From the Independent • Mt. Airy News Stories

March 3-16, 2011 • MAI.030311.pdf

In This Issue

Renovated Presser Home is Preservation Award Winner



Back when the former Theodore Presser Home for retired musicians housed the personal care facility Mt. Airy Commons for 20 years, the last thing on anyone’s mind would have been that one day the property would receive a prestigious award for historic preservation. The history was there – but the preservation surely wasn’t.

9-Horse Democratic Race in 8th District



Since this newspaper first previewed the upcoming race for the Democratic nomination for the 8th District City Council Seat held by Donna Reed Miller since 1995, the list of actual and potential candidates has both grown and shrunk.

King Students Walk Out to Protest Restructuring


Guest Writer

On Friday, February 18 at noon, 50 to 100 students staged a walk-out at their school to protest the Philadelphia School District’s decision to convert Martin Luther King High into a charter school. The King High students staged a major protest outside the school, located at 6100 Stenton Avenue, when they walked out the school and caused a major stoppage of traffic around the school building.

Students were seen shouting out loud “No Charter”, “No Charter” as City and district police officers stood by and guarded the safety of the high school protestors.


Renovated Presser Home is Preservation Award Winner



Back when the former Theodore Presser Home for retired musicians housed the personal care facility Mt. Airy Commons for 20 years, the last thing on anyone’s mind would have been that one day the property would receive a prestigious award for historic preservation. The history was there – but the preservation surely wasn’t.

But that was the case for the building at 101 West Johnson Street last month when the Preservation Alliance chose it as the recipient of one of its 21 Grand Jury Preservation Achievement Awards for 2011, given to preservation efforts throughout the Delaware Valley.

The award – and the project – was a long time coming. 

After the scandal-plagued personal care facility was closed in 2002 the property sat vacant. Germantown-based Impacting Your World Christian Center took an option to buy it with the intention of razing it and constructing a new center for the church, which is one of the largest in the Northwest. That effort was blocked by the designation of the Presser Home and the former Nugent home further down Johnson Street as historically significant buildings that could not be demolished.

There things sat until 2006 when Nolen Properties LLC acquired the building. And that was just the very beginning of the efforts that would eventually turn the run-down building into the renovated Presser Senior Apartments that will soon be filled with senior citizens in 45 apartments.   

Rick Sudall, Nolen Properties director of operations, said in a phone interview, “First, we had to come up with a plan for the property. It took two years of meetings with five community groups and getting their approval.”

Nolen Properties made its application to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Corporation in September  2008.  “We were very fortunate to get Presser approved on the first round [of applications],” he said.

That approval, which gave Nolen Properties tax credits which they were able to sell to raise funds, was only a part of the more than $13 million in financing the project required. Other outside funding included $2.2 million from the city of Philadelphia and $2 million in federal stimulus funds, as well as private bank financing.

Ground-breaking on the project took place in April, 2010. Now, said Sudall, “We have 45 age-qualified senior apartments for low-income people aged 62 and older.  There are 40 one-bedroom 750 sq. ft. apartments, three two- bedroom 950 sq. ft. apartments and two studios at 500 sq ft.  Rents are set up of 60 percent of the average median income for the Philadelphia statistical area.”

Nobody’s moved in yet but the interest in the apartments has been great. Sudall said, “We’ve had over 300 applications for residency at Presser.  We’re really thrilled that the community thinks this is a great place to live.  We’ve only approved 20 of the applications  … they’ll be moving in during April.” Residency applications are still being accepted, he said. For information call 877-214-9767.

The recognition by the Preservation Alliance meant much to the developers, Sudall said. “We’re thrilled that the Preservation Alliance has recognized our efforts. It’s a 60,000 sq. ft. building that we’ve delighted to save, with a huge assembly room, and an open patio at the rear of building. There’s lots of benches and lots of parking.  We’re very proud of the building.”

Still in the application and planning stage is the hoped-for reconstruction of the nearby Nugent Home.

Sudall said, “We filed our application for the Nugent Senior Apartments with the state in February, 2010.  In July that application was denied. We resubmitted it last fall. They only approve about 25 percent of the applications. We refiled, we did everything we thought we could do to enhance it to the funding agencies  …  we are still in the running and we are hopeful.

We’ve got our fingers crossed about Nugent. Every day we’re trying to generate positive vibes for the application – it’s a very fluid process with questions every day.”

