State College

New year at New Leaf | Nonprofit co-working space enjoying year of prosperity

Members of the nonprofit co-working space sit in the lounge and chat during the celebration.
Members of the nonprofit co-working space sit in the lounge and chat during the celebration. CDT photo

The possibilities are endless three floors up and at the end of the hallway in the State College Municipal Building.

That’s where the New Leaf Initiative, a nonprofit co-working space launched in 2010, took up residence a year ago.

About 30 people celebrated the anniversary with cake Thursday after a year of unprecedented growth for New Leaf, which supports networking and entrepreneurial, nonprofit, social enterprise and personal passion projects that positively affect the community.

“In a week, we might have about 300 people work in the space,” membership director Serena Fulton said. “A year ago, maybe 50 people came in a week at our old space if we were lucky.”

Luck isn’t a part of the equation anymore.

About 30 people can be found working at New Leaf in the afternoons, the busiest time of day for the space, a scene that was rare more than a year ago in its original, tiny, space under Dunkin’ Donuts in downtown State College.

“The move has been really important for us to establish a platform to bring people together across the community,” growth director Eric Sauder said. “I think one of the areas we’ve seen the most growth in is just the number of people becoming familiar with New Leaf and making it a part of their routine.”

“A lot of people didn’t know about us until we launched here,” Fulton said. “This space is way more accessible, but we needed experience in the past to learn how to get here and to know what to do here. New Leaf needed that growth. We needed that growth.”

Executive Director Galen Bernard, who came on board last year, is part of the reason behind the growth.

“I came here in May and saw a desire among so many students, young adults, older generations and local, key community members to do work that mattered to them — meaningful work, meaningful learning — but they were looking for the how,” Bernard said. “New Leaf does things to better equip and connect people seeking to create positive change in the community.”

He has also been the intermediary between Fulton’s and Sauder’s skills.

“Eric is one of the co-founders of New Leaf, and I kind of see him as the one who has the vision for two, three, five years out,” Bernard said. “He’s always playing with the immense possibilities of what we could do, and Serena cultivates the immediate needs of the community to make sure members are supported and connected and creating new ways to drive their work. I’m kind of the bridge in between.”

Programming, like the co-working program that has cultivated seven local startups, has been a key to the nonprofit’s growth.

Events that couldn’t be held for large groups before New Leaf’s move have become a staple at the space, too.

“Events cause happy collisions, times when you cross paths with people that you normally wouldn’t meet,” Fulton said. “People schedule business and board meetings here, professors have hosted classes here, key players across the community have come in here, and they usually stay after to learn more.”

Knowing the exact number of people using the space, however, is an inexact science.

“Some folks feel so at home that sometimes they just walk right in and might forget to sign in,” Bernard said.

It’s not the worst problem to have.

“I think that is a little bit of a good thing, that folks do feel so comfortable here, and that makes the community stronger if people feel comfortable here,” Bernard said. “It’s hard to map the projections for the rest of the year, because we have had a tipping point in the last two months. I think that’s partly because of the university and also because the more you develop the culture and facilitate it, it can in some ways grow on its own and support itself. I feel very fortunate to have come into this community that is hungry for a different path and a way of learning and working together.”

Pressed for what the future holds for New Leaf, Sauder kept his long-range ideas to himself.

“I’m excited to expand the scope of what people can do here and to see everyone’s opportunities increase,” he said. “It’s just surprising to us to see new things happen every day and to see the snowball keeps growing.”

Fulton said it was Sauder’s vision five years ago that got them into the municipal building and that his ideas will continue to come to fruition.

“A lot of Monday mornings Eric comes in and tells us about an idea he’s been thinking about all weekend,” Fultan said. “He was having conversations five years ago that got us into this space, and he’s having conversations that are going to matter a year or five years from now, too.”

“I’ve never been more excited about the opportunities that exist here,” he said.