Many blocks in Southwest Philadelphia are lined with ethnic grocery stores, fast food chains, shopping complexes, beauty and hair supply stores and homes. What the average person sometimes overlooks when exploring this neighborhood is the small, plain white building on the residential block of 63rd and Paschall Avenue that helps many of these businesses and area residents survive. This little building is home to the Southwest Community Development Corp.
Established in 1987 to help area residents with home utility and energy needs, the corporation has expanded over the years to assist people with almost any aspect of their lives. The Southwest CDC’s mission statement is to “improve the quality of life in Southwest Philadelphia through economic development and its support services.” The organization executes its goals in many ways, which fall under the four categories of Self Sufficiency, Community Development, New Start Family Resource Center and Economic Development.
Falling under the Community Development umbrella is the Neighborhood Advisory Committee, better known in these parts as the NAC. Edith Dixon is the NAC community organizer, and it is apparent when walking with her down the streets of Southwest. She waves in almost every store window as she passes by and is greeted by multiple people on the street that recognize her. When she talks about the neighborhood, compassion and pride are evident on her face.
“This is one of the best communities to work in. It might be the most dangerous, but it’s also the best.”
Dixon is also an editor for the Southwest Globe Times, which is produced right out of an office in the CDC’s building. Getting information out to the residents of the community is a vital responsibility of the NAC and the CDC as a whole.
The NAC is involved with almost every aspect of the community, whether it is problems with drug dealers on the corners, a wild animal in a home or dealing with foreclosed and abandoned homes. One of Dixon’s main roles includes looking over requests for zoning changes in the area and testifying before the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustments.
Dixon and the NAC were able to get two Vietnamese men approval to open their slaughterhouse on 66th and Woodland Avenue. Dixon says getting Phuong and Bach Ngyuen ‘s business open has been positive for the community because it allows the large population of Africans and Asians to purchase fresh chicken right in their own neighborhood. The NAC also helped them get a lawyer, architect and an English speaking translator to assist with the opening of Woodland Live Stock Corp.
“It was trouble at first, getting the license to open because people think they’re going to see chickens running around out front. You can’t tell what it is from the outside” says Phuong. “She [Dixon] helps us so much.”
Dixon says that one of the main goals of the CDC is to erase blight in the area, and draw people to the neighborhood for positive reasons. The NAC is teamed up with the 12th District Police to help reach these goals. Every month, there is a 12th District Workshop held at the station where residents come out to get information about what is going on in their area. Officer Joe Young, who has been with the district for almost 24 years, says he has seen a positive difference in the community since the NAC came along.
“With these meetings, more and more people come out to get informed, and that’s the most important thing. I think our first meeting we had seven people, then maybe 15. Then we had 25 people at a meeting and I thought ‘Wow. I can’t believe we got 25 whole people here!’ Now we get between 100 and 150 residents at each one.”
Both Dixon and Officer Young agree that their most significant event they do is the annual Southwest Pride Day in September. They raise money so that everything is free for the residents.
“All the activities, food, it’s all free. Everyone in the area comes out and has a good time , the police are there, everybody’s joking with one another” says Officer Young with a broad smile.
The NAC and the 12th District also make an effort to enforce kids who get into trouble committing nuisance crimes to focus on their education and community service with night courts.
“We make the kids and their parents come to court on a Friday night, because that’s the last place they want to be on a Friday night! They usually do community service in the area where they committed the crime and it’s had a positive effect” says Dixon.
Officer Young says the night courts have been extremely successful.
“It’s for kids who commit crimes like graffiti, disobeying police officers, loitering. So far not one kid has committed a second offense after going to night court and doing community service.”
The biggest problems in Southwest, according to both Officer Young and Dixon, are blight, vacant homes and violent crime.
The 2000 census stated that Elmwood, where the CDC and police station are located, was home to 444 vacant residential buildings alone. The same census said that Eastwick had 57 vacant residential buildings. According to the Philadelphia Police Department’s Web site, the area the 12th District serves had the highest number of murders committed in 2006 with a total of 39.
The CDC can be reached by calling 215-729-0800 and visiting www.southwestcdc.org.