Archive for the ‘West Philly Non-Profits’ Category

48th Street Neighbors Build Trust and Community (Not to Mention, Safety) with Town Watch

April 14, 2012

Neighbors around 48th St and Springfield Ave have organized a town watch to help reduce crime in the area. The group is using a community-based strategy to combat crime, focusing on strengthening trust, building relationships, arming residents with knowledge, and breaking down “us versus them” mentalities about crime.

Area residents came together around a number of tragic crimes, including a robbery-rape this past September 2011 near the corner of 48th St and Springfield Ave. Over time, the 48th Street Neighbors have created a strong community by doing collective work that is proactive, positive, and collaborative.

The specific activities of the group have evolved over time, from distributing leaflets to holding gatherings to training residents on community patrolling to forming community-building committees. Last year, Patty Bulack, an active participant, was using paper leaflets to inform neighbors about crime in the neighborhood. “There were so many new people in the neighborhood who didn’t know anybody,” she explains, “and my letter under the door was just what they needed to get them to meet people and start getting involved.”

Bulack eventually created an email list to share information about crime activity. Though the list was created strictly for updates about crime, neighbors involved sought out other ways to connect to each other.

Residents started getting together in living rooms to share their stories and develop strategies. Bulack says, “What’s really basic to all of this is trust and relationship. We have to know each other. We have to trust each others’ motives. We have to be forthcoming.” As an example, Bulack shares her motivations openly: “There is a real strong spiritual base for me about this – after the rape happened, my son and I and other family members were in prayer, for the rapist, for the rape victim, for the outcome.”

While it’s impossible to determine the exact motives of everyone involved, including the more than 140 people subscribed to the listserv, the group has come together around a shared interest in moving beyond fear and vendetta. That’s not true for all town watch and community policing groups, for which the recent tragic shooting and killing of the black young man Trayvon Martin by a “town watch volunteer” in Florida is the latest in a long and controversial history.

In the face of both kinds of violence – criminal and vigilante – the 48th Street Neighbors are trying to put positive action at the forefront of their work. “We have to have hope, determination, and love at the top, so we can move forward,” Bulack explains. “And people respond to that. They don’t want fear mongering. They don’t want vendetta. They don’t want ‘hate the police.’”

Using the gatherings as a foundation, the group reached out to the police as well, inviting them to contribute their expertise and provide information as needed. Bulack added that the elements of trust and being forthcoming have been essential in building good relationships with individual police officers, who have been crucial to the group’s abilities to have and share information and develop strategies for how to work together.

48th Street Neighbors began hosting regular community patrol trainings provided by Town Watch for interested residents. In groups, these volunteers walk or bike around the neighborhood for a few hours in shifts, putting eyes on the street and promptly reporting any suspicious or criminal behavior to police. Already, crime has gone down, but Bulack admits, “It’s hard to say exactly how or why.”

It is easy to surmise that the combination of proactive and coordinated efforts of the 48th Street Neighbors, the 18th Police District, individual police officers, Penn Police, and the UCD Ambassadors has had a combined effect. The UCD Crime Update of April 11, 2012 said, “What stands out are the drops (or leveling) in crime in recent months. As we’ve stated in the past, we are extremely encouraged by these drops which we believe are a result, in part, of the stepped up public safety efforts.”

Just this past week the 48th Street Neighbors group managed to help the police apprehend a man who robbed a pedestrian at knife point. After circulating his description on the listserv, folks provided numerous calls and tips to the police, and saw him during a town watch walk, which led to a successful arrest.

In addition to responding to crime in the area, neighbors in the group continue to take their proactive approach further. Recently, they came up with a list of committees for community building, “of other ways people can be involved besides patrolling and besides hearing about crime.” Bulack explains the idea for a party committee: “We should be sponsoring town watch parties where it’s not about [crime] but it’s about getting to know each other. That we know each other, that we care about each other, that we know where each other live, and watch each other’s stuff is foundational. And we need to keep working at that. So we gotta have parties!” The group’s “Porch-hopping Party” next month celebrating the beautiful spring weather won’t be the last.

