ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Dr. Sarah Mahan-Hays, Associate Professor of Communication at Ohio University Eastern, and Crystal Lorimor, Executive Director of the Community Improvement Corporation of Belmont County (CIC), are among the first awardees of the COVID-19 Community Response Internal Awards offered by the Center for Campus and Community Engagement at Ohio University.

"We are so grateful to the Center for Campus and Community Engagement for this opportunity for the Eastern Campus to partner with the CIC. It’s wonderful when the University and organizations like the CIC can come together to make good things happen—together—in our local communities," said Dr. Mahan-Hays.

The funding will be used to provide printed health resources and purchase hand sanitizer needed for local businesses to reopen safely, which has been challenging for businesses to procure on their own.

"As I was talking to businesses in Belmont County about what they would need to reopen, the one item that was mentioned repeatedly was sanitizer," said Lorimor, who works closely with businesses and nonprofits in the community. "For small businesses, every bit helps. We have tried to find them answers, products, and resources through all of this, so they would know they were not alone."

Community engagement is about collaborative and mutually beneficial partnerships, according to Director of the Center for Campus and Community Engagement Mary Nally. "I’m excited to have the opportunity for Ohio University to be addressing a community-identified priority during this challenging time, and for this project to strengthen the ties between Ohio University Eastern and communities in the region."

According to the CIC, over 50% of Belmont County employees work for small businesses, many of which are facing existential crises due to the financial impact of the pandemic. While reopening businesses is crucial to the local economy, reopening safely is a priority, as Belmont County has been particularly hard hit among Ohio University regional campus communities. As of Monday, May 11, Belmont County has had 258 individuals test positive, 20 hospitalizations and seven deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

In their proposal, Lorimor and Dr. Mayan-Hays assert that, "for the economy to reopen successfully, the public must have confidence that they are safe returning to these businesses. Businesses will need to contribute to that confidence by demonstrating that they are taking steps for their customers and employees to be safe. Providing hand sanitizer is just one step, but it’s a crucial step in that process to help businesses."

Additionally, Lorimor and Dr. Mahan-Hays hope that this effort will help to build stronger relationships for Ohio University Eastern and local businesses, opening the door for future collaborative high-impact experiential learning opportunities through local internships and student projects.

"We can't thank Ohio University enough for this opportunity," said Lorimor. "Through working with the Eastern Campus, the Center for Campus and Community Engagement, and the Small Business Development Center, we [the CIC] will be able to provide extra assistance to our clients, the businesses of Belmont County."