Neighbors shepherd development with benefits in this tiny urban enclave by Laurel Hill Cemetery
This August, the graduating class of the RAH Work Ready program received their certificates of completion and gathered for a celebratory lunch with Rose Cooper and Sherry White, two community organizers in the Allegheny West neighborhood. Ms. Cooper, the president of the RAH (Ridge, Allegheny, Hunting Park) Civic Association, has been a force for neighborhood improvement for almost 20 years. Her efforts have also resulted in a beautiful new community center and neighborhood hub, the RAH Community Office, completed in April.
The kids chatted over lunch while Rose proudly led us through the new three-story building, with classrooms in the basement. “It took a couple years for them to build this, so me and Sherry ran the Work Ready Program out of my house so we could teach the kids and get ’em a few bucks in their pockets for helping out in the neighborhood.” (A city program provides them a stipend.)
Amid the spike of new housing in their rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, Rose, Sherry, and the RAH board members have developed relationships with local businesses and developers and leaned into their network of city and state representatives to fund classes, computers, and office equipment. It’s a remarkable departure from the usual antagonistic relationship in Philly neighborhoods between the forces of gentrification and long-time residents.
Most important for Rose is the funding to support those at risk in the neighborhood. “Seniors always need help, but the kids do too. They need help learning real skills to go to college or get good jobs. We’re giving them what they need to make progress.”
Besides the Work Ready program, they plan to offer a reading program and several other classes. “We’re working with businesses to have them help us with after-school programs. One of them is even interested in offering a movie-making class to the kids.”
Rose beamed as she led us downstairs to the classroom — a finished basement with new wood floors, recessed lighting, and several desks and chairs. “We’re going computer shopping soon,” she said, referring to a grant from Councilman Jones. “Then we can teach ’em computer literacy, too.”
But first, there were more important matters – “We’re taking the grads to Dorney Park tomorrow.” As with everything Rose and Sherry do, it’s a community event – this one with a massive group of 144 neighbors. “We’ll have a lot of mothers along,” she said. “Can’t do it alone.”
A few weeks later, the community center hosted the premiere of a new short film on the neighborhood’s history, funded by Laurel Hill Cemetery and produced with Hidden City Philadelphia. Neighbors from all over Allegheny West came out, along with lots of familiar faces from East Falls including Michelle Feldman, EFDC’s executive director, along with Carolyn Sutton (also of EFDC). As Rose welcomed guests, Laurel Hill’s president Nancy Goldberg made sure everyone had a glass of champagne to toast this project that was a true collaboration with the community.
Indeed, the video* featured interviews with prominent neighbors, many who had grown up in the area, or moved here decades ago as a young parent. The area has changed a lot since it was humming with factories, and North Philly was a renown for it’s music scene and nightlife. But Rose and her can-do crew in Paradise aren’t trying to bring back any past, as fondly as they remember it. “We’re thinking of these kids, always, this is all for them, ” Rose told us, “They’re the future.”
*this is not the Paradise history video (we will update once it is shared)
Locals lend a hand! Volunteers and donations are always appreciated. Reach out in the comments below or email Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org, thank you!