Building a Better West Bayfront

Marissa Litzenberg is the project manager for the neighborhood revitalization non-profit that serves the lower westside in the City of Erie.

Marissa Litzenberg is the project manager for the neighborhood revitalization non-profit that serves the lower westside in the City of Erie.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

Alumna Works to Cultivate Community in Erie Neighborhood

Marissa Litzenberg walked past a couple sitting on a big blue swing overlooking the bay, waved at a neighbor in the picnic pavilion, and talked over the happy shrieks of children cooling off at the Bayview Park splash pad.

“What we do at Our West Bayfront is unique, but how we do it is even more unique,” said Litzenberg, project manager for the neighborhood revitalization non-profit that serves the lower westside in the City of Erie. “Everything that we do is informed by resident input and has been from Day One. We are always in communication with neighbors.”

Bayview Park is not a place you would have found families, joggers, and picnickers six years ago, but today, it is the hub of activity and a shining star for Our West Bayfront (OWB) and its residents. Litzenberg, who graduated from Penn State Behrend in 2021 with degrees in Political Science and History, is one of those residents. She lives in the area she serves, although she didn’t see that coming.

She had planned to work in international law, but her adviser, Dr. Amy Carney, associate professor of history, encouraged her to consider a year of service at OWB through Lake Effect Leaders, an AmeriCorps VISTA grant program that serves as a pipeline for nonprofit leadership development.

“She said, ‘Give Erie a shot for a year. What’s one year?’” Litzenberg said.

When that year was up, OWB offered Litzenberg a full-time position, and she chose to stay.

As a member of a small team, Litzenberg does a little bit of everything—from event planning and management to overseeing the litter committee to helping residents obtain free street trees and porch lights. One only need look at the events calendar at to see that she is a busy young professional.

Among her favorite events is Porchfest, when an eclectic mix of local musicians perform on neighborhood porches as visitors stroll from one location to the next or plunk down and relax. A musician herself, Litzenberg enjoys the opportunity to highlight local talent while bringing the community together.

“It’s a chance to get together and celebrate the community that we’re building here with help from the residents,” she said. “We couldn’t do any of it without all the neighbors who volunteer. It’s like a big group project.”

With help from various agencies, entities, and grants, Our West Bayfront has made many impressive physical improvements. More is to come, Litzenberg said, including upgrades to Gridley Park. But the visible changes, like the colorful OWB yard signs that dot the lawns of residents, are the result of something more profound and hard to put into words, though easy to feel: a sense of community, and of pride.

An upcoming project that illustrates this—literally—is a planned mural at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center that that will celebrate the unique history of the neighborhood and encourage young people to learn and think about their own impact in the community.

“It will bring out a sense of history, which I love, of course, but I’m also excited that kids will see it and be inspired to get involved,” Litzenberg said. “I hope they will look at it and wonder how they can fit into that picture.”  

Vital Statistics

Hometown: Volant, Pennsylvania

Student involvement: Tutoring, Model U.N., Schreyer Honors College

Current Behrend involvement: Member of the Advisory Board of the Public Policy Initiative

Perpetual work question: Who are we not serving and how can we reach them?

Most rewarding aspect of her job: Building relationships with residents and being able to help and support them.

Residents first: Anna Franz, OWB’s executive director, encourages all of us to execute the original mission and vision of the organization, which calls for resident input and involvement at every point in a project.

Biggest lesson learned so far: Learning to find my voice in my work.

Hobbies: Biking, hiking, reading, watching history documentaries, and playing saxophone; I play in an Indie rock band called This American Song.

Recognition: 2023 Erie Reader “40 under 40” honoree (