Local leaders in North Philadelphia, PA embody a sign of community transformation: Civic Good
What happens when a community’s leadership develops from within? No longer completely controlled by external, self-serving political or economic groups, the emerging society prioritizes the common good of its neighbors. Civic good is one of our nine signs of transformation, and SP staff Dan and Denise Anderson are experiencing it in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Dan and Denise have lived in North Philadelphia for nine years now. Interested in getting to know their neighborhood, they joined a team in doing asset-based community development—an approach that utilizes the community’s own assets to work on its needs. As they surveyed their neighborhood, they discovered that several residents and local programs, for decades, had been working diligently to affect positive change in their community. But for a number of reasons, few people knew about it. In fact, very few of these leaders themselves knew about each other!
In an effort to build an encouraging network for these leaders and grassroots organizations in their community, Dan and Denise helped start a community organizing group called Fairhill Neighbors. Starting with a series of meetings, neighbors connected, shared resources, and encouraged one another. This growing coalition of block captains, local leaders, and official and unofficial programs regularly collaborates in community-wide civic good and transformation. As of last year, they formally became a membership organization.
“We have lots of social services offered in our neighborhood, which sets people up to always be on the receiving end of things,” Denise said. “Civic engagement is an important part of community transformation, because it offers people—who are always recipients—the opportunity to give. It’s transformative in this way, helping people realize what they have to offer, and that they can meaningfully contribute to improving their own community.”
Two women were local leaders on their respective blocks in this North Philadelphia neighborhood. They lived two blocks away from each other for 25 years; they did not know about each other, and often thought they were the only person who truly cared about their community. Through Fairhill Neighbors, they met and have since become a tremendous encouragement to one another.
“Fairhill Neighbors’ biggest impact has been twofold—helping people to realize their leadership abilities and connecting people who were already leaders,” Denise said.
Fairhill Neighbors meets once a month, listening to neighborhood leaders, police community relations officers presenting on crime, and guest speakers sharing action-related insight. And once a month, they perform a community action—from block cleanups and filling potholes, to rat abatements and installing storm drain medallions.
Dan and Denise also partner with Tree Tenders to plant trees in their neighborhood. On any given summer day, the Fairhill neighborhood is 20 degrees hotter than the wealthiest neighborhood in Philadelphia. This is typically due to black pavement and a lack of green tree coverage, as Philadelphia is primarily made up of row homes. But in the past two years, SP Philadelphia has partnered with Tree Tenders to plant almost 100 trees!
When Dan and Denise moved into the neighborhood, they did not start from scratch to promote civic good in North Philadelphia. They simply helped connect the existing leaders in their neighborhood—experienced, knowledgeable, hopeful people with a strong desire to see community transformation. Now, they all sit at the table of Fairhill Neighbors—a table rich with shared leadership, action, and hope. You can learn more about them here, and you can support Dan and Denise’s ministry here.