The PhillyRising Collaborative, which was started under the administration of Mayor Michael Nutter, has launched a new program called Citizens’ Engagement Academy.
In March, the academy started its second session for the citizens of two neighborhoods–Strawberry Mansion and Swampoodle. The program was launched under the supervision of two managing directors, Daniel O’Brien of the Central Division and Jim Sanders of the Northwest Division.
The program was an eight-week course that aimed to bring awareness to different city departments and agencies. It was directed to the leaders and residents of Philadelphia neighborhoods. The program was held every Thursday at the Widener Library on 28th and Lehigh Avenue.
The citizens who attended the course received lectures from a variety of guests each week. O’Brien said the organization has had someone from the district attorney’s office, the Department of License and Services as well as the TownWatch Integrated Services. The basis of the course was to improve the community and understand the variety of facilities available from the city.
“For instance, if they have a question about licenses and inspection, we brought in the commissioner of License and Inspection to speak with these citizens, and every week we try to get somebody different, just to keep it fresh,” O’Brien said.
Sanders talked about all the benefits that citizens said they received because of the program.
“One particular participant said that she has lived in Philadelphia for too many years and this is the closest that she has been to the city government,” Sanders said.
Sanders also said that after understanding the logistics of the system of the local government there have been two town watch interest group meetings that have been initiated by the citizens themselves. The organization is currently in the process of training interested individuals from different blocks.
Although they have many neighbors involved, O’Brien said, “The real success is those 25 to 30 residents, going back to their block, going back to their church, going back to their organization and sharing that information.”
Out of these students about 15 of them were residents of Strawberry Mansion.
On April 17, the Citizens’ Engagement Academy honored its 30 students in a graduation ceremony with Nutter as the guest of honor.
O’Brien and Sanders have planned to increase the number of academies and distribute the programs to other neighborhoods. They said they believe this would increase the awareness among local residents.
“PhillyRising Collaborative is a way of engaging citizens and pinpointing neighborhoods around the city that have been underserved,” O’Brien said.
He also said the program decides the location based on the necessities a neighborhood needs. This is done through crime statistics and quality- of-life index, such as abandoned buildings and vacant lots.
“We are providing neighborhoods with enhanced access to city department services and community resources.” Sanders said.
The Philly Rising Collaborative has been in existence for the past two years. The idea came out from the Police Service Areas initiative.
The police initiative was formed to create a bond between police officers and Philadelphia residents. Community members are asked to help police with crime issues. However, PhillyRising relates with residents in other aspects of the community.
“PhillyRising works with the community members and asks the different problem they are facing in an effort to address the crime rate, “ Sanders said.
PhillyRising was first initiated in the Hartranft community. Sanders described how the citizens reported issues in their community. Some major issues were infrastructure and abandoned buildings. The citizens also talked about the need to have healthy programs for senior citizens and after school activities for children.
“We took all that into consideration and we came up with a strategy which included partnering with the community to address these issues,” Sanders said.
In the end, the PhillyRising Collaborative, along with the community members, managed to clean 85 vacant lots, removed 409 instances of graffiti and still counting and demolished 18 abandoned buildings.
After that the community members themselves managed to hold 10 community cleanups in a row.
For more information, visit PhillyRising’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/phillyrisingmdo