9-Horse Democratic Race in 8th District



Since this newspaper first previewed the upcoming race for the Democratic nomination for the 8th District City Council Seat held by Donna Reed Miller since 1995, the list of actual and potential candidates has both grown and shrunk.

Legal Services lawyer Irv Ackelsberg decided not to run [see letters page, edition of  February 17] while previously announced candidate John Churchville issued a statement on March 1 that he was withdrawing from the race.  Meanwhile, Latrice Bryant, staffer to City Councilman Wilson B. Goode Jr., declined to state in a phone interview on March 7 whether or not she would be a candidate, though she did say she had complied enough signatures for her nominating petitions. If she were to run she would have to resign her position in Goode’s office.  She could not be reached on March 8, the deadline to submit petitions.

Churchville’s statement cited the press of family and existing business and organizational commitments (he is the as acting CEO of the Greater Germantown Business association and CEO of Liberation Fellowship CDC) as the reason for his withdrawal.

At press time, this newspaper received a statement from the campaign of Wister Neighborhood Council President Anita Hamilton saying that she would withdraw. From the race.

However, the field will still be a very large one – 9 candidates. In an interview in February at the reopening of the fire station on Germantown Avenue at Carpenter Lane, Councilwoman Miller said she would be endorsing one of them – but not until after their nominating petitions had been certified and there was a final count of candidates.

As previewed in our February 3 story,  running will be Cindy Bass, staffer to Congressman Chaka Fattah and who finished second to Miller in the 2007 primary, former 12th Ward Democratic Leader Greg Paulmier,  and Verna Tyner, former staffer to Councilmen-at-large Bill Greenlee and Dave Cohen [see issue of February 17].

They will be joined on the ballot (providing the nominating petition signatures withstand any potential challenges) by Andrew Lofton, Donna Gentile O’Donnell, Robin Tasco, Harold Treatman, Jordan Dillard, and Bill Durham.

Lofton, a supervisor for the Urban Affairs Coalition,  has not held elective office before. “I’m not very happy with the political representation the community has had which prompted me to run this time,” he said in a phone interview. “Basically I have been involved in the community on a volunteer basis and wanted to expand that and have a greater impact on the community and this is an opportunity.”

Lofton has also been overseeing the basketball and track programs at St. Luke’s in Germantown - “establishing partnerships and relationships with that organization and other organizations.”

When asked what the major themes of his campaign were, he said, “Economic opportunities, decreasing blight and looking to transform the 8th Councilmanic District into a more prosperous area … we can use Germantown as a historic attraction. That, he said, would increase shopping in neighboring areas with “outside revenue and dollars being spent here.”

Another possibility he mentioned was to use redo the numerous vacant warehouses and empty properties in the Nicetown/Tioga end of the district as  a multi-sports complex to host national and international events, with a focus being on an international scale indoor track facility.   With such a facility, he said, “We’d be bringing in outside revenue to the city, creating construction jobs plus long-term jobs, transforming and revitalizing neighborhoods not just in Germantown but whole district. ”

Jordan Dillard is a carpenter who has a contracting business with his father  - “We do residential renovations,” he said. He is a committeeperson in the 22nd Ward, 6th Division.

He first became involved in politics in 2004 when he worked in the New Hampshire primary for Howard Dean’s campaign, and later worked on Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004. He said that he was inspired to run for ward office after attending a meeting of the group Young Involved Philadelphians in 2005, where, he said, he became convinced that “The only way to change the city is to work your way up through the Democratic Party structure.”  

“For me it’s all about providing good honest leadership for the city – it’s all about jobs,” said Dillard in a phone interview. “I feel we’re underserved by our leaders in City Council.”

He wants to bring back the Route 23 trolley and use it to link historical tourism sites along the Northwest’s business corridor, and wants to put a ten-year-real estate tax abatement on vacant buildings that are purchased and rehabbed. “If you’re will to buy a shell you’d get a 10-year tax abatement. Rowhouses are the greenest houses in the world if we renovate them properly with their flat roofs and shared walls.

“ I was born and raised in Germantown and I really care about the city. I want to try and make a difference and do something for the city.” 

William A. Durham, Jr., known as “Bill,” is the Community Relations Liaison Representative for La Salle University. He has served as Judge of Election in the 22nd Ward from 1998 to 2004 and as a committeeman in the 10th Ward. In 2010 he  became the Sergeant-at-Arms for the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee.

He has worked in field operations for Congressman Robert Brady, former City Controller Jonathan Saidel, and Congressman Joseph Hoeffel. He is vice president of the 35th Police District Advisory Council, and Vice Chair of Germantown Community Development Corporation.

