Saint Helens is a small rural town previously known for its booming timber and paper mill industries, but its economy has dipped in recent years due to logging restrictions, resulting in a community reliant on long commutes to Portland for job opportunities. That is why the Saint Helens Economic Corporation (SHEDCO) brought on AmeriCorps VISTA Mary Heberling to develop an outreach program encouraging low-income residents to thrive as entrepreneurs.
Through its “Main Street” program, SHEDCO is finding ways to revitalize its downtown district, making it accessible to small business storefronts and customers alike, thus garnering the entrepreneurial spirit that Saint Helens needs to diversify its market and strengthen its economy.
Mary is working on developing a volunteer recruitment and mentor program for low-income entrepreneurs that need business advice. So far she has helped SHEDCO develop a free monthly workshop for residents and business owners that will cover topics such as basic financial literacy, creating a budget, and accounting. Through this mentor program, fledgling entrepreneurs can connect with successful business owners.
Mary was particularly interested in the Mainstreet Program with SHEDCO because it would utilize the urban planning and business skills she developed in college. This experience is better preparing her for graduate school, where she will study community development.
“I’ve learned a lot about the community development side of urban planning,” said Mary. “All of this is a great experience needed for a future career in urban planning, especially in the focus of community development.”