More than 25% of the kids living in Columbia, PA live below the poverty line. Like many other towns in the Northeast, this once-thriving area has struggled through decades of an economic decline that’s pushed out industry, small business, and families. The result is a litany of statistics that creates a daunting snapshot of life today in the borough, which spans about 2 square miles along the Susquehanna River:

  • Columbia Borough School District, the poorest in Lancaster County, has higher taxes than neighboring Hempfield School District, yet it raises a mere one-tenth of the revenue;
  • Approximately 66% of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced lunches;
  • About 20% of residents live below the poverty line, compared to 13% statewide;
  • Just 10% of borough residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with nearly 28% statewide. [statistics courtesy of Lancaster Online, U.S. Census Bureau]

The community, however, has refused to let these and other challenges stop it from making positive changes. Check out these examples of local leaders and residents taking healthy risks to help rebuild Columbia:

  • Community Volunteers: Area leaders and residents have created several volunteer initiatives and fundraisers aimed at providing assistance to those who need it the most: kids. For example, after funding cuts eliminated kindergarten classroom aides, school board president Tom Strickler personally appealed to local congregations to find volunteers to fill the gap. The call to action worked—and volunteers mobilized.
  • North End Revitalization: The Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership (LHOP) has launched a plan to improve an historic Columbia neighborhood by rehabbing homes, improving the streetscape, and providing funds to paint or repair homeowners’ porches. The improvements are expected to coincide with a Route 441 bypass that will significantly lower truck traffic in the community.

Compass Mark also recently collaborated with the school district to address the challenge of consolidating two elementary schools in which the students of each had strongly-held negative perceptions about the students at the other school. Our team worked with the children, through hands-on exercises, to help them learn the skills that build positive relationships with peers, practice kindness, and move past perceived barriers. Find out more in Compass Mark Helps Students Embrace Change and Empowers Them to “Make History.” As lawmakers try to pinpoint the most effective ways to support the community and the school district, it’s clear Columbia isn’t sitting around waiting for change. The area’s organizations and residents are taking the healthy risks needed to move this once-booming town in the right direction. Compass Mark is committed to helping Lancaster and Lebanon County residents by offering solutions that spark positive change. Learn how our programs will help your family, school, or organization—contact us at (717) 299-2831. Photo courtesy of Deihl/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0