Pubdate: Wed, 14 Jun 2017
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2017 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Authors: Casey O'Donnell, Felix Torres-Colon and Joe Pyle

The overcast sky and occasional rain on May 20 couldn't dampen the
community spirit at the annual Spring Fest at McPherson Park. This
year was a particularly special event, because, in addition to the
food, music and games, neighbors celebrated the 100th birthday of the
library and recognized the contributions of park champion Awilda Ocasio.

Before she died in April, Awilda was the Community Engagement
Coordinator at Impact Services Corporation and a tireless champion of
Kensington and its residents. Awilda would have loved the Inquirer
articles touting the amazing work the librarians at McPherson do every
day, but she would have been crushed to see the park described as
Needle Park and the neighborhood called a "hellscape."

Calling it Needle Park perpetuates a story about Kensington that
reduces everyone here to victims or criminals, further instilling a
sense of hopelessness. Awilda worked hard to change the narrative of
Kensington so that people would recognize the vibrancy of her
neighborhood and the strong spirit of its residents. Her work was part
of a collaborative strategy to build collective strength and support a
robust social network throughout the community.

Impact Services is working with several partners, including the New
Kensington Community Development Corporation, Philadelphia LISC and
the Scattergood Foundation to create a community engagement strategy
that recognizes the histories of individual and community-wide trauma,
yet focuses on creating environmental safety, building social
connections, identifying neighborhood leadership and bringing together
resources to create new opportunities for residents.

Referred to as "trauma-informed" community development, this strategy
takes a page from the behavioral health field by acknowledging the
physical and mental toll that comes from living in a neighborhood that
suffers from decades of disinvestment, neglect, poverty and the
narcotics trade, but doesn't view those experiences as the defining
characteristics for the community or its residents.

This approach requires a paradigm shift that broadens the lens to
focus on community action fostering resiliency and healing.

A trauma-informed model empowers individuals by recognizing that they
are the experts on their own lives and experiences. At the community
level, this means ensuring residents are partners in planning and
execution, thus elevating their importance as stakeholders and our
accountability to the community. Many residents are justifiably
suspicious of those who promise change and are wary of getting their
hopes up, yet again. This change in lens brings into focus the
partnerships in the neighborhood that are already creating safe play
space for children on their blocks, cleaning the empty lots and
replacing trash with grass, bringing art and investment, expanding the
Philly Police Department "SafeCam" program, creating loans for local
businesses and offering the human capital to clean the park and
support the library.

One of the speakers on May 20 told the crowd, "This is our park and
when people call it 'Needle Park' we must say 'NO! This is our park.
This is McPherson Park.'"

We appreciate that the media are shining light on the challenges
people face in Kensington. Chera, Miss Judy, Marion and all of their
coworkers at the library deserve the highest praise for creating a
safe place for kids to play and learn in the face of serious, often
deadly, problems. But when that praise comes tied to a description of
the neighborhood that flattens everything else to a "hellscape," it
obscures the larger picture, one that includes Kensington's hard-won
progress, innovative approaches and momentum toward positive change.

Casey O'Donnell is president and CEO of Impact Services Corp.; Felix
Torres-Colon is executive director, New Kensington CDC; and Joe Pyle
is president & CEO, Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation.