Nicetown and Germantown are two communities that cannot be written off. While these adjacent neighborhoods have had all the challenges facing any older urban neighborhood, it is clear that they are coming back. This was the focus of two youth-oriented events that happened recently.
First, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah joined the Firebirds Robotics team at the Wissahickon Boys & Girls Club, 328 W. Coulter St. in the heart of Germantown.
This took place on Friday, Aug. 10 at 10 a.m. There, neighborhood youths met the hoops-playing “Rebound Rumble” robot and learned how to build a “bristle bot” battery-powered toothbrush.
“This is a program that will eventually reach 4 million young people,” Fattah said. “This is a youth mentoring program for the Boys and Girls Clubs including their headquarters here in Philadelphia. This is an investment in our young people and is a major new thrust of getting them involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. So, it’s a great partnership.”
The Wissahickon Boys and Girls Club program is an outgrowth of the partnership between FIRST, the national robotic/science education mentoring program and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Fattah forged this national partnership by bringing together the top officials of FIRST and the Clubs to sign the American Innovation and Mentorship Agreement last April. This will provide programming at 3,000 Boys and Girls Clubs nationally by 2015.
The 10th annual Give Back Festival drew a cross-section of residents from the Northwest Philadelphia area to Nicetown Park, 4300 Germantown Ave. on Friday, Aug. 10 and Saturday, Aug. 11.The scattered thunderstorms and humid weather did not completely damper the spirits of those who came for the full roster of activities. It ranged from an HBCU fair and Walk for Peace to live entertainment and a boxing competition.
Those who came could see firsthand the development that is taking place in Nicetown. This includes many of the projects of the nonprofit Nicetown Community Development Corporation and its private and public partners.
Perhaps no one is more aware of the revitalization taking place in the Nicetown and Germantown areas than Zak Abdur-Rahman, the head of the Nicetown CDC.
“Sometimes developers come in who just want gentrification,” Abdur-Rahman said. “They think they know what is best for the community. They just want to control the land and create value in the marketplace. They are more interested in their return than they are in cleaning up the neighborhood, improving the schools and making it a better place for the people who are already there to live. That’s not what we do.”
Nakira Reed concurred. The single mother recently relocated in Nicetown.
She loves the transformation and the community events in her community.
“This is just a dream come true, and my son and I love it here,” she said.
Oliver and Company Tea Room owner Brenda Board has a message for aspiring entrepreneurs. This Northwest Philadelphia business owner insisted that despite the economy and tight financing for small businesses, dare to start a business now. Board knows this first hand because when she conceived her business two decades ago the economy was equally challenging.
Board’s tenacity has paid off. Recently, she was among the recipients of a micro-loan through FINATA, a nonprofit community development financial institution. She received her portion of the $322,500 in support loans at a special reception held at the FINATA Center, earlier this month.
“On Oct. 1 we will be hosting a special high tea holiday event to celebrate our 20th anniversary (tentatively) at the Chestnut Hill Hotel,” Board said. “We do an A-course French cuisine served at the high tea hour of 5 p.m. in historical properties. We’re now going global because I am a world class tea educator.”
Six local major banks announced their new collaboration to expand micro-lending to Philadelphia’s small businesses. So, Board was among those present as micro-entrepreneur Micah Gold-Markel, owner of Solar States, “flipped the switch” on the 30 kilowatt solar panel installation at the FINATA headquarters recently. The six banks were Bank of America, Citibank, Citizens, PNC, TD Bank and Wells Fargo.
The bank funding supports loan loss reserves, technical assistance service and operating capital. Their contributions help FINATA leverage a $750,000 loan from the Small Business Administration Microloan Program and a $125,000 grant form the City of Philadelphia’s Commerce Department.
“The Urban Affairs Coalition is really proud of this initiative,” said Sharmain Matlock-Turner, the UAC’s president and CEO. “The banks came together through our organization to respond to the needs in the community for more loan capital for micro-entrepreneurs, including minority and immigrant entrepreneurs.”
“We are honored to be selected as the initiative’s non-profit partner and are eager to build a much larger micro-lending program in Philadelphia,” said Luis Mora, president of FINATA. “With funds from the various banks, the Small Business Administration and the City of Philadelphia’s Commerce Department, we are able to not only serve under banked or unbanked individuals, but also create jobs for the entire Philadelphia community.”
This is good news for business owners like Board.
Though her business doesn’t officially have a home base, the monthly events draw sometimes more than 700. From these her company gets orders for various events held throughout the year at an array of venues.
“This goes to show that you can start your dream business now by preparing for the future, because I can tell you that your day will come if you do,” Board said.
Germantown’s Brenda Jamison knows first-hand about the benefits of holistic healing. After trying many medications and visiting numerous physicians her hypertension could not be stabilized. It was only after addressing her diet, exercise regimen and hormonal imbalances through herbs that she now has normal blood pressure.
Jamison recently joined many Northwest Philadelphians in attending the annual Heal Thyself Garden Party.
Though the event has relocated to West Philadelphia, it still drew many residents from Mount Airy, West Oak Lane, Germantown, and East Falls.
