Denise Jackman was an educator in Philadelphia for more than 30 years and has recently retired. She now focuses her energy on her position as treasurer for the Strawberry Mansion Faith Based Coalition, an organization geared towards improving the community where currently she resides.
How did you first decide to get involved with the Strawberry Mansion Faith Based Coalition?
I didn’t decide. [Coalition Founder] Deacon [William] Thompson’s granddaughter and my granddaughter attended Doctor Ethyl Allen Promise Academy, and he dropped her off and I was dropping her off and he just said, “You know, we’re giving out food and I need some help. You think you could come help pass out some food?” And that’s it. That’s how it happened. We started passing out food and he started talking about things we needed to do, or things that we might be able to do if we form a little committee, and we did the outreach committee and it just snowballed from there.
What is the goal of your organization?
Our vision is to reduce crime for children and elderly to make it safe to be outside. We’re in a situation where when kids come from school, or when the elderly go to the store, you’re ducking and dodging bullets. And the other thing we’re trying to do is find a way for the younger kids to see something positive in all of this.
What does your organization do specifically?
We do things like gardening and clean up lots, we do health fairs and we had a cancer walk. We hosted a dinner for pastors to get them involved. We also want to provide resources. So, most of the people in our community are on a fixed income, so when they need resources they have to go Center City. And a lot of times they don’t get them, because they don’t have parking and it’s a long walk. When we put this in front of [City Council President] Darrell Clarke, he supported us in terms of opening our doors to other city organizations that provide things like utility assistance. We have also passed out fans, and today we are doing book bags for the kids. We also do food every third Thursday. Our job is to be a resource, to be positive, to show them strength and love and help to better our community. So that’s basically what we do and I think we do it well.
How did the organization start?
It started with five people. We have 48 people now that’s actively involved. We just recently became incorporated, so we are the Strawberry Mansion Faith Based Coalition. We have now reached out to Southwest Philadelphia, we reached out to Kensington, so it’s not just Strawberry Mansion anymore. We’re the heart or the hub, but we want this to spread.
We kind of sort of didn’t expect it to roll this fast. We didn’t expect it to get this big this soon. And the person that’s responsible, Deacon Thompson, he is like a ball of energy, he never gets tired, he never stops, he always finds a way for us to do something for somebody. You know, he brings everybody in. We just want to make a difference. And we want to make a difference in a way that impacts our community so that people look at us different. Not in a way that we are all low-income, or welfare, or teen pregnancy, or drugs, or alcoholism, or violence. We have a heart. And in our heart beats the love for the community.
Text and images by Lizzy O’Laughlin and Cindy Stansbury