Germantown: Testing the Waters

Dr. Chun and company prepare the tools necessary to collect water samples of Germantown's Saylor Grove.
Dr. Chun and company prepare the tools necessary to collect water samples of Germantown's Saylor Grove.
Chun and his fellow volunteers prepare the tools necessary to collect water samples of Germantown's Saylor Grove.

A retired chemist and his volunteer group in Germantown prove that you are never too old to make an impact on the community.

The Center in the Park Senior Environment Corps (CIPSEC), located at Germantown’s Vernon Park at 5818 Germantown Ave., is a voluntary organization that works to monitor and educate the people about watersheds and the environment.

Dr. Edward Chun, a Harvard-trained chemist, was honored with a Community Champion Silver Honoree for his contributions with the group. Chun was one of 28 seniors nationwide to win the MetLife Foundation’s Older Volunteers Enrich America Award.

Previously a scientist for Abbott Labs whose career there spanned approximately 40 years, Germantown resident Chun plays a key role in the objectives of the CIPSEC.

Like Chun, Fred Lewis, the CIPSEC volunteer coordinator, feels the rewards of his job not only for himself, but to his community as well.

“We feel that what we are doing is not only beneficial to the community,” Lewis said. “but really for the entire generation. Most of the time when you consider retirement, you want to do something that just satisfies your own desires. But being with the CIPSEC, besides personal satisfaction, you get some idea that you are helping the community and [I feel] this would be a good legacy to leave behind to our younger generation.”

CIPSEC, Lewis says, goes “from place to place, testing water supplies for a multitude of reasons. But, the most important of those reasons are temperature and contamination.”

“Fred’s role is to lead us,” Chun said, “and my role is to ensure that whatever we do, we get results that are meaningful.”

When asked about his reasons for joining, Chun reply was rather simplistic and straight to the point. “the SEC needed a chemist, and they asked me. So, I did it.”

Lewis also acknowledges that Dr. Chun’s contributions are instrumental to his own dealings with the group.

“Ed has taught me calmness [as] an individual,” Lewis added, “which is pretty much the opposite of me. I’m rather boisterous and I have a tendency to get excited pretty easily.”

Another CIPSEC volunteer gathers information for further research.
A volunteer gathers information for further research.

According to the organization’s Web site, the volunteers participate in a variety of projects such as monthly water quality monitoring, habitat assessments, tree plantings, watershed tours, environmental events, advocacy projects, school programs, youth and community education and outreach programs and trips.

Germantown’s Saylor Grove is the latest site tested by the CIPSEC. The wetland, located on Rittenhouse Street between Wissahickon Avenue and Lincoln Drive, filters about 70 million gallons of storm water annually. This watershed drains into the nearby Wissahickon Creek, and the water originates both from a small stream and stormwater diverted from the storm sewer system.

Another CIPSEC volunteers collects data for further testing.
Another volunteer collects data for further testing.

The water flows over cascading rocks, which help slow the flow of the water and to settle out some contaminants, before entering the wetland. The system is designed to filter non-point source pollutants and reduce the peak storm water flow rates and volumes. The Philadelphia Water Department hopes that the grove’s formulation will result in improved water quality in the Monoshone Creek as well as at the PWD’s Queen Lane Intake, reduced downstream bank erosion and improved habitat in the aquatic landscape.

In 2004, the CIPSEC made headlines when they discovered untreated sewage in the Monoshone Creek, a watershed that runs into the Wissahickon Creek. The evidence and contributions led the Philadelphia Water Department to take action and investigate matters to help improve the situation.

The same year, film producers Ann Tegnell and Sharon Mullally composed a documentary entitled “Knee Deep,” which chronicles the workings of the organization, particularly collecting and testing water samples of Germantown and other Fairmount Park regional creeks, as well as their aforementioned findings in the Monoshone Creek.

“I frankly can’t see our little group changing the world,” Frances Williams said in the documentary. “We can’t. We’re trying to change the people around us, so they know it’s important to let the waterways live.”

People looking to volunteer for the group need only willingness to help out, be ready to endure physical labor in some positions and be prepared to spend a vast amount of time outdoors. Membership is free. And, while volunteers are primarily aged 55 or older, Lewis ensures that opportunities are available and open for all ages and interests.

Another part of the group’s objective is bridging the gap between generations by helping to educate the public about the goings-on of Philadelphia’s waterways. The group occasionally travels to schools, lecturing children in the classroom and hosting field trips where they allow kids to roam an area and collect samples of their own.

Another member, retired teacher Sarah West feels a sense of purpose stemming from her work with Senior Environment Corps.

“At the age I am now I’m going to run out of time,” West said with a sad, but rather optimistic look on her face.  “That’s going to become a scarce thing for me. I would like to use my time well and leave something of my special interests behind. And it would be very satisfying to see things a little better than they would have been if I hadn’t had a chance to be involved.”]

1 Comment

  1. I’ve just watched the documentary on WGBH World, one of my local PBS stations. So wonderful!

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