When asked why he decided to run for the nomination, he said, “… because of my political experience and constituent service experience. For a long time I had felt frustrated at what I feel has been the lack of interest that has been paid to our neighborhoods … one issue that I will be pressing is for more constituent services from the city for the neighborhoods. I really want to pay attention to the neighborhoods – neighborhood issues and development is what I’ll be stressing.” Durham said he had already turned in a large number of signatures on his nominating petitions and would be turning in another set on March 8, the deadline for submitting signatures.

Donna Gentile O’Donnell is the wife of former Speaker of the Pennsylvania House Bob O’Donnell. When previously contacted she had said that she was considering a run but wanted to make sure to raise sufficient funds for an effective campaign. She said in a phone interview that she had collected over three thousand signatures and had filed them.

O’Donnell has worked as a policy analyst and consultant and served as the city’s deputy health commissioner in the Rendell Administration. She has run for office before, finishing just out of the money - sixth in a field of 33 - for at-large Council seats in 1999. The top five vote-getters in these races are elected.

O’Donnell is a strong believer in term limits. If elected, she said, “First, I would live up to my commitment to serve only two terms.” She also said she would press for the elimination of the City’s DROP program in its current formulation, which allows elected officials to take some portion of their retirement income and then run again for office.

She added, “We need a city council and council members who will provide sufficient oversight of the public dollars paid into the School District. We need to recalibrate the entire administrative structure in the District … I think it’s important to lead by example – there’s no frugality there and we are talking about a district that’s between 400-500 million dollars in debt.”

In regard to economic development in the district she said, “We’re living in completely different times – we have to figure out how to live in them productively and not pursue things that are unlikely to occur.”

“The conversion of urban blight to farmland is big and you can build a lot of economic development around that … thematically we need to be about recalibrating in the new economy.”

Howard Treatman said that he would be officially announcing his candidacy later this week. He has not held elective office before.

Treatman said, “I’ve been a real estate developer [his firm is Harvest Equities] for the last 25 years developing homes and apartments throughout the community. I’m a past president of the Germantown Jewish Center, a board member of Mt. Airy USA, and very active in the Mt. Airy Village project at Chew Avenue and Washington Lane.”

He said that he had always been concerned about civic affairs. “When I saw this race developing I thought it had to be about integrity and fresh ideas and said ‘I don’t see that candidate, it’s got to be me, I’ve got to step up.’ ” 

He said that his background as a developer gave him a real understanding as to what makes cities grow and how to bring jobs to neighborhoods. “I’m involved in projects all around the country and as a developer and a businessman I’m all about creating jobs in Philadelphia. I’ve lived in Germantown for 17 years with my family and I’m very committed to Northwest Philadelphia, and excited about bringing fresh leadership and integrity to the district.”

Robin Tasco could not be reached for this story. She is a Germantown resident and has served as a Democratic committeeperson. She was business representative and community liaison with the electricians union I.B.E.W Local 98.

Racial Inequities of Prison System Discussed at Germantown Forum


Guest Writer

Andra Jennings, a social worker in Philadelphia, has seen firsthand the various effects time spent in prison can have on a person.

One of her recent cases involved a male high school student who was arrested on drug-related charges. He had no drugs, she says, but could not produce any identification. The student has been in jail ever since, as the case is waiting to be heard.

“Now he has to miss three months of school,” Jennings said. “How fair is that?”

Jennings was among about 70 people who gathered in Germantown for the Religious Society of Friends’ monthly meeting, for a Forum on Criminal Justice--Mass Incarceration: A New Jim Crow?

Keynote speaker David Rudovsky, a civil rights attorney and University of Pennsylvania fellow, addressed two problems with the United States’ prison system: “The number of people incarcerated and the racial disparity of people incarcerated.”

There are about 2.3 million prisoners in the U.S. and another 5 million on probation or parole, Rudovsky said, figures that society “should not be proud of.” He said that number of prisoners is seven times the inmate population in 1980, even though the number of crimes has stayed relatively constant.

“Primarily what [raised the number of prisoners] is the war on drugs, which has been a failure from every standard,” Rudovsky said. “People don’t use or sell drugs more than they did 30 years ago.”

But there are five times as many minorities than whites in prison on drug-related charges, he said, and that discrepancy is “driven by conscious or unconscious racism.”

“If there were as many undercover cops in the dorms at Penn as there are on the streets, there would be a bigger white population in prison,” Rudovsky said.

