WPSU is taking a look at how central Pennsylvanians decide whether to make their homes here or move on, in our new series “Reasons to Stay.”
Back in 2002, when Melissa and her husband Troy Weston graduated from Penn College in Williamsport, they rented an apartment in Bellefonte (just outside of State College). They figured they’d move on in a few years, but now they’re homeowners and Melissa is president of the local networking group State College Young Professionals.
Before I go on, a confession. Melissa Hombosky is a good friend of mine. So I really don’t want her to move away. I am what we in the news business call “biased.”
I went to Melissa’s new house to interview her about why she seriously considered leaving a couple years ago and why she’s now trying to get others to stay too.
I tried to pretend we’d never talked about this before. I started by asking her about her new house.
“It’s a little yellow tiny house in Bellefonte at the top of a hill,” Melissa said. “It has three bedrooms and one bathroom and a yard. It's very nice. We love it.”
Melissa seriously gushes about this house. It’s very cute.
But what I like about most about this house is that it means Melissa and Troy will probably be here at least a few more years, which wasn’t always the plan.
“We really thought about leaving probably the summer before we bought our house,” Melissa said.
When Melissa and Troy moved to Bellefonte they thought they’d be there for a few years, then move to a city. Maybe Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. But a couple of years ago they realized they’d been renting their little apartment in Bellefonte for ten years. So they revived the dream and started looking for houses, mostly in Philly.
“I think we both had intentions on living in a larger city,” Melissa said. “We both come from small towns and I think we wanted to live in a larger city for a while.”
So one reason people leave the State College area is the pull of other places – that city where the musician you love always makes a stop and you can get pretty much any ethnic food you want. But there’s also the push of here. Melissa and I often talk about how one of the hardest things about living here is that people are constantly leaving.
“Last year we had twelve friends who left in eight months. That's lot that's a lot. It hurts,” Melissa said. “Not all of them had to. Some of them did. Some of them just wanted to.”
Bear with me as I get philosophical here for a minute. What is it about the State College area that makes people leave? I wonder if it’s because a university town feels like a jumping off point, not someplace you stay. Melissa understands it when friends move on at the end of a PhD or post doc. But she knows many – like herself – don’t really have a reason to leave.
“I think that’s another reason why we didn’t want to leave. We don’t want to be traitors to the area,” Melissa said. “Even still, we don’t have a reason to leave. We have a good life.”
Melissa and Troy did look online at houses in Philly for about six months, but nothing ever clicked. There were other considerations too. Their graphic and web design business is well established here. And they still have a lot of friends here. They were struggling over what to do when they found the little yellow house.
“This was the final piece. Like having this house this was this was when we decided that we were staying,” Melissa said. “It was just too cute. I love this house so much. I love this house.”
Like I said, she gushes. But she also gushes about the friends who have stuck around and their role in keeping her here.
“We have great friends here,” Melissa said. “We made awesome friends through the [State College] Young Professionals.”
SCYP is where I met Melissa. She’s the president of the group. And this is where she does her heaviest cheerleading work for the State College area.
“There’s this culture of leaving. That’s my main focus with Young Pros is to change the culture of leaving,” Melissa said. “We can't do much for creating jobs. We can create great networking opportunities.”
In addition to networking, the group hosts social events, professional and personal development workshops and does volunteer work.
But ultimately, Melissa thinks it’s the connections people make in the group that might convince them to stay.
“We have a good life and we love it here. So why should we leave?” Melissa said. “And the only answer was really because everyone else leaves. And that's what you're expected to do. So hopefully by us staying and other people staying that will change.”
Melissa hopes the group will give her friends and other young professionals in the State College area a reason to stick around.
You can visit stories.wpsu.org to see pictures of Melissa Hombosky’s little yellow house and video from her work with the State College Young Professionals. You can also become a part of the conversation by going to Instagram and posting pictures of your reasons to stay in the State College area with the hashtag #wpsureasonstostay.