Wow.

That was my reaction driving home on Wednesday night.

Just before I left the office, I had met with our nine new interns, all students at the I-LEAD Charter School a few doors away from our building. Most of these students are part of I-Lead’s innovative “Junior to Graduation Program” and are on the precipice of graduating early and — for most of them — heading on to further education.

Heidi Williamson, our Vice President for Programs and Initiatives, has been working with these young people to both help them connect with meaningful work in the community and to expose them to a bit of what they will experience in the “working world” that comes after high school.

We’ve hired these students, all of whom live in the city, to help us think through what Penn Street ought to look like as our revitalization efforts take effect. In part, this internship program is a response to a meeting I had with (then candidate) Wally Scott, who said that, as mayor, he wants to see downtown reflect the desires of city residents.

So our I-LEAD students will be interviewing city residents over the next several weeks and asking them to describe the downtown they’d like to see. What kinds of shops, restaurants, businesses and jobs they think we can support will play a key role in helping us refine a vision (and a business recruitment strategy) for downtown Reading.