Spruce Hill and Walnut Hill: Five People Making a Difference
There are many nonprofits, charities and other organizations in the Spruce Hill and Walnut Hill neighborhoods. These organizations often provide something that the neighborhood itself is lacking: education about crucial topics, an outlet that can scarcely be found elsewhere, or aid for people who are too often overlooked. Here are five people who work in or lead such organizations and make profound differences in the neighborhood and beyond.
Tim Dunn and Lindsay Liprando (pictured above)
Tim Dunn and Lindsay Liprando are both volunteers at Books Through Bars, which operates out of Baltimore Avenue’s A-Space. Liprando is the organization’s treasurer who has been part of the group since 2003. Dunn is a long-term volunteer who deals with BTB’s excess of books—shelving, selling extras to raise money for the organization and organizing volunteers to help out.
Books Through Bars collects donated books and sends them to prison inmates based on requests specified in letters. In addition to books, BTB distributes educational materials to those who wish to access them – whether they’re in prison or on the outside.
“On one hand, we’re trying to help folks who are locked up self-educate,” said Liprando. “On the other hand, we’re trying to help educate the public about the reality of mass-incarceration in our country.”
“We really want people to think ‘What is going on here and are there better solutions?'” she said.
Through periodic read-a-thons, BTB and related organizations spread knowledge through presentations about provided readings. The theme of the most recent one, Dunn said, was “Instead of Prisons.”
“One of the best things about it was that we didn’t just want to include people’s awareness on the outside, we wanted ideas from the inside,” said Dunn. “We sent letters to a lot of the folks who got books from us and it was a half-page thing. It was a half page for them to write their ideas and their responses [on alternatives to prisons] were remarkable.”
The organization is made up of hundreds of volunteers and accomplishments tend to be shared among the group, but Dunn and Liprando find individual traits of the organization that speak to them personally.
“I find reading the letters really challenging because the volume of need is huge,” said Dunn. “So I tend to like the abstract of making sure we have enough and working really hard to fill the shelves. I like dealing with the books more than I like dealing with the people, but when you take time to listen to the people and hear the voices, it’s amazing.”
One of Liprando’s favorite things about the project is its accessibility to the public.
“We have drop-in volunteering sessions six times a month,” she said. “You just have to show up at the time it starts. You can get started as a volunteer with Books Through Bars right away, just by stopping by. It’s so easy and I think that’s one of the great things about our project—that it’s really accessible for people. It’s easy to get involved.”
Noreen Shanfelter began her involvement with the University City Arts League as a student of some of its many arts classes. After many years of involvement, Shanfelter moved onto UCAL’s board and then to the position of director, which she has held for four years.
UCAL began as an organization that gave art classes, which Shanfelter said range from 2-D art to capoeira to pottery, to neighborhood adults, but switched its focus to school-age children around the time that the Penn Alexander School was built across the street from the Arts League’s main office.
“The reality is that there aren’t a lot of places for people in this neighborhood, for their children to have after school,” Shanfelter said. “There are a lot of working parents in our neighborhood and the Arts League provides a safe after-school haven for kids. There are other places that provide that, but we also provide arts training.”
Even outside of its main office on Spruce Street, UCAL is active with numerous community outreach programs. On the Spruce/Walnut Hill side of Market Street, UCAL works with the LIFE (Living Independently For Elders) Center and the Jane Addams Place at to provide art classes for elderly members of the African-American community and homeless preschool students.
For Shanfelter, working with the school children is the best part of the job.
“Every afternoon, we do pickup across the street and to see the children walk over, in a line, from the school across the street … it just gives me a thrill,” she said. “They’re adorable; they’re eager to learn. They’re really sweet children and they respond to the instruction they get here, so I love that part of my job.”
Diane Gallagher is the executive director of the HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy. Gallagher and her faculty attempt to provide kids with cerebral palsy an education as normal as possible, given the special needs and challenges her students face.
“The children and families who come here face multiple challenges and roadblocks,” Gallagher said. “What is most satisfying is that … we can help children and their families be much more functional in their home lives, their school lives, and their communities.”
In addition to the average academic experience, Gallagher provides her children with speech therapy, physical therapy, recreational therapy and dance-movement therapy, among other unique services.
“We help kids who have these challenges participate in a way that’s more like their peers without disabilities. We’re a school that tries to give them these same kinds of experiences,” she said.
Monica Linde, a West Philadelphia resident, is a member of YoungLives, a national organization that works with pregnant teens.
Linde goes into high schools and builds relationships with young mothers. She invites them to the monthly meeting they call “club.” There, YoungLives offers parenting tips, converses over dinner, and plays games with the girls. As a Christian organization, they also give a faith-based lesson.
“It’s rewarding to walk alongside a young girl for a while … and see her start to make better choices,” Linde said. “The longer you walk beside a young mom, the more you’ll start to see her parent her child better.”
Linde finds satisfaction in the relationships she forms. Some become close friends.
“A young girl I’ve known for five years had a hard story when she first came. Now, she’s 23, is engaged, and finished high school,” Linde said. “When she first came in at 18, she was being welcomed and now she’s welcoming girls into the club … Seeing her give back is awesome.”
–All text by Nicole Gattone and Mark McHugh; all images by Nicole Gattone and Mark McHugh unless otherwise specified in caption