Archive for July, 2011

Fresh Food in SCI-West!!

July 22, 2011
The Walnut Hill Community Farm
The Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation (TEC-CDC), in collaboration with a number of funders and partners, transformed an 11,580 square-foot plot of land next to the 46th Street stop on SEPTA’s Market-Frankford Line into the Walnut Hill Community Farm, providing new open space and fresh food for the community. The farm includes 14 raised beds, available to the public to rent for the season, as well as farm rows for commercial production. The production area is tended by our Youth Growers who learn business skills and financial literacy while running the farm like a small business and earning an income through the venture.
kid on farmThe Growers sell produce from a stand at the Walnut Hill Community Farm, at SEPTA’s building in Center City, and to several restaurants and businesses in West Philadelphia. When the Growers sell in Center City, they are accompanied by a cooking demonstration by Penn State’s Nutrition Links, showing customers how to make delicious prepared food from the produce sold by the Growers. In addition, the farm provides produce for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where neighbors can buy a share of the farm and receive a bi-weekly box of produce.
Although the area once was surrounded by a chain link fence, the farm now has an open design with no fences or walls, completely accessible to the public. Striving to be as sustainable as possible, the farm only uses chemical-free growing techniques, permeable paving to absorb rainwater, and an innovative water capture system that harvests stormwater from the adjacent transit station, piped up to the farm by a solar-powered water pump.
Farm in Bloom
The Walnut Hill Community Farm has been developed in cooperation with local residents, the Walnut Hill Community Association, and an Advisory Committee including a diverse set of stakeholders. The Farm is supported by the US Department of Agriculture’s Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, Farm to City, UC Green, and the City Harvest Growers Alliance program of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Its community Youth Growers Cooperative is managed with the assistance of Philly Rooted. We are grateful to all of the organizations and individuals who made this exciting project possible. For more information, please contact Bryan Fenstermaker at or 215-895-4020.

Happy Homes are Healthy Homes

July 22, 2011
Where We Live: West Philadelphia Residents Learn to Address Health Concerns from a New Perspective
By Allison Rooney
On a crisp fall Saturday morning, dozens of women in West Philadelphia came with their children to learn more about a 5-month series of workshops devoted to Healthy Homes.
The Health Home program helps parents and children learn to identify health hazards in their  homes and take steps to remedy these hazards with safer products and procedures. This is the second time this program is being offered to families of West Philadelphia, building on the success of the 2009-2010 program that culminated in June with 50 graduates.
In addition to covering conservation strategies and nutrition, the program discusses asthma awareness and triggers in the home; the risks of exposure to lead paint, carbon monoxide and radon; bicycle and fire safety; integrated pest management; improving water and air quality; and waterHealthy Homes class waste management.
This new group was eager to learn about the program and how they can affect their children’s lives in a positive way. The purpose of this initial meeting was to invite families-one parent and one child-to commit to attending five Saturday-morning workshops
Tess Williams, Neighborhood Advisory Council Coordinator for The Partnership CDC, administers the workshops. She explained to the group, “Our philosophy is that, as the adult in your home, you are an influencer who makes decisions for your family about how you live, what you eat, and what you will and won’t do. However,” she continued, “your kids also influence you, as well as their siblings who may not come to these workshops.”
One attendee pointed out that, in terms of energy conservation, her daughter had been the one to stress that they should turn out lights they’re not using, because even though their family wasn’t paying for the electricity themselves, “someone was paying the bill,” she said.
Given the important role kids can play in the household, Healthy Homes offers separate classes for kids and parents. The kids program makes the information fun and accessible for children, while also giving them the chance to be creative. In January, the Spiral Q Puppet Theater helped kids to create collages that expressed the importance of water in their lives.
The Healthy Homes program teaches participants that where they live impacts their health .  “The age of your housing is a significant factor,” says Williams. “A lot of Philadelphia homes are older, which means they have old paint, pipes, and plaster, that expose your family to dangerous chemicals, especially if you are living there while repairs are being done.”
When Williams asked how many people in the room have asthma, 11 hands went up. When she asked about their children, it became clear that half the households in the room had a child with asthma, which  is unsurprising, considering that 60 percent of kids in the area miss school routinely because of asthma. She touched on household asthma triggers-such as dry cleaning chemicals and pesticides-that can have a long-term impact on kids
“Schools are ranked and funded based on attendance,” she explains, “so if we have an abundance of children in West Philadelphia missing school because of asthma, we’re always going to look like schools aren’t doing enough to educate our kids, and parents aren’t doing enough to get kids to school. The truth is, we’re facing a community health issue, and we want to do something at the foundational level to change this.”
Leaders of this event asked attendees to go back into their neighborhoods and start conversations with their neighbors as well as other members of their family about what they learned today. “We invite you to bring out other families to the next workshop,” Williams said. “We want you to use this information to benefit yourself, and then also to help someone else.”
Healthy homes parent and childParticipants receive more than $1,000 worth of products that will allow residents to implement their growing knowledge of living green and healthy. In addition to kits that test water quality and lead, participants receive green cleaning products, and non-toxic pest prevention supplies. The also receive a home visit “to make sure that what we’re giving them is working, since every situation is different,” says Williams.
One measure of a successful program is that it inspires participants to take what they’ve learned and, guided by the new awareness they have gained, take it to the next step. In this way, the “Pathways to Wellness” Project is a testament to the success of the Healthy Homes Program. Letitia McBride, a graduate of the first Healthy Homes workshops in 2009-2010, has gone on to initiate a project of her own, which recently received funding for implementation in 2011.
One of 20 programs organized by West Philadelphia residents to be awarded a $3,000 grant from SCI-West in November, “Pathways to Wellness” strives to assist children and families in making healthy food choices.
“I got together with another parent (at West Philadelphia High school), because we had an issue with the food in the school systems-they weren’t serving enough fresh vegetables, and the kids were dehydrated because they weren’t drinking enough water. We realized that, for some people, it’s a simple as they don’t eat more vegetables because they don’t know how to prepare them.” So the two applied for the grant to start their own workshop to teach kids and parents these skills.
McBride is thrilled to now have the chance to put their plan into action. “We want to do cooking demonstrations, and also take people on neighborhood walks, so they can see some of the natural herbs growing right around us,” she says. “The idea is that, at the end of our project, the families who take part will have developed eating habits where ‘healthy’ is the norm, and not the exception.”
“I learned a lot from the Healthy Homes program,” says McBride. “What’s most important is what we teach our kids about being healthy, because they carry these messages into the next generation. This work is rewarding and enriching, and communication is the key,” said McBride. “It’s not just about one of us, it’s about all of us sharing what we’ve learned to support the overall health of the entire community.”
For more information on the Healthy Homes Program or to sign up for the fall workshop series call The Partnership CDC at (215) 662-1612.  