In addition to the party committee, new and expecting mothers are forming a kid play group. A prayer group has formed to pray for the victims of crime and the arrested. A gardening and beautification committee will look at planting flowers at the location where the September rape began as part of a healing process, and will also take note of overgrown shrubs and other areas of cover for people fleeing a crime scene. One group is also looking further into the use of technology in the town watch activities, including cameras, radios, and police scanners.

Finally, one committee is seeking out opportunities to address some of the root causes. Bulack explains, “Why are these young men coming to our neighborhood to do this? We don’t want to just move it along. We want to be more proactive.” With this in mind, the group is exploring volunteer opportunities with organizations working with youth, nearby and in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The various strategies and activities developed by the group have grown out of the needs of the neighborhood and the neighbors involved. While the listserv provided information to people efficiently, only community gatherings could build the relationships and trust that neighbors needed to feel connected. And the group also needed to take action in the face of neglect, to do something positive in the face of violence: the community patrols and other action committees are providing those opportunities.

Whether or not the group can prove how effective their efforts are, together, these strategies are allowing this community to be connected and proactive. “I love this neighborhood. I love the people in it. There are the coolest people in the world here, and I want them all to know each other,” Bulack says. “We have to do this together.”

48th Street Neighbors – Upcoming Events:

  • Potlucks are held every first Thursday at 7 pm at Bruce Dorpalen’s house – 4716 Springfield Ave.
  • Prayer Group meets every last Wednesday at 7:30 pm at Johannah Fine’s house – is 4823 Windsor ave
  • Porch-Hopping Party is happening May 19, rain date June 2
  • Inquiries at

New Green Block Build Coalition helps homeowners go green to save green

March 8, 2012

An Update on the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative

In March the Green Block Build Coalition will complete rehabilitation and repairs for 20 homes of low income homeowners on the 3800 Block of Aspen Street. The block will celebrate the repairs at a Green Block Party on March 31, at which homeowners will be able to access programs and resources from each of the Green Block Build Coalition partners, including SCI-West, the Partnership CDC, Rebuilding Together, People’s Emergency Center, Drexel University, the Energy Conservation Agency, and the Neighborhoods Advisory Council.

The improvements at the 3800 Block of Aspen Street represent the first of several Green Block Parties the coalition is planning in 2012. The Green Block Build Coalition builds on the success of other SCI West Signature projects, including the Healthy Homes Initiative, the Green Block Party, Green Professionals Training program, and the Digital Inclusion program.

The initiative layers strong and effective programs from each partner agency, offering homeowners a comprehensive set of opportunities to improve their homes, neighborhood, environment, and economic situation. Improving energy efficiency, aka “going green,” will help homeowners save money on energy costs. Hence the coalition’s slogan: “Go Green, Save Green!” Homeowners will also learn about ways to keep their home healthy, financially sound, and environmentally friendly.

In March, some 300 skilled and general volunteers will provide critical repairs and safe and healthy home repairs for those in need in the first of several scheduled Green Block Parties in West Philadelphia. Volunteers will also install planters, clean vacant lots, and beautify the block. In addition to these critical repairs, partners in the Green Block Build Coalition will provide cool roof installations, Healthy Homes training, energy efficiency training, financial education, tangled title and homeownership preservation services, computers and technology training, and energy audits to complement the repairs. Drexel will evaluate the effects of this collaborative effort.

The Coalition will hold a press conference on the final workday for the first Green Block Build in Mantua on March 31st at 9am on the 3800 block of Aspen Street 19104. We hope to see you there!

Creativity as engagement

March 8, 2012

Art can be a powerful tool in collective action. In fact, creativity is central to building sustainable communities, which requires organizing residents across social and economic boundaries, to revitalize their communities. Creative organizations work to bring people together to do this important, difficult work: using the arts to bridge divisions in the community, engage residents in meaningful dialogue, and create a strong sense of place.

