It is 2 a.m. in late August at Shippensburg Select Diner.
While most residents are asleep, three Shippensburg Area Senior High School alumni are discussing something they feel can make an impact through dialogue.
Bennett Geesaman, Luke Hershey and Sam Hoover met to launch the ShipSpeak Initiative, a movement they hope will spark positive change within their hometown of Shippensburg.
Geesaman and Hoover proposed the idea during this early morning visit to the diner, and Hoover was the one to say, “Let’s just do it!”
After they created a Facebook page, the initiative was born and quickly received a herd of support in the form of 65 likes by the next morning.
The goal is starting a meaningful dialogue between the municipality, community residents and local businesses in order to encourage more businesses to open up downtown, as well as fix and mend the extreme polarization that they feel has divided Shippensburg. They recognize some of the issues are not only present in Shippensburg, so they strive to: “Think globally, act locally.”
“As Shippensburg natives, we have never seen the area booming, but we have seen the Shippensburg area deteriorating,” Geesaman said. “Our organization won't fix the problem overnight, but we are looking for contributions of positive change.”
They recognize how it is tough to discuss issues in a civil manner nowadays, and are looking to bring people closer together. The group also would like to create an atmosphere that invites outsiders to come to Shippensburg while also increasing the retention rate of those who are already here.
The three men are merely the administrators of the initiative.
“The members of ShipSpeak are those in the Shippensburg community,” Geesaman said.
On Nov. 3, the group will bring in Dr. Francois Clemmons, also known as Officer Clemmons from the hit children’s show “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” to speak and celebrate his message of love and community from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Thought Lot. A screening of the movie “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” a film that highlights the life of Mister Fred Rogers, will also be shown.
The group hopes the first event will be “the big bang” for their initiative, and will lead to what Hershey thinks is “one of the most exciting things in Shippensburg.”
In order to reserve a free ticket, visit: http://www.thethoughtlot.rocks/store/p105/WYBMN.html.
Geesaman and Hoover were part of their high school’s Social Activism Club and had some experience trying to enact change.
ShipSpeak also plans to bring in Ken Bone for a presentation. Bone, a power plant worker from Illinois, gained notoriety when he asked the following question during a 2016 presidential debate with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: “What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?”
ShipSpeak is shooting for Bone to speak in December, focusing on empathy, community, diversity, hyper-polarization and his rise to overnight fame. Geesaman and Hoover welcomed Bone as a speaker for their Social Activism Club. They got encouraging feedback from high school students and teachers.
“Incredibly stirring speak — some said it was one of the best ever to come to the high school,” Hoover said.
While the promotions lie in thought and dialogue, they also want to make a physical difference with the many vacant storefronts along King Street.
“We recognized that Shippensburg is not an incredibly wealthy community, but we want to change that,” Hoover said. “Lots of people want to change it, but they don't know how, and that's why we want to start a dialogue.”
Hoover noted they will look into grants and corporate sponsorship to gather more of a financial backing. Hoover explained it has been a “bureaucratic process” so far without a whole lot of events and fundraising planned yet — but hope to make some progress after the first event.
The group hopes to line up more speakers and artists throughout the year, and will look to spur interest among students from their alma mater.
Geesaman is a first-year Political Science major at Shippensburg University and Hershey is a sophomore English major at SU. Hoover currently works at University Grille in Shippensburg.
The group is a startup under the umbrella of the nonprofit community development organization Shippensburg Revitalization Group (SRG). SRG’s mission is encouraging “cultural and economic development for the benefit of the Shippensburg community as a whole by coordinating and engaging commercial, municipal, and local public interests.”
“A little bit of support from everyone really helps, and it's awesome to see young people doing things,” said SRG President, and Shippensburg councilman, Mitch Burrows at the Oct. 2 Shippensburg Borough Council meeting.
The group is also sponsored by Burrows’ restaurant, University Grille, and The Thought Lot.
Contributions to the initiative can be made by visiting: https://fundly.com/shipspeak-initiative-1. Like the Facebook page to receive notification of upcoming events.