Friends of 40th Street Update

July 22, 2011

Created in May 2004, the Friends of 40th Street is a coalition that works to celebrate, promote and enhance the communities around 40th Street, a key commercial corridor that links residential neighborhoods and institutional campuses.  Comprised of residents, community-based organizations, businesses, and anchor institutions, the Friends uses Planning Principles written by community members and facilitated civic engagement to promote trust and a shared vision for the future of this diverse neighborhood.  The Friends’ public meetings provide a regular inclusive forum for open conversation about community-based issues.

Through the summer of 2011 the group hosted a series of public meetings where the community came together to discuss the design and character of development along the 40th Street corridor. These meetings encouraged local stakeholder involvement in the identification of characteristics that may influence the success of a mixed-use retail and residential corridor along 40th Street. The meetings were completed in June 2011 and the feedback from meeting participants can be reviewed here.  
Friends 2011 Forum
We have compiled all of the information about this project into one area of this website — 2011 40th Street Forums, accessible here or from the sidebar on the left side of this page.  In addition to these digital materials, a resource binder with printed information about the project has been delivered to a variety of public locations along the corridor. The locations include:  Walnut Street West Library, Durham Library and at the offices of the University City District, People’s Emergency Center, Partnership CDC, The Enterprise Center, and Elwyn.
Come out and participate in the next meeting!friends of 40th
Monday August 1, 2011
6:15 PM to 7:30 PM
The Rotund
4014 Walnut Street
Great things are happening in West Philadelphia! Come hear about what is going and what is being planned.
Agenda Highlights include:
  • Information on the brand new  public computer labs in the area! Free computer access and training available right in the neighborhood. 
  • How the Welcoming Center can help your business! Excellent resources available for new and existing businesses.   
Bring your neighborhood or organizational updates and announcements to share.   All community members and business owners are encouraged to attend our meeting!  

Information Access Is A Matter of Social and Economic Justice…Just ask The People’s Emergency Center

July 22, 2011

Bridging the Digital Divide in West Philadelphia

By Allison Rooney                                                                   

Digital InclusionBack in 2003, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) recognized that computers with Internet access were becoming a basic necessity, like food, heat, and electricity. In order to fulfill its mission to provide social services to underserved families in West Philadelphia, PEC would have to help these individuals cross the “digital divide.”

