Wearing bright green T-shirts and armed with everything from dust masks and iPhones to hammers and wire brushes, more than 340 new Washington College students and their peer mentors descended on downtown Chestertown on Wednesday, August 23, to help local business owners with everything from social media advice to prepping buildings for renovation.
Part of new-student orientation before classes begin, the collaboration between the College, the Downtown Chestertown Association, and others introduced new students to the community of Chestertown in a very hands-on way and gave local business leaders a chance to connect with students from the moment they arrived in town. After their two hours of work, the students were treated to a get-together in Fountain Park with homemade ice cream from Lockbriar & Daughter Ice Cream.
“I was driving around town today and saw a ton of kids with green shirts helping out the town,” Mayor Chris Cerino told the students at the park gathering. “Thank you for the service you bring. I look forward to hanging out with at least some of you for the next four years.”
The students split up into groups and joined with businesses and community members to work on a multitude of projects. In one location, students helped Kay MacIntosh, economic development and marketing coordinator for the town’s Arts & Entertainment District, finish painting Chestertown-themed designs on decorative trash barrels that will be used for special events. In another, they helped business owner Jeff McGuire haul out bucket after bucket of demolition material from the second floor of Play It Again Sam’s, where he’s creating a new space for live music and gathering.
Students helped John Schratweiser, director of the Kent County Arts Council, prep part of the Vincent and Leslie Prince Raimond Arts Building for a new renovation. They picked up trash on the Gilchrest walking trail, scraped benches in Wilmer Park to ready them for painting, worked with a local veteran’s association to make cards for veterans who are overseas, cleaned windows for the local clay studio, painted a dry-erase wall for KIDSPOT, a children’s art studio, and worked with ShoreRivers to clean up the shoreline.
“Almost 30 groups in Chestertown have created community service project time for these groups,” said Laura Johnstone Wilson, coordinator of the Explore orientation program for first-year students. “These are very thoughtful creative projects that are helping at every level.”
About two-dozen students met with individual merchants to talk about how to reach and market to students via social media. Afterwards, Jenn Baker, president of the Downtown Chestertown Association and owner of Chester River Wine & Cheese and Welcome Home, sat down with them outside Wine & Cheese to give them some local know-how and to ask them questions. She gave them hashtags and Facebook pages to follow to keep up with local events and information, and encouraged them to explore neighboring shops as well as other nearby communities and opportunities in Kent County.
“It’s so fun for us,” she said. “The infusion of young, fresh, vibrant ideas gives us a whole new perspective,” Baker says. “We depend on young people to say, ‘Here’s what I’d like to see in your store.’ And in a town this small, the economic impact of even five students and their parents coming into your store is important. We want feedback from them.”
Carla Massoni, owner of Massoni Art Gallery, had three students talk with her about social media and marketing. She was so impressed with one of them that she hired her on the spot to work part-time to help her learn how to more dynamically engage potential gallery goers.
“This was a superb event for the College and the town,” Massoni said. “As a business owner downtown, the welcome that the business community put out was terrific, and the enthusiasm that the kids brought was also great. So often we don’t see them till their junior or senior year. They had an opportunity to be truly engaged.”