“I told so many of my neighbors, family and friends about this, so Northwest Philadelphia is here in full force,” Jamison said.
On hand once again was a familiar face to Northwest Philadelphians, best-selling author Queen Afua. The CEO of the Queen Afua Wellness Institute in New York was a headliner at the 2010 “Grow a Little Love!” event at the Seva Retreat House at Elkins Estate.
Her appearance came on the heels of her European book tour promoting her book “Overcoming an Angry Vagina: Journey to Womb Wellness.”
Queen Afua returned to tell about how emotional hurts from the past and negative feelings towards men can result in a wide range of female-related health problems from menstrual cramps and fibroids to the need for hysterectomies and miscarriages.
“So many women underestimate the role and power of their wombs as they try their utmost to fit into a stress-ladened lifestyle that undervalues their roles as women,” she said.
“In fact I think it safe to say that most women forget that they have been blessed with the enormous capacity to not only love unconditionally but also co-create life itself,” she said.
Local youth sports group Athletics Academy made a trip to the Junior Olympics in Houston recently and won big.
No one was more excited about the dozen Germantown students participating in the event than Kenroy Wallace, the director and coach of the Athletics Academy.
For Wallace, the initiative he started in 2007 was about more than just teaching boys and girls ages 8 to 14 about sports.
The reason the team has “academy” in its name is the program also includes learning — nutrition, reading and math.
“This is a permanent track and field program that includes academic enrichment,” Wallace said. “We train out of two schools: Emlen Elementary School serving the Germantown and Mount Airy areas, and Roxborough High School. We have a total of 50 young people. I am proud of the fact that we have several who made it to the 2012 AAU Junior Olympics in track and field.”
Among the Junior Olympic honors of the Athletics Academy track stars were three major medals and eight students finishing in the finals of several events.
“This is truly the culmination of everything that we’ve worked for recently,” Wallace said. “We have a talented group of youngsters. I believe that by combining athletics and academics it shows them that if you harness your talents and mold them you can achieve. It shows them that hard work does pay off. That’s something that our children need to hear today, and if you can harness that talent it makes a difference.”
Parent Darien Swift agreed.
“It is one thing to compete with kids around your own area or state, but it’s taking it to another level to compete against the best around the country,” he said. “I think it was remarkable.”
Darien Swift was among those who chaperoned the entourage of students in Houston. His son, D’Andre Swift, 13, was among the students who competed.
“I felt proud of my team mate who won two medals and another who won one,” he said. “I think running track is positive because it gives you something to do to stay off the streets. The Athletic Academy just has great coaches who really (steer) you in a better direction.”
Northwest Philadelphia and Cheltenham gardeners are excited about a short documentary film spotlighting the LaMott Community Garden.
The film, titled “Sacred Soil,” is set to premiere at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, in Center City, Sunday, Aug. 5 at 2:30 p.m. The doors open at 2 p.m. There is no admission charge.
“Sacred Soil” tells the story of Diane Williams, the interim president of LaMott Community Garden.
It traces the journey that began when Williams, a retired mortgage banking professional, was approached by an elder in the Cheltenham Township community about plans to sell and develop their garden. Homeowners from East and West Mount Airy, East and West Oak Lane, and LaMott grow organic vegetation there.
Among those planning to attend the historic screening will be many of the African-American, mature adults who are regulars at the LaMott Community Garden. Bob Thomas and Robert Davis, both of Mount Airy, are avid gardeners. Davis, a native of Petersburg, Va., said his daughter, Nicole, had some patients who gardened at the venue. When she told him about it he immediately joined others growing fresh crops.
“At first they were telling me there were no plots,” Davis said. “Then I cleared out this rocky patch. I grew up on a farm so I know that you can bring life to any space. We are able to grow healthy vegetables here. We even get to share what we have.”
Corrine Jones of Fox Chase was among the special guests who took a tour of the garden when they held their annual barbecue on July 14. Her uncle, 93-year-old Eugene Williams of Northwest Philadelphia, is among the loyal, longtime gardeners.
“This is the life blood of this community,” Jones said. “Uncle Eugene is originally from South Carolina and this puts him in touch with the land. He grew up in a time when people lived from gardening, and they knew how to can and preserve what they grew. I think it’s just wonderful for people to be able to see a garden in the middle of all these homes.
“That’s why I am outraged that there are some who want to take this garden away from here,” Jones added. “So many people are talking about saving the environment. What better way to help the environment by developing our green spaces with gardens? Everything my uncle grows is organic. We don’t need any more cement.”
Williams noted there is a new generation who is learning about gardening from the more experienced elders.
Area schools and youth organizations are welcome to take supervised tours of the garden. Currently among the crops are turnips, butter beans, peppers, okra, yams, string beans, squash, white potatoes, cabbage, onions and carrots.
“We want the entire community to come out to hear the story,” Williams said. “It has been an ongoing struggle to save this garden. So, please pass the word and bring a friend. We are excited about “Sacred Soil” produced by Matthew Marencik, Jason Furrer and Stephen McWilliams.”