A.J. Ferguson ’12 sees Dayton changing. It’s in the way college students are volunteering. It’s in the words of excitement he hears on the streets from other professionals.
“Even 10 years ago, people would tell UD students to not go past Brown Street,” Ferguson said. “But now, when I talk to students, they are aware that something cool is happening. I’m no longer hearing people say that Dayton is this scary, dying city.”
As the director of UpDayton, Ferguson says the positive shift in the perception of the city he calls home is indicative of volunteer efforts, investments and programs that are pouring into downtown revitalization projects.
The nonprofit began in 2008 and is part of those efforts by helping find ways to keep talented individuals in the area.
“Our goal is to inspire and empower Daytonians to create the community they want,” he said. “There’s far more depth and meaning to creating the community you want to live in rather than just moving to one that sounds cool.”
Ferguson got involved in the organization while still a UD student, when he attended the UpDayton Summit in 2012. From there, he volunteered to head an on-campus club GoDayton, which encouraged UD students to leave the “UD bubble” and explore the city.
And although Ferguson’s degree is in mechanical engineering, his full-time position merges his other passions while at UD: sustainability, River Stewards and Fitz Center for Leadership in Community.
“UD is creating the kind of leaders that our world needs right now,” he said. “No matter your career field, everyone can be involved in their community and be a voice for the common good. Because otherwise, other voices win out.”
If his years at UpDayton and UD have taught him anything, he says it is the power of the individual.
“I believe more than ever that our city needs you to show up,” he said. “I’ve seen it. Anyone can make a difference.”