In West Philadelphia, several organizations are using the creative arts to bring people together. Additionally, CDCs like the People’s Emergency Center (PEC), are incorporating creativity and public art into their community engagement and development strategies.

The Rotunda (4014 Walnut St) is a community arts venue offering space for regular arts events, classes, and shows. Founded by students at University of Pennsylvania, the Rotunda’s has a strong commitment to providing a space for almost any proposed community-based arts endeavor. Their culturally diverse repertoire attracts people from nearly every segment of the community.

Gina Renzi, Director of the Rotunda, wants to use the programming to create meaningful partnerships and catalyze social change. She encourages those who use the space to talk with others who have similar interests, to collaborate on events and performances, and to work to reach out to a diverse group of people.

Another local program that demonstrates a commitment to the role of the arts in community revitalization and social change is the Artists in Residence program (AIR). AIR awards West Philly artists 1 year of free studio space at 4007 Chestnut St, in exchange for their participation in community-based art projects – leading workshops, teaching classes, exhibiting in the area, etc. AIR addresses the challenges that working artists face, and provides them with stepping stones: tools to support their work and free up their time so that they can contribute creative value to the community.

Another key organization in these efforts is West Philadelphia Arts Connect (WPAC), which provides a space for artists and arts organizations to share information and work together.

WPAC received a SCI-West small grant to team up with Neighborhood Bike Works and local youth to create “bike art” to showcase in the New Kensington CDC’s annual Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby. The partnership worked out so well they will be working together again this year.

These efforts of artists and arts organizations to build community across constituencies, according to Renzi, is essential to community development. “We need to make art accessible and connect the arts to people’s daily lives.”

The SCI-West CDC partners are working to incorporate lessons from arts and community-based organizations in West Philly, like the Rotunda and AIR, and from other organizations city-wide. The People’s Emergency Center (PEC) in particular, incorporates the arts into their work in many ways. Kira Strong of PEC echoed Renzi’s sentiments: “Art is a part of vibrant cultures and vibrant communities, and always has been historically. It remains a vital component.”

Young people enrolled in digital literacy training at The People’s Emergency Center (PEC) use their digital media skills to help serve local businesses. Several students have created  promotional videos for businesses along Lancaster Avenue. (check out ‘Doughnut Heaven’

PEC is using creative methods to engage residents in community planning. They held an open house to coincide with the LOOK! on Lancaster art exhibitions to attract more residents. PEC used hands on mapping, drawing, photo booth, and other creative activities to stimulate and capture fresh ideas.

PEC also uses local events and public art to foster a sense of community and cut through the divisions that exist among community residents.The Lancaster Avenue Jazz festival in Saunders Park has become a source of neighborhood pride.

PEC and its partners also use placemaking improvements to engage residents while beautifying the neighborhood. Improvements at 39th and Lancaster were particularly successful. They combined public art installation, greening, and building and infrastructure renovations. The project engaged a wide array of community partners: residents shared ideas for the mural, the artists worked an auto body shop on the corner, and local youth helped paint the mural.

Placing this public art at a major gateway into the city from the suburbs was strategic. It assured that pedestrians and car drivers from outside the neighborhood would see an ongoing transformation. The public art demonstrates a sense of pride in a place often portrayed in the media as crime-ridden. The project used an effective collaboration of community partners: PEC, LISC, other SCI-West partners, Bank of America, the Mural Arts Program, and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

This combination of art, greening, and building renovations proves more effective than pursuing any of these improvements alone. A tree and bench can provide aesthetic benefits that a beautiful building cannot; meanwhile an artistic addition can transform buildings and landscapes in a fresh way. “Art brings a certain spiritual element that may be lacking in a really nice landscape design,” McNulty says. “Art gives you reason to linger.”

Strong reiterates this sentiment. “While folks may disagree on what is beautiful,” she says, “public art installations provide an excuse for public interaction and conversation.”

Ultimately, creativity and the arts can foster community engagement in multiple ways: making, exhibiting, and performing art; supporting artist collaborations; using creative and artistic methods of community planning; engaging artists in community development work; and engaging residents through place-making public art.

