Pennsylvania natives boast the state is a state of firsts: the first hospital, first steam engine, first elevator, first capital city of the United States and much more. And that doesn't even mention the state's wide variety of ethnic groups, including the highest concentration of Amish in one state, and the many fun-filled adventures waiting inside its borders.
Experiencing all the Keystone State has to offer is more than a summer vacation for Minnesota native and blogger Drew Elliot: It's how he's spending a year of his life.
Elliot's project is called "Here a Year."
"The project started when I had a sudden epiphany in 2009. I thought to myself 'What do I want to do with my life?' and I started writing down ideas," he says.
"Here a Year" came after Elliot's first adventure, 48x48, in which he spent one week in each of the contiguous states (aka the lower 48) doing some type of service project.
"I thought to myself 'that's the dumbest idea ever,' but after talking with family and close friends, I decided to go out and see the country," he says. "I traveled throughout the contiguous 48 states, staying with friends and on the charity of others. This was really the jump-start to the 'Here a Year' project."
Elliot chose three words to live by while on this journey: live, discover and connect.
"I just want to live and be where I'm at," he says. "Someone once told me 'everywhere you go, there you are.' If you're happy with yourself, you can be happy anywhere. The discovery aspect covers the journalist side of my adventure, such as finding local hidden treasures."
The connect part is the main focus of Elliot's project.
"I want to be able to connect people with organizations and charities and help foster a sense of wanting to help others," he says.
What he's doing: In the five months Elliot has been in Pennsylvania so far, he has visited a variety of local attractions and volunteered with several well-known charities.
"I like to let the people decide what I do and what I see. It helps them become involved in sharing their lives," he says. "My website allows locals to vote on several events I come across."
Elliot has served in a volunteer capacity with organizations such as the Special Olympics, the Superhero Foundation, CASA and a variety of other nonprofits.
"There are only so many museums you can visit," he says. "So I try to find places with a local connection to visit."
Among the many places Elliot has ventured, some of his favorites include the Pyrotopia festival in Pittsburgh, the famous underground fire in Centralia, the Father's Day Fly-In in Washington Township near Wellsville, and Gravity Hill in Bedford County.
Elliot plans to visit several York County landmarks, including the Shoe House and sections of the rail trail, and he will volunteer at the Windy Hill Senior Center in Spring Grove.
What people ask: An e-book describing Elliot's 10 most-asked questions will be available in July.
"The number one question I'm asked is how do I afford it. I tell people I live a simple life," he says. "I'm grateful for the charity of friends who are allowing me to stay in a bungalow at the Angel Acres Horse Rescue in Glenville. But mostly, I find very creative ways to get by."
In the near future, Elliot plans to visit Pennsylvania's Amish country.
"Growing up in the Midwest, I know a lot about the Amish population, but many out-of-staters feel Pennsylvania is famous for its Amish population," Elliot says. "I'm just here to find out all I can about the culture of Pennsylvania by experiencing things locals feel the need for me to see."
"People often ask me if I ever get scared," he says. "Life is too short to be scared. I hope to show people that you can accomplish what you want if you truly set your mind to it."
-- Reach Kyle Dunlap at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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More information about Drew Elliot and his yearlong stay in Pennsylvania can be found at his website, www.hereayear.com, or by friending him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hereayear or following him on Twitter at twitter.com/hereayear.