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If you want to learn to foster better civic engagement, look to those who have done it under much more dire circumstances, local business leaders were told on Wednesday

The Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce held its annual luncheon meeting yesterday at Dickinson College, featuring a keynote speech by Dickinson President Margee Ensign, who arrived in Carlisle this past July after several years leading the American University of Nigeria.

“I learned, in the middle of Nigeria, that when communities come together, there’s nothing we can’t achieve,” Ensign said.

Her tenure at the AUN, located in Yola, in the country’s northeastern region, was marked by the increasing presence of the Boko Haram, and challenged the university to help provide opportunities for youths who were at risk of being drawn into the terror group.

“We went to the business community and to the civic leaders, and we said ‘you tell us what the problems are, and what you want the university to work on,’” Ensign said.

AUN was able to create a number of job training and community programs, and invested in creating Africa’s largest digital library, which was made available to the community through apps written by university professors in local languages.

Despite the region’s problems — unemployment as high as 85 percent, 13 million children unable to attend school — the AUN’s programs were able to help tie the community together and keep it from fracturing on religious lines.

Ensign said Yola is one of Nigeria’s more integrated cities in a region where tensions between Muslim and Christian groups has fueled the rise of the Boko Haram, who violently promote Islamic separatism.

“I had one young man look me in the eye and say ‘it’s either you or Boko Haram. There’s nothing else here for us,’” Ensign said, adding that none of the young people in the AUN’s programs were persuaded to join the group.

These lessons can be applied to community issues on this side of the Atlantic, Ensign said.

“We have some of these same challenges in the US: How do we keep young people involved and hopeful?” Ensign said.

Having the college and local businesses collaborate on youth programs will hopefully create an environment “so that young people in this community can walk by Dickinson and say ‘that’s for me,’” Ensign said.

She also fielded questions from Carlisle Chamber members, including on the growing cost of higher education.

“We have extensive resources going into financial aid to make sure the sticker price is not the actual price for most students,” Ensign said.

The Carlisle Chamber’s annual event also featured the presentation of a half-dozen awards, including two posthumous honors.

Bob Marquette, former president and CEO of Members 1st Credit Union, was honored with the chamber’s Star of Excellence Award. Marquette died in July of this year after a career of spearheading the credit union’s rapid asset growth, as well as promoting philanthropy and volunteerism.

Jim Washington, former executive director of Hope Station, was honored with the chamber’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Washington led the nonprofit community group, which concentrates on programs for under-served youths and parents, until this past February. He died in May.

Also presented were the Chamber Spirit Award to Jen Burd of M&T Bank; the Business Executive of the Year Award to Bill Miller of Carlisle Events; the Young Business Leader of the Year Award to Dan Mowery of Midway Bowling; and the Volunteer of the Year Award to Gwen Killian of F&M Trust.



Reporter for The Sentinel.