The effect of a comprehensive arts strategy that combines these benefits would, “generate goodwill and excitement,” McNulty hopes. “It gives people a reason to come here and stay here, a reason to be engaged and involved with their neighbors.”

See this post on the Philadelphia LISC Blog.

SCI-West Philadelphia Gateway

June 11, 2010

The United Bank of Philadelphia’s parking lot was full of people attending the West Philadelphia Gateway Green Wall Dedication on June 10, 2010.

Henry C. Lea Healthy Post – Read It Here!

May 6, 2010

Download the April 2010 Edition of the Henry C. Lea Healthy Post.

The Henry C. Lea Healthy Post is a publication of the Henry C. Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia. The Post is a project of the Penn Center for Public Health Initiatives and SCI-West. The publication is  produced by students staff members. Other partners include the Enterprise Center CDC, Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships, The Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative and he People’s Emergency Center.

Healthy Homes Part 4

February 24, 2010

The fourth Healthy Homes workshop took place on February 13 at the Enterprise Center. The workshop provided information on intergrated pest management and free cleaning supplies. Below are some photos of the workshop taken by Melony Burnom, of the Partnership CDC.

West Philly Tool Library: The Story of the Reverse Hammer

October 28, 2009

The SCI-West Blogger needs to fix his broken vase. He joins the West Philly Tool Library to check out a reverse hammer – the only tool he knows that can get the job done.

Find out more about the West Philly Tool Library:

Video: Christopher P. McManus

University City Arts League: TOTEMS

October 6, 2009

An exciting exhibition of mixed media art opened last Friday at the University City Arts League. The exhibition, TOTEMS, is curated by Linda Goss and features works by Kooki Davis, Martina Johnson-Allen and Gretchen Shannon. The exhibition runs through Thursday, October 29. University City Arts League is located at 4226 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA. For more information about the exhibit and the artists, follow the link:

Photos from the opening:

49th and Brown: Urban Farming at The Mill Creek Farm

September 25, 2009

Even though I’ve been growing two heirloom tomato plants in my backyard all summer, I haven’t tasted a single tomato from them yet. Now it’s autumn and the tomatoes remain stubbornly small and green — nothing like the voluptuous red beasts advertised on the seed packets. I knew my resources were limited but I planted and watered with dedication.

Let me describe the landscape.

My backyard farm is paved shade, with one tiny patch of sunlight and a recycled-tire planter. I’ll admit that it was a bad idea to try growing tomato plants with limited space and light (especially starting about a month too late), but I am, by nature, optimistic.

I enjoyed tending to my little plot but it didn’t feed me and I remain a little dissatisfied. It’s like preparing a batch of chocolate chip cookies and then giving them all away without even trying one – all work and no reward. I decided to look for resources in West Philadelphia that might provide a more satisfying farm experience.

Two weeks ago I volunteered at The Mill Creek Farm, an urban farm located at 49th and Brown. I went with the intention of meeting new people, helping out, and learning about urban farming techniques; I came away with so much more. I met Mill Creek’s Co-Directors, Johanna Rosen and Jade Walker, who run the farm, organize its programs, and instruct the volunteers. About ten other volunteers showed up and Jo gave us an orientation presentation. I learned about Mill Creek’s farming techniques, crops, their history and their community programs. I didn’t expect to learn about sustainable design, so I was pleasantly surprised to see and learn about a structure on the farm made entirely of cob. Jo showed the group the sedum roof, the solar panel, and composting toilet also. After the orientation, we got to work. The rest of the morning was spent making new friends while weeding and uprooting vines.

If you are interested in urban farming or sustainable structures, volunteer for a few hours at Mill Creek Farm. The farm provides tools and gloves, so just come in clothes you don’t mind getting a little dirty.

Jo and Jade are looking for volunteers though Thanksgiving. Look for more information about volunteering and where to buy their produce on the Mill Creek website:

Photos: Christopher P. McManus, SCI-West.