But people typically complain about drugs on the streets, where more selling and usage by minorities occurs, and therefore police monitor the street very stringently for drugs.

Rudovsky said many of the suspects go to court and are immediately given a pre-determined sentence of prison time for what they are charged with, instead of the judge taking into account each individual and situation.

“I think we ought to be dismantling this system of automatic sentencing,” Rudovsky said. “And we should be seriously thinking about the decriminalization for some drugs.”

Decriminalizing a drug such as marijuana would cut down the number of prisoners being held for carrying as little as “$10 worth,” Rudovsky said. And police’s stop-and-frisk policy has done little more than randomly catch individuals with small amounts of drugs, leading to their arrest and detention.

“Police are supposed to have reasonable suspicion” to stop somebody on the street, Rudovsky said.

The parole system also factors in to the inflated prison population, he said.

“Instead of dealing with the problem they send them back to prison” where prisoners just “vegetate,” he said, without having the opportunity to therapeutically face the reason that got them there, or learn a skill that could help them re-enter society.

He said 20 percent of the prison population in Pennsylvania is mentally disabled. “The only system [currently in place] to deal with them is the criminal justice system,” he said. “These people have mental disability problems, not criminal problems.”

Sometimes suspects are wrongfully convicted because of “bad forensics,” Rudovsky said.

“Most labs have no oversight or regulation,” he said. “There should be uniform standards.”

William DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, an advocacy group for the social justice of prisoners, spoke briefly after Rudovsky.

“You look at the numbers and realize what a god-awful situation we’re in,” he said. “We have an awful criminal justice system.”

He said he thinks a national dialogue on the subject could help, especially since there has never been one on mass incarceration.

“Why aren’t we, as people in this society, more concerned and more involved with what we’re doing in this area?” he said. 

William Goldsby, executive director of Reconstruction, Inc.—a grassroots group dedicated to addressing social justice issues—also was part of the panel. He tried to trace the historical roots of how the minority prison population came to dwarf that of whites, going as far back as slavery in the south.

“We must understand history and how we fit into history,” he said, “otherwise we find ourselves disconnected from our families and our history.”

Attendees then had the opportunity to voice their opinions.

“We’re dancing around the specter of racism,” said Kate Sannicks, a teacher in the Philadelphia School District. “We’re trying to put children of color in prison as quickly as we can.”

Luke Harold is a student in the Community Journalism program at La Salle University.

The Therapist is In

How Should I Treat My Relatives with Mental Illness?


Guest Writer

“The Therapist Is In” is an occasional column dealing with questions and answers concerning emotional health. Northwest resident, author, and columnist Susan Karol Martel, Ed.M., has been a psychotherapist in private practice for more than thirty years. The questions and answers she addresses are those most frequently asked by her clients. If you have a question you’d like her to answer, please e-mail her at

Q  I have a cousin who has a mental illness.  Though her behavior is very strange, family members feel that she is harmless. How can we be sure? I have two young children, and though I’m always a little uneasy when we’re around her, I want to teach them compassion toward people with differences. I’m not sure what to do or how to think about this.

A   I chose this question because of the issues it raises about how to respond to mental illness, but also because of its relevance to the Tucson shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords that shocked our nation.   After hearing that the accused shooter, Jarod Loughnor, was diagnosed as schizophrenic, questions arose as to whether his mental illness was recognized by those around him, his parents or other members of his community, and if so, what had been done to address his illness?

After the shooting we learned that Jarod’s college had notified the police that he had engaged in strange and disruptive behavior that required him to leave.  He was told that he could return to campus only if he went for an appropriate mental health evaluation.  He did not.  So, when he purchased a gun, there were no records of his instability that might have interfered with the purchase. Up until then, he had not harmed anyone physically.

The question we began with raises several important issues: our lack of knowledge about and fear of the mentally ill and the consequential affects on that person, the family and community; our lack of understanding about how to obtain an appropriate evaluation to determine whether the person in question is in danger of hurting themselves and/or others; and finally, where to go to get help for someone mentally ill as well as their family.

Many years ago, if my mother, who suffered from bipolar illness (manic depression), had gotten the right treatment and support, it could have changed her life and the lives around her.  Since her family didn’t know what to do she never did get the care she needed.  As a young child I remember the men in white coats coming to “put her away” in a mental institution.  She had never hurt a fly.  Luckily for me, she actually escaped their pursuit. Part of the reason I became a therapist was due to my experiences growing up around mental illness.

