if you’re born in Pittsburgh; it’s like a law). I like hanging out with my partner, my kids, and my dog at home. I also enjoy Lancaster’s bar scene and often hang out with my friends at any number of local joints.
What brought you to Lancaster? Cost of living, family changes, the culture–a good mix of grown-up and non-grown-up things.
How do you meet people and find things to do in a new place? This is always tough for me, but when I found Transplant, it changed everything. I knew it was something I had to be a part of. Hanging out around town is cool, but when you’re with like-minded people who can introduce you to others, it’s even cooler.
What is your favorite place in Lancaster (or surrounding environs)? So tough! I love downtown. I don’t live in the city, but I’m downtown every day. My favorites place downtown is probably Musser Park. It has the right feel for a city park. I like to hang out there and have a picnic. I’m also kind of a wilderness lover, so I like to take my dog to Landis Woods in Manheim Township when the weather is nice.
Most notable recent adventure? Other than starting my own business, I haven’t had time for too much adventure lately. But I am excited that the weather is turning and we can start patio season downtown! We’ll have lots of cool outdoor events this summer and they’re all going to rock.
What, to you, makes a place feel like home? That’s another tough one. Defining community is so difficult for me. I guess, for me, home is somewhere you feel confident, comfortable, and connected. I felt at home in Minneapolis. I feel at home here. Both cities have a strong art-centric, food-centric vibe.