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'Rebuilding Together Philadelphia' Targets West Philadelphia Neighborhood

April 4, 2012

Christie Puggieri

President John Fry’s vision to support and develop local West Philadelphia communities is coming to fruition through partnerships with community service organizations like Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (RTP), an organization works to preserve affordable homeownership and revitalize neighborhoods.

“Rebuilding Together Philadelphia provides critical support for long-time homeowners to stay in their homes. Drexel students are now part of the team, working on the houses of our neighbors, and ensuring that this community thrives,” says Lucy Kerman, Drexel’s vice provost of community partnerships, who recently provided a $5,000 grant to the organization on behalf of Drexel.

Students have participated in RTP efforts in two ways— through routine community service projects under the direction of Drexel Community Scholar Umar Haseez and through an Alternative Spring Break sponsored by Drexel’s Circle K and led by Christie Ruggieri.

The Alternative Spring Break experience, a weeklong community-based service project that provides opportunities for student engagement in activities that benefit the community and those in need, ended with a Green Block Build in March on the 3800 Block of Aspen Street in Mantua.

“We concentrate RTP’s efforts where we can do multiple projects on one street, called a block build, and often start with a partner agency to see who else is serving a community,” says Carrie Rathmann, executive director of Rebuilding Together Philadelphia. “By helping homeowners better sustain the repairs, everyone’s impact is deepened.”

Drexel’s involvement at the block build included many moving parts. Drexel students and staff spent time surveying homeowners to evaluate the ‘green’ impact of the work while getting their hands dirty with carpentry and home repairs, and finally by helping with outreach on behalf of RTP for those in need.

“Drexel students are part of the reason we can make $5 of repair services for every dollar raised,” Rathmann said. “They’ve done so much both with hands-on repair that is so meaningful to families where homes have been in their families for years and years, and with behind-the-scenes work like packing and moving the RTP warehouse.”

The block build supported 20 existing homeowners on one block in Mantua. Volunteers installed storm water management planters, built downspout planters, cleaned up landscape, helped with documentation issues, trained homeowners on healthy homes, energy efficiency and home maintenance, as well as assisted with budget counseling and education. The neighborhood also received eco-friendly “cool” roofs installed on top of RTP’s new roofs, and membership to the West Philadelphia Tool Library for a year.

Rebuilding Together Philadelphia

Partners for the Green Block Build include SCI-West, LISC, Partnership CDC, West/Southwest Neighborhood Advisory Council, People’s Emergency Center CDC, Energy Coordinating Agency, and Drexel University.

RTP is a local, independent affiliate of Rebuilding Together, Inc., the nation's leading nonprofit working to preserve affordable homeownership and revitalize neighborhoods. RTP started in 1988 when Robert Bellinger and several fellow graduate students at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania proved that business students cared enough about the West Philadelphia community to make a difference. That first year they helped 10 homeowners, setting a high standard. Now, each year the affiliate network mobilizes 200,000 volunteers to complete 10,000 projects.

--Stephanie Takach

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Civic Engagement