The mentally ill and their caregivers have a good many justifiable concerns about due process and issues relating to the abuse of those mentally ill.  Did you know that someone can only be involuntary committed if he is deemed to be a harm to himself or others? If someone is suspected of being in this category, a court ordered evaluation can be made and the person can be involuntarily held for up to 72 hours.

This occurs with a phone call to police which will be followed up by a crisis intervention specialist. To date in Philly there are over 1,000 officers who have received Crisis Intervention Team Training.

Advocates of the mentally ill know full well that those who suffer are eleven times more likely to be targets of violence. In a phone conversation with Debbie Plotnick, Director of Advocacy of the Mental Health Association of Pennsylvania with offices in Philadelphia, she explained that of the violent acts committed each year in the US, only 3-5% are committed by someone who is mentally ill. That’s 1 in 14.3 million. Your prospects of being hit by lightening are three times greater than your experiencing violence from someone who is mentally ill.

Back to our question. I strongly recommend that the questioner ask a caring family member about their account of the cousin’s illness? Is someone in the family aware of the treatment possibilities that are available since she is likely isolated by her condition?  Is it possible that she could be getting better care than she is currently receiving?

No one can successfully approach her and advocate for her better than an honestly concerned and informed family member can. 

If you have similar concerns, and for more information, the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery can help you be supportive and helpful to a mentally challenged friend or family member. (www. or 877-246-9058) The Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania can be helpful with both family as well as peer support. ( or 267-507-3800).

For those who voluntarily choose help, there are several 24 hour facilities throughout the city that do psychological evaluations. Call 215-473-7033 for immediate response and information about a center closest to you.

An important FYI: In Pa, someone who is incompetent in managing their affairs and is a danger to themselves or others or has been previously committed to a treatment facility cannot purchase a fire arm.

This information becomes part of the PICS-Pennsylvania Instant Check System under the State Police.

Unfortunately, the man who injured, killed and traumatized the people in Phoenix would have sailed through this process in under 15 minutes. Hopefully we’ll begin to rise above the social rancor over whether the nature of our civic discourse impacted the events in Phoenix and focus on gaining a desperately needed understanding about mental illness.

St. Luke’s Celebrates 200 Years of Worship in Germantown


Guest Writer

What started with 11 families in a home along Germantown Avenue to make the first Episcopal church in Germantown is now celebrating its 200th anniversary.

The year-long celebration at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, which began last fall, will  continue with a special performance of Handel’s  Messiah set for  6 p.m. March 26 in the church sanctuary at 5421 Germantown Ave.

“St. Luke’s has a tradition of great music, which is still true today,” said Skip Clayton, the church archivist and long-time member.

The planned performance will draw singers from 10 choirs – St. Luke’s and those of nine other  churches in the Philadelphia area.  Singers from two high schools – Plymouth Whitemarsh and Hanover Area High in northeastern Pennsylvania – will also take part. 

The Messiah is the latest in a series of events at St. Luke’s as it celebrates its 200th birthday.

To commemorate Black History Month, the church hosted a talk by documentary film maker Katrina Brown. She produced the documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North after discovering that her Massachusetts ancestors were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history.

Church leaders say that most of the events are the result of long hours of work by members of the congregation.

“We’re getting the guilds and organizations of the church motivated to celebrate 200 years of this church. That’s the big part,” said Dina Harvey, a member and the administrative assistant to the rector at St. Luke’s.  “We have one committee that is just doing the history of the church from its founding, it’s merger, and how it has evolved until now,” she added.

In June of 1811, Thomas Armat and 11 Germantown families came together to establish the first Episcopal church in Germantown. Its prior locations, before establishing permanent residence at 5421 Germantown Ave, include Armat’s home at 5450 Germantown Ave and later in his building at Market Square and Church Lane.

The foundation of the current location of St. Luke’s was laid June 26, 1875 and consecrated the following June. Two reverends of the church, Rev. John Rodney, Jr. and Dr. Samuel Upjohn, were influential in helping St. Luke’s grow and establish itself in Germantown. During their time at St. Luke’s, they helped to found five mission churches in the Philadelphia area.

During his time at St. Luke’s, Upjohn worked to bring Catholic spirituality into the church, a tradition that still stands today at St. Luke’s.

One of the church’s missions, St. Barnabas, became a church May 6, 1930. In 1968, St. Barnabas and St. Luke’s unanimously merged, bringing together two historic Germantown parishes. At that time, Rittenhouse Street was going to be widened, a move that  would take St. Barnabas’ house of worship “off the map,”  Clayton explained.

