LISC’s Building Sustainable Communities strategy at work in rural Pennsylvania

HOW IT STARTED.  Rural LISC’s Pennsylvania Initiative was selected by LISC in 2008 to be one of 11 original demonstration sites for its Building Sustainable Communities strategy.  Five program goals define this larger vision:  1) expanding investment in real estate; 2) increasing family income and wealth; 3) stimulating economic activity; 4) improving access to education; and 5) supporting healthy environments and lifestyles.  Rural LISC had already begun laying the groundwork for Building Sustainable Communities in 2006, establishing the positive environments needed to ensure that all residents of varied income levels are provided the opportunities and tools to build assets, participate in their communities and become part of the mainstream economy.

Uniontown, PA.  Pop. 12,422Tamaqua, PA.  Pop. 7,174

WHERE IT STARTED.  In 2008, Rural LISC began implementing the program with CDC partners in two rural Pennsylvania towns: Uniontown, led by Fayette County Community Action Agency; and, Tamaqua, led by the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership.  Uniontown, in the heart of once prosperous Fayette County in northern Appalachia, has experienced severe economic distress over the past several decades, largely due to the decline of coal mining and other heavy industry.  The result has been longstanding poverty for many residents.  Tamaqua, in eastern Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region in Schuylkill County, was a thriving community throughout the heyday of coal production in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but began declining, along with many other anthracite coal mining communities, in the 1950s as the mines began tapering off.  The decline has continued, with Tamaqua showing a 10 percent decrease in population in the last Census.