“If people don’t have computing skills or access to a broadband connection, which are so crucial in today’s society, then they are missing critical opportunities-such as applying for jobs online,” says Tan Vu, Director of the Digital Inclusion program at PEC, which was created specifically to bridge this divide. “We saw that, without these skills and this access, these individuals were at risk for falling behind even further.” Initially Digital Inclusion focused on providing low-cost Internet access and refurbished computers to qualified residents, but the program has since grown to include a range of comprehensive training classes for youth as well as adults.

Digital Inclusion first offered a comprehensive Community Class for adults, a focus that remains strong seven years later. Offered every other month, free of charge, the class is held two to three evenings a week for four weeks. It covers computer and technology basics, including the Internet, email, social networking, word processing, and spreadsheets. Advanced classes are also available. There are generally ten to twelve people in each class, including local residents or parents of students in the teen classes. Adult learners can purchase refurbished computers at the conclusion of the program for $150.

Over time the program has grown to include the Digital Connectors program for teens. These classes build teens’ command of computer operations as well as computer refurbishment/repair, multimedia production, and the digital arts. Class components also emphasize financial literacy, leadership skills, and community service. Students received free computers at the conclusion of the program thanks to the Comcast One Economy Corporation, in partnership with the city’s Department of Commerce.

A third component of the program is Sixth Grade Stars, offered after school for ten weeks  to students from neighborhood elementary schools. Slightly less intensive than the teen class, Sixth Grade Stars teaches technology literacy using proven web-based curriculum and interactive group projects. There are generally ten students per group, and PEC offers the class in spring, summer, and fall.

“We’re proud to see how this initiative has grown,” says Iola Harper, Executive Director of the SCI-West Initiative, which supports collaboration between PEC and three other Community Development Corporations (CDCs) inWest Philadelphia. “It has been successful in cutting across several programmatic areas within the community it serves.”

Twenty-four young people completed the first Digital Connectors Program that started in the fall of 2010. The college-level curriculum includes leadership skills as well as Cisco IT Essentials-one of the first certificates needed to become an IT professional. The required 156 hours includes 60 hours that teen students must devote to serving the community. “Students use their computer skills and laptops to provide communications services or design websites that benefit local businesses,” says Mr. Vu.

One group of students created  a website for the Lancaster Avenue corridor  ( to provide a directory of local businesses, which future classes plan to expand. Another group developed a financial literacy booklet for the families that PEC serves, on such topics as saving for college and banking online.

The program recruits students from local schools. “We talk to principals, teachers, counselors, and members of the community,” says Mr. Vu. The only requirements to apply for a place in Digital Connectors are that students are between 14 and 21 and aspire to learn about technology and gain leadership skills. After an intensive interview process, PEC selects 20 of the more than 40 students that apply for each class.

 Mr. Vu and his team hire instructors and also teach courses. Each class also has teaching assistants, often Temple University students whom he says are in tune with underserved communities and kids who need mentors. “The program provides an opportunity for team-building in a good learning environment,” says Mr. Vu. “We instill in the students that they can be anyone they want to be, and we try to inspire them to be leaders in their own communities.”

“When young people are employed as a result of this kind of effort,” says Iola Harper, “it means the program has a lasting impact-not only on the lives of these individuals, but also on the West Philadelphia community as a whole.”

A surge in funding from national sources reflects the success of Digital Inclusion in achieving its mission. In 2010 the program received grant support through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), as a result of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009.

PEC is a sub-recipient of a BTOP Round 2 Grant that went to the City of Philadelphia Public Computer Centers (PCC), starting in July.Philadelphiawill have 77 PCCs, and 20 of those are affiliated with PEC and its partners. Each site will have new computers and a part-time facility assistant.

In September the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC) received $11.8 million for the Sustainable Broadband Adoption (SBA). Part of these funds will provide instructors for expansion of Digital Inclusion programs at 19 PEC partner sites.

“We’re proud that we were able to weave Digital Inclusion components into programming at other CDCs,” says Iola Harper. The Partnership CDC, for example, targets specific blocks of the SCI-West catchment area, to install green and white roofs and offer workshops for residents on caring for their homes and protecting themselves from dangers like lead paint. The residents of two entire blocks that were the focus of a recent renovation will receive computers through the Digital Inclusion program.

“This program has truly evolved,” says Harper “from serving a relatively small geographical area and addressing the needs of a specific constituency of PEC residents, to now serving the entire West Philadelphia SCI target area. It’s one example of what SCI-West is all about.”

For more information on the Digital Inclusion Program, contact Tan Vu at The People’s Emergency Center (215) 382-7522 x 206.