Fighting drugs, fighting crime, and fighting to improve their community, the West Philadelphia Coalition of Neighborhoods and Businesses has worked for four years to eliminate community "blight." According to Lee Tolbert, president of the coalition, the organization formed to fulfill three main objectives. Participants are dedicated to improve the local social and economic conditions; to promote the area as a place to live, work and conduct business; and to unite area community and business organizations for the benefit of all West Philadelphia, Tolbert said. The coalition was originally made up of eight community groups, but has now grown to include 57 groups. Although the focuses of the eight groups ranged from community non-profit organizations to a tavern, the founders joined together initially to deal with crime on the Lancaster Avenue business strip. Now, the area now covered by the organization includes over 300,000 West Philadelphia residents. Its boundaries stretch west to Cobbs Creek Parkway and east to the Schuylkill River, north to City Line Avenue and south beyond Baltimore Avenue. The coalition attributes its success to its greatly needed programs and intends to expand them while it plans to incorporate new ones. The organization has instituted a range of programs "to address those issues that affect the quality of life of residents and businesses of West Philadelphia," according to Joan Williams, secretary of the coalition. Its first project was Townwatch, an attempt to safeguard the community from crime by training block "captains" and residents. Program organizers have established a crime hot line and a post office box through which residents can report crime. In addition, neighborhoods are connected by a radio network with several base stations. The coalition has worked with a branch of the Wharton West Philadelphia Project in order to identify and rehabilitate vacant and abandoned buildings. Staffers of the project's Technical Assistance Program set up a computer program which gives information ranging from the ownership of the building to its proximity to public transportation. The purpose of this program is to locate these buildings, to solicit them from the city for rehabilitation, and to offer them at a reasonable price to low and middle income families. The coalition began to work with the Wharton West Philadelphia Project because, according to Tolbert, the project could provide an unlimited amount of resources to this umbrella of smaller businesses and community groups. Another of the coalition's programs aims at combating drug and alcohol abuse and drug trafficking. This group has organized anti-drug rallies, support groups and a handbook instructing residents how to be aware of danger signals of drug abuse. The handbook also instructs residents how to safeguard the community by getting involved in community, church, and school groups. The coalition has created a "clearinghouse" of information by establishing a job bank through which residents can find employment opportunities. "We feel strongly to bridge the gap between the University of Pennsylvania and the community," Tolbert said. "We wish to play as a liaison where these two entites can grieve their differences and can work together and support each other."Comments powered by Disqus
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