Nicetown: CDC Offers Opportunities for a Better Community

Sandra Harmon has been helping others for quite literally her entire life. Her mother, who was also dedicated to community service, got Harmon involved at a young age and she hasn’t stopped since.

She now works as the community outreach director at the Nicetown Community Development Corporation. She spends her time coordinating efforts that help the community.  

Sandra Harmon is the Community Outreach Director for the Nicetown CDC.

What is the Nicetown CDC and what are the main functions, broadly?

Broadly, we are a community support system. One of our main goals is to help stabilize the community. This is a community that has a high poverty rate and a high rate of returning citizens from incarceration, lack of education. A things lack, so we are here to provide that opportunity for people and that information, so they are able to better sustain their lives in this community.

How would you describe the community of Nicetown?

It’s a small community, as I mentioned it has a high poverty rate. Over 50 percent of the residents here would be considered impoverished.

What are some of the activities the CDC does to help the community?

We pride ourselves on our food cupboards, which we do a couple times a month. We have one that is solely devoted to the senior citizen population, and then we have one for the community in general that we do on a monthly basis. We also have a computer lab for the purpose of some personal use but more importantly job searching, resume preparation, processing time sheets. We do quarterly service area briefings, our neighborhood advisory subcommittee selects a topic pertinent to the community. For example we did one on safe quarters for school children. We’ve done expungement clinics for folks who need some assistance getting rid of some charges. So that they can move forward with their lives with maybe employment or student grants and things of that nature. And a myriad of more things that we do.

A CDC banner on Germantown Avenue makes people aware that there is help available in the community.

When did you personally get involved with community service and the CDC?

I am the product of a community service mother. My whole life I’ve been dragged around from one activity or volunteer event to another. For example, the evening that we learned of MLK’s passing, his demise, I had been with my mother at a community organized event. I was 8 years old. The seed was planted very early on. My various employment opportunities have always had an asset of helping others, giving back, teaching, I’ve also worked in behavioral health. I joined the Nicetown CDC, it’ll be 2 years next month, as the outreach and data coordinator.

What are some of the challenges facing Nicetown?

I’d say the primary challenge is not enough resources, of course there’s never enough when you’re serving an area that suffers from a lot of lack. Also the challenge that sometimes people will suffer in silence, we have to really make sure people are aware that we and our services are here. For example, we use these door-hangers, and unfortunately, they get hung on the door and that’s often as far as they go. It’ll go in the trash. You’ll see it in the street. But if people would open it they would see in this brochure all of the services are laid out, and what we can do and how we can assist them. Other services like our neighborhood energy center, which will make people whole again who are either in utility shut off or know they are going to be soon. But if you’re not looking for that information, or if you’re not open to get it, then you miss it, so that’s a big challenge for us.

The CDC provides door hangers full of information for the community, but they are often never opened, leaving people unaware of the myriad services the CDC provides.

Does the CDC have any activities planned soon?

Yeah, and that’s very interesting because as soon as I leave here I’m going to be going to our annual giveback planning meeting for our annual giveback festival. Our planning for that festival, which will be August 10-11 of this year across the street in the Nicetown Park, actually starts today. So every year we do this big giveback for the community, which we have everything from boxing matches, basketball tournaments that are sponsored by Ballin’ for Peace. We have concerts, promoters, entertainers, we have some nights of some nice music and a night devoted to younger people, and some old school. We have food and merchandise vendors, information vendors, a play area for children. A college fair, which I really enjoy working to coordinate that effort  because it gives so much in terms of information opportunity to our young people. It’s one of our big events. This year will be our 16th annual giveback festival.

What are some of the big accomplishments of the CDC?

One of our big accomplishments are our housing development units, apartments down the street Nicetown Court 1 & 2. We have also assisted in some home ownership assisting with some properties that are not far from this location. So those are pretty big. And one big thing I have to mention is the apartment units. It’s not just for rentals alone. We provide home ownership opportunities by teaching people how to be financially sound and have better credit scores and teach them how to be a homeowner.

Is there a struggle between the people who live here not wanting the community to become ‘too nice,’ and the work that the CDC does in making the neighborhood nicer?

Well, that’s anywhere you go, anywhere that there’s any forward progress in a community is going to challenge its inhabitants to grow with it. There are opportunities for people to grow with it, we are not just selecting a portion of the population and saying, “Sorry you can’t go.” We’re saying, here are educational opportunities, opportunities you can use through the CDC to put yourself in a better position.


-Text and Photos by Dan Leer and Jake Dunderdale

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