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Audio Diary: A Native Of Kane, Pa., Returned To Help Revitalize Her Hometown

Photo of Kate Kennedy
Courtesy of Kate Kennedy

In a presidential election year, voting may be the most visible way to try to create change.

But it's not the only way. In a three-part series from America Amplified, residents of McKean County share how they are making a difference, where they live, and beyond the ballot box.

When Kate Kennedy left Kane, Pennsylvania, in 2010, she felt there wasn’t much tying her to the town. Kennedy spent most of the following decade living in Pittsburgh, working in public relations. The thought of returning to Kane didn’t come up at all.

But an impromptu decision to go to her 20th high school class reunion in 2018 changed that.

“In 2011, my dad passed away. And so one of the things that really struck me about being home was that this was a place that he's remembered,” she said. “My desire to at least get more connected to my hometown at that point was growing.”

At that time, Kennedy was working as an assistant director of development at the Light of Life Rescue Mission in Pittsburgh. She said she brought a documentary screening event to Kane after the alumni weekend, as she rekindled with her hometown.

Seeing new eateries and other businesses opening up, some by Kane natives who had moved back to town, she said she felt that “it really is an exciting time to be working on community development and economic development in Kane.”

In April 2019, Kennedy officially made the move back home, as the new executive director of the Kane Area Development Center.

‘Stories to tell’

One of the first projects Kennedy embarked on in her new role was called “100 days of Kane.” She’d spent 100 days interviewing residents of Kane about their life and stories of collective memories, such as the tornado that swept through the area in 1985.

“That was pretty defining for us and really brought us together as a community, so I did a three day series on that,” Kennedy said. The interviews were published on social media and were featured weekly in the local newspaper, the Kane Republican.

“Living in rural Pennsylvania, it can be easy to have people from the outside try to define us or say who we are,” she said. “We have great stories to tell and I think it's important for us to define who we are to other people, instead of being defined.”

Kennedy said she’s driven by knowing her work is meaningful for Kane, a town of 3,730, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. She said being in a small community, “it's been easier to feel the impact of the changes that are being made.”

Kennedy said her desire to create meaningful change has been boosted since she became a mom this summer. 

“Now that I have my own child, I'm thinking about his future as I'm doing this work in our town,” she said. “Whether he wants to go away, or stay here, or go away and come back, or whatever his path will be, I want this to be a place that he's always proud of and wants to call home.”

Behind This Story

Min Xian produced this story for StateImpact as part of the America Amplified: Election 2020 initiative, using community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. You can follow America Amplified on Twitter @amplified2020.

Q: What did the people you talked to say about the experience of being interviewed for public radio?

A: Those I interviewed were enthusiastic about sharing their personal experiences. My focus is in McKean County for the project, so one of the things that energized many interviewees was the fact that they are presenting varying and, at times, surprising aspects of life in rural Pennsylvania. Especially with this series of audio diaries, where we feature only interviewees’ voices with no narration from myself, they were more open to sharing introspections, which made these stories of creating changes more intimate than reported pieces.

Q: What surprised you about this type of community engagement?

A: I visited McKean County in person in March, just before Pennsylvania implemented a statewide shutdown because of COVID-19. I was able to meet Kate in person one time, but not for most other sources. The challenge was to create and maintain connections throughout the project since the pandemic has forced new routines on everyone. But I’m surprised to find how many people I talked with took this time to look inward and think about their relationship with their own communities, which in part, made this series possible.


Min Xian reported at WPSU from 2016-2022.
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