Systemic change projects don’t drop from the skies. They need to be nurtured and grow. Ideas need to be explored. Follow the stages of a group from the Philadelphia & Central NJ region who attended the Belleville, IL Systemic Change conference in November and are now exploring systemic change possibilities in Germantown, PA.

The second in a series of Systemic Change meetings was held at St. Vincent’s Seminary, in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia on Wednesday, February 23. The group gathered to review elements of the Unity Square Partnership, a model project created in 2006 to revitalize a low-income neighborhood in New Brunswick, NJ. At a prior meeting, Fr. Maloney had introduced the group to this project, a resident-driven framework which works to facilitate communication and establish linkages among the neighborhood families and existing civic, religious, community, educational, and non-profit organizations, such as Catholic Charities, the city’s Mayor, and local schools. An idea was proposed to explore possibilities for a similar project for Germantown.

As Lorena Gaibor, the current Unity Square program director, Fr. Joseph Kerrigan, pastor of the local parish, and Joe Flannigan, National President of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul explained strategies devised by the residents themselves ensure their full commitment to the long-term vision for change. Ideas for these strategies come from frequent neighborhood meetings and through the home visits of the SVDP Society. The result is a system of programs and services that help achieve neighborhood unity, social and economic strength, quality affordable housing for all residents and a safe and beautiful neighborhood in which to live.

Key funding sources included corporate donations provided via New Jersey’s Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit Program (NRTCP) which provides businesses with a 100 percent tax credit for funds provided to 501(c)3 nonprofits carrying out comprehensive revitalization plans in eligible municipalities. Wachovia Bank also provided a substantial multi-year grant. Staff includes the program director, along with interns from nearby Rutgers University’s Vorhees Fellowships in Public Service.

This series of meetings began as a follow-up for those from the Philadelphia & Central NJ region who attended the Belleville, IL Systemic Change conference in November. Since then:

  • The group has broadened to include local Pastors from the three Vincentian Parishes in Germantown, appropriately engaged parishioners, and leadership of the Philadelphia SVDP Society.
  • A sub-committee was formed to reach out to the local residents, community organizers, and existing institutions and service providers, to begin the partnering process.
  • Internet tools under development by the group include a site map of services currently offered within the Germantown area, and a blog for sharing information in order to avoid duplication of efforts.
  • Systemic Change training programs will be held at the local parishes beginning in September 2011.

For more information on the variety of programs and activities administered by the Unity Square Partnership, visit the website of the Church of the Sacred Heart.

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