The Sunday after Easter, April 21, 1969, members of St. Barnabas processed from their church on Rittenhouse Street, down Germantown Avenue to the gates of St. Luke’s, and that morning, the first Eucharist marking the merge of the two churches was celebrated.

Harvey was initially drawn to St. Luke’s because of its early worship hours. “I didn’t even think about the longevity then, I was just like, ‘Wow, the cornerstone says 1870-something, but you’re showing me pictures of 1811.’ I was amazed that this church was here during that particular time.”

“People are afraid of smells and bells,” said Harvey. St. Luke’s  is known for being an Episcopal church that practices in an Anglo-Catholic fashion, setting it apart from other churches in the area.

“There are those who are put off by it,” said Harvey. “One of the things about this place is that it celebrates its uniqueness as a member of the Anglican-Catholic communion, and of the Episcopal Church. It’s unique because it’s tradition. It stands firm, it says you either are, or you aren’t.”

Service at St. Luke’s incorporates traditional elements of Catholic worship to fully utilize a worshipper’s senses. Diverse music is played, color is used and incense is burned – things you wouldn’t see in a typical Episcopal service. In 1892, Upjohn incorporated Catholic Mass into Sunday service, and it has been the way that St. Luke’s celebrates to this day.

Anglo-Catholic worship isn’t the only thing that gives St. Luke’s reason to celebrate uniqueness.  Its musical tradition is also special.

“Because we are a predominantly African-American congregation , we can have a variety of music during one service,” said Meridel Peterson, co-chair of the 200th anniversary committee. During a typical Sunday service, it’s not unusual to hear different instruments like drums being used along with the choir.

With an entire year dedicated to its existence, Harvey has high hopes for continuous member involvement in the church.

“The tide is slowly changing where people want to be involved now. They are ‘coming out of their shell’ so to speak and beginning to realize, 200 years ago people came together and made a church, it’s up to us to come together to keep the church,” explained Harvey. The purpose of the bicentennial celebration is, “not only to bring the people in, but to celebrate. Say, look these are the types of things that we can do now. And we can be an open door for the community.”

Also in the works is a cookbook titled After 200 Years, St. Luke’s Is Still Cookin’ which will consist of recipe contributions by church members. Other events already in the works are concerts, a homecoming weekend and bicentennial gala.

In May and June, celebrations will be held for the anniversary of the St. Barnabas’ establishment as a church, and its later merge with St. Luke’s. The celebration will culminate on Oct. 18, the feast day of St. Luke.

“You can’t just come in and sit in a pew,” said Harvey. “You come in and sit in a pew, you’re going to be involved, and we’re going to make you involved. We’re going to give you options to be involved in the growth of this place. And that’s what is crucial. The big test will be, if they really want to keep it going, and so far, I think they do.”

For a full list of upcoming events to celebrate St. Luke’s bicentennial, log on to

Kathryn Bergin is a student in the Community Journalism program at La Salle University.

King Students Walk Out to Protest Restructuring


Guest Writer

On Friday, February 18 at noon, 50 to 100 students staged a walk-out at their school to protest the Philadelphia School District’s decision to convert Martin Luther King High into a charter school. The King High students staged a major protest outside the school, located at 6100 Stenton Avenue, when they walked out the school and caused a major stoppage of traffic around the school building.

Students were seen shouting out loud “No Charter”, “No Charter” as City and district police officers stood by and guarded the safety of the high school protestors.

Police asked students to leave the school property while the crowd got larger. The walkout at Martin Luther King High was the third protest in a week over the School District’s initiative plan to turn around the school’s low academic performance.

Despite warnings of disciplinary action issued by the school’s administrators, about a hundred students left the school that day in large groups to participate in the protest.

The day before the walkout, according to published reports, school administrators were tipped off about the walkout and made sure every student received an automated phone call at home warning them about the punishment they would get if they walked out of their school. Despite their warnings, the students still walked out. The students had already planned the protest among themselves. Many students were begged by several teachers to not to walk out but did it anyway.

When contacted about the events, Principal James had hardly anything to say about the situation at King, which is one of the district’s “Renaissance” schools slated for restructuring.

“I have no comment about this situation and Martin Luther King High School will become a Renaissance-run high school next spring,” said  Murray. “And I’m not going to give any comments concerning that.”

