KSU Stark, Chamber partner on Blue, Gold & Grateful! initiative

Patricia Faulhaber
Suburbanite correspondent

JACKSON TWP. A new initiative from Kent State University at Stark and its project partner, the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce, includes a Kent State University employee appreciation initiative that gives back to local businesses and families.

Kent State University at Stark held a drive-in welcome event for its students during the summer. Now, the university has partnered with the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce to help boost local small businesses.

The Blue, Gold & Grateful! initiative encourages Stark Campus employees to support local small businesses this holiday season which could provide a $7,000 boost to the local economy. Each employee on the Stark campus received a Blue, Gold & Grateful! letter with a $20 voucher to spend at a list of five local businesses throughout the month of December. There are currently 350 employees at the Stark campus.

The Blue, Gold & Grateful! is a Kent State University system wide initiative with employees at each campus receiving a voucher to use to boost the local economy surrounding each campus location. For example, the Kent State University main campus employees’ vouchers will be used in small businesses around Portage County.

Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce

“Our faculty and staff have worked diligently to accomplish great things this semester, including achieving enrollment growth during a pandemic,” said Denise A. Seachrist, Ph.D., dean and chief administrative officer at Kent State University at Stark. “We are happy to extend this small token of appreciation toward the purchase of a heartfelt gift after an unprecedented year when we’ve discovered ways to rally together to keep our community strong.

“Our president of Kent State University Todd Diacon said that as the season was approaching, he wanted to give our employees an appreciation gift but wanted to make it something that would make an impact and make it meaningful to small businesses too.”

Seachrist said that she contacted Dennis Saunier at the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce and they worked together to select the five local small businesses to participate in the program which included:

• Muggzwigz Coffee & Tea locations:  Downtown Coffee & Tea Bar Roastery & HQ, 137 Walnut Ave. NE, Canton; Lake Cable Coffee & Tea Bar, 5854 Fulton Drive NW, Canton; Portage Lakes Coffee & Tea Bar, 3452 Manchester Road, Akron.

• Mama Guzzardi's Italian Restaurant: 1107 N. Main St., North Canton.

• Shale Brewing Company:  7253 Whipple Ave. NW, North Canton.

• Studio Arts & Glass:  7495 Strauss Ave. NW, North Canton.

• Nothing Bundt Cakes:  4468 Belden Village St. NW, Suite B, Canton.

Businesses were selected based on size, location and Seachrist said she wanted to make sure there were minority owned and women owned businesses included on the list.

“We thought keeping the list small would make more of an impact than having a large list of companies where each might only receive a small number of employees using their vouchers versus these five companies receiving a large number of vouchers being spent at each. Each employee has one chance to spend the entire voucher at one location,” Seachrist said. “The response from everyone has been one of being so grateful. We say we are the hometown university, and we pride ourselves on being so.”

“Our small business community, particularly restaurants and retailers, have been especially hard-hit during this pandemic," Sauner said in a news relase. “When Kent State Stark approached us with an initiative that would not only serve as a thanks to their employees, but would boost local businesses in the process, we jumped at the opportunity to form this partnership.”

Joe Rozsa, communications director at Shale Brewing Company, released a statement regarding the initiative.

“Shale Brewing Company has always been a firm believer in collaborating with and supporting local businesses and organizations whenever possible,” Rozsa said. “The idea Kent State Stark gifted funds to their employees to explore local businesses and spend those funds locally is nothing short of genius. We welcome the opportunity not only to participate but to serve those who have visited before, but we especially look forward to serving those who haven’t.”

Seachrist said one of 2020’s biggest lessons has been about the importance of home: a safe place we can count on.

“It’s been a tough year, and everyone is excited to have the voucher and to give back to the community,” Seachrist said.

Kent State at Stark offered a small number of in-person classes over the summer to students that require in-person such as some of the medical classes and the music related majors. More in-person classes were offered this fall along with eLearning and hybrid classes.

Seachrist said that the Friday before Thanksgiving the campus went back to all remote learning and encouraged their employees who could work from home to do so. The staff and students will be returning to campus in mid-January. They will make a slow return in waves. Seachrist said the university learned a few new approaches to helping students when the pandemic hit.

“We have some students who don’t have the musical instruments at home they need, or the technology needed to learn remotely. To help those students continue learning, we thought we loan out books so why not loan out equipment too and so we began to loan out equipment. We also boosted our wi-fi capabilities so that students who didn’t have access to wi-fi could park in the parking lot and do their homework by using our wi-fi,” Seachrist said.

Kent State is also offering counseling services to students to help reduce the stress of adhering to CDC guidelines and keeping up with their learning through the pandemic.

“We need to give each other grace and give ourselves grace through this time. By grace, I mean showing each other empathy, compassion, caring and gratitude. We should be leaning on each other and caring for one another. At Kent State, we are leading students through this by doing what’s best for our students.”