Reasons To Stay: WPSU's News Director Reflects On Making Friends In A Transient Town

Mar 22, 2016

That's me in the elf hat on my 30th birthday. About half the friends in this picture have moved away from State College in the four years since then.

Visit the multi-media side of the Reasons to Stay project.  

WPSU is taking a look at how central Pennsylvanians decide whether to make their home here or move on, in our new series “Reasons to Stay.” This is a topic that hits close to home. I’ve seen a lot of friends come and go in my seven years in State College.

When I meet new people, I've started to ask a few questions that help me figure out how long they're going to be around before I make friends with them.

They just bought a house? Great. She's a tenure track professor? She's in. He's getting his master's degree? That's probably only two years. Not long enough. 

Don't judge me. I've been hurt. 

You see, every couple of years a big group of friends tends to leave. I just went through one of these exoduses. And it was hard.

My friends Kristen and Matt left for her impressive new nonprofit job. And they owned a place. 

My friends Chris and Rochelle left when he finished his Ph.D. Also homeowners.

My friend Nikki left for a professorship at Gettysburg College. She was a postdoc. They're the worst, usually only in town for a year or two. I don't trust my heart to postdocs much anymore. 

Before that there was Destiny, Julie, Kristen, Kaylin, Piper, Marty, Paige…you get the picture.

Then came a particularly difficult blow. My beloved coworker -- and someone you may have heard of -- Kate Lao Shaffner decided to leave to teach in Taiwan. She had a great house right downtown. She had a great job and a great boss -- me. And she helped me come up with the idea for a series of stories about staying. This is an introduction to that series where we’ll talk to people who are leaving, people who are staying, and people who are trying to help others decide to stay.

On the Reasons to Stay website, you'll hear from Kate via Skype.

“I really loved working at WPSU,” Lao Shaffner said, “and, honestly, sometimes when I try to explain to people the whole process of why we decided to leave it sometimes doesn’t even make sense to me. That said, we feel like it was the right decision.”

But you'll also hear from my friend Melissa Hombosky who really considered leaving a couple of years ago, then decided to stay. 

“Last year we had twelve friends who left in eight months. That's lot that's a lot. It hurts,” Hombosky said. “We really thought about leaving probably the summer before we bought our house.”

Consider these stories a journey to discover the many reasons people stay and go. We'll talk to people who fall into both camps. And we'll talk with people trying to provide reasons for others to stay. Like businessman Todd Erdley, who's trying to spur entrepreneurship.

“We are in an inflection point right now in this town,” Erdley said. “If you want some place that’s a green field of opportunity and you want to make a difference—and I would say this to an emerging professional or a long-standing resident—it is go time right now.”

In coming weeks, WPSU will explore local residents’ “Reasons to Stay” on the radio and online. At stories.wpsu.org you’ll meet and hear from each of the people we profile through videos and pictures. You can also add your own input by going to Instagram and sharing pictures of why you stay with the hashtag #wpsureasonstostay.

Emily Reddy is WPSU’s news director.