However, School District spokeswoman Shana Kemp said the school district was absolutely committed to preserving the rights of students who have the desire to express their opinions about decisions that affect them, but she continued to say…“ that the district does not approve this type of behavior and will hold students accountable for their misconduct.”

King students said much of their anger sprang from the district’s failure to talk to them before they made the decision to convert Martin Luther King High School into a charter school.

According to a press release from the School District, once the school is converted into a charter school, students will have longer school days and the school year will be longer. And students were told that they would have to attend class at least two Saturdays a month.

In all, the district’s plan to convert 18 schools into either a charter school or district-ran “Promise Academies” is already etched in stone.

All School District teachers would have to reapply for their jobs, but no more than half can retain their jobs.

Acoring to published reports, all Renaissance schools will have mostly new staffs. Kenny Gamble’s Universal Inc. will most likely operate Martin Luther King High School and other charter converted high schools.

Mt. Airy History at Lovett Library

In observance of Lovett Founders Month (the Lovett Memorial Library was founded on March 12, 1885 and the Friends of Lovett were founded March 13, 1982) the Friends of Lovett Memorial Library will present a discussion of Mt. Airy history on Wednesday, March 30, at the library, 6945 Germantown Avenue. Refreshments will be at 7p.m. with the program at 7:30 sharp.

Speaking will be Mt. Airy historian James M. Duffin; Elizabeth Farmer Jarvis, author of Mount Airy; David T. Morre, Mt. Airy historian; and Irvin A. miller, Mt. airy Historian resident and moderator.

After brief presentations there will be ample time for questions. What do you want to know about the history of the neighborhood?

For information call the library at 215-685-2095.

Chestnut Hill Rotary Chili Contest

Please join Chestnut Hill Rotary to taste and judge the best chili in the region on March 27 from 2-6 p.m. at the Lutheran Seminary, Brossman Center, 7301 Germantown Avenue. There will be delicious chili, fabulous micro brewery, face painting for kids, and fun for the whole family. All-you-can-eat chili tickets are just $10 - kids under 5 are free. Visit for tickets.

Proceeds will benefit Chestnut Hill Rotary local and international projects like distributing dictionaries to area schools, supporting Fresh Artists, scholarships at Germantown High, aid to an orphanage in Guyana, and more.

Free Tax Prep Help at Wadsworth

Tax time is here!  Instead of spending your hard-earned money on tax preparation and filing fees, have your taxes filed for FREE by highly qualified and certified IRS preparers. 

PathWays PA’s VITA program provides free income tax preparation assistance to individuals and families earning annual incomes under $50,000. Through PathWays PA’s VITA program, tax-filers throughout the five county Philadelphia region get free access to their full Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and other tax credits – so you can keep your full refund. 

You must visit the Wadsworth branch library to make the appointment and receive a confirmation of your session.

There will be four sessions: Thursday, March 10, 1-5 p.m.; Saturday, March 12, 10 a.m. -1 p.m.; Saturday, April 9, 10 a.m. -1 p.m.; and Tuesday, April 12, 5 – 8 p.m.

All sessions will be at the Wadsworth Branch Library, 1500 Wadsworth Avenue.

‘Share a Share’ Fundraiser Auction

Henry Got Crops!, a “community supported agriculture” (CSA) farm partnership between Weavers Way Co-op and Saul High School, wants to invite you to our “Share a Share” fundraiser. This silent auction will raise funds to bring delicious, locally grown food to Philadelphia families. Money from the event will be used to offer reduced price memberships to our 2011 vegetable shares. The event will include food, music, a raffle, and bidding on donated items from businesses in Northwest Philadelphia. The event will take place March 20, from 3-5:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Society of Germantown, 6511 Lincoln Drive.

“Henry Got Crops!” is a 2 ¼ acre farm located at Saul High School, managed by staff from Weavers Way Co-op. The farm not only brings food to the community, but also provides educational opportunities for students at Saul, through our partnership with Weavers Way Community Programs. The farm is located on the school’s campus (on Fairmount Park Land), so teachers and their classes can come to the farm on a regular basis to learn about small scale, organic, vegetable growing.

It is a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm with over 100 members.

These members buy a “share” of the farm, which entitles them to a weekly supply of vegetables for the entire growing season. This is one of the first high school-based CSAs in the country.

Weavers Way Co-op is a member-owned food co-op, open to the public, with stores in West Mt. Airy, West Oak Lane, and Chestnut Hill. A community institution since starting as a basement buying club in 1973.

Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences is located on a 130-acre campus in Roxborough.

Signup for BBall

Philadelphia Parks and Recreation will begin sign-ups for the Mt. Airy Playground Community Basketball League. The league is for boys and girls ages 15 and under. The league will operate Monday through Thursday and on Saturday mornings. Space is limited. Registration will be held on Wednesdays and Fridays from 5-8 p.m. beginning on March 30. Registration will take place at Mt. Airy Playground located at Germantown and Sedgwick Street. Contact Fletcher Anderson at 215-685-9297. 

Auction to Raise Funds for MALT’s New Home

Sponsors of Mt. Airy Learning Tree’s (MALT) Make This Our Home Auction recently met to get a closer look at several items that will be available to bidders. Among the donations are a Vespa, heli-hiking in the Canadian Rockies, a quilt, electric Trek bike, sailing adventures and beach getaways….and have you ever tried a Segway? The Auction will benefit MALT’s capital campaign to purchase their current residence at 6601 Greene Street. “Buying the building will ensure that our costs are fixed and our model of neighbors teaching neighbors in a community setting will endure,” says Jonna Naylor, MALT director.

The Auction will take place at the historic Oaks Cloister on Saturday, March 19 at 7 p.m. Oaks Cloister was designed in 1900 by Joseph Miller Huston, the architect of the Pennsylvania State Capitol. This elegant Tudor estate has been superbly restored under its current owners and has historical certification as one of Pennsylvania’s treasured landmarks. VIP House Tours and champagne reception are available at 6 p.m. Visit or call 215-843-6333 to register.

Health Screening at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church

Join the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church and Albert Einstein Medical Center for “Know Your Numbers,” the largest men’s health screening event in the region. The event takes place on Saturday, March 19 from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, 2800 West Cheltenham Avenue.

Participants will be tested for hypertension, blood sugar, HIV, prostate cancer, weight, height and body mass in a male oriented environment that will include barber services, card games, NCAA basketball and video game competitions. Healthy lifestyle lectures will also be conducted throughout the day on a variety of topics including Heart Disease, Exercise, Stress and Diabetes.

All guests are required to pre-register online at For more information, please call 215-276-7200.

Khepara Wins Lego Competition

Khepera Charter School has won the Pennsylvania Regional First Lego League Championship Competition held January 29 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Irvine Auditorium. Over 35 schools from Philadelphia and its suburbs came to compete in a tournament judging three areas - Robot Performance, Robot Design, and Biomedical Project. Khepera won the highest honors overall in all three judging areas . Khepera students worked as team to build and program their robot, and create a presentation on the ear, ear infection, hearing technology and recommendations. The coaches/facilitators were Denise Goins, Kim (Omatayo) Johnson, and John King. Khepera’s Kemetic Robotics students are in grades 6-8 and include James Moore, MacKenzie Dorsainvil, Taylor Bryant, Keisha Smith, Annaya Goodwin, Malik Rush, Brittany Harley, and Tyla Howell. Khepera’s principal/CAO is Alphonso Evans.

Dine Out and Support School

If you come to the Trolley Car Diner or Trolley Car Cafe between March 14 and 20, you can eat up, raise money for a great school AND support a family-owned local business...all in one delicious bite! Wissahickon Charter School, an urban K-8 with a focus on environmental awareness and inquiry-based learning, will get 15% of your bill when you bring the coupon, available on the school’s website, Good at either Trolley Car location—the original diner on Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy or the new cafe in East Falls.

Water Aerobics Class

The Water Aerobics class sponsored by Waterview Recreation Center continues at Pickett Pool, on the corner of Chelten and Wayne Avenues. The class is held every Monday and Wednesday night, 6:45 - 7:45 p.m.

The fee is $5 per class on a drop-in basis.  To register, call Beverly at 215-685-2229 or come to Pickett Pool at the times listed above.

Pickett Pool is located in Mastery Charter School on the Wayne Avenue side.

Documentary on Immigration Policy

On March 13 at 7 p.m.,, Documentaries and Discussions at Green St. Quaker Meeting presents 9500 Liberty at 45 West School House La. (Green St. Meeting House). Prince William County, Virginia becomes ground zero in America’s explosive battle over immigration policy when elected officials adopt a law requiring police officers to question anyone they have “probable cause” to suspect is an undocumented immigrant.

9500 Liberty reveals the startling vulnerability of a local government, targeted by national anti-immigration networks using the Internet to frighten and intimidate lawmakers and citizens. Alarmed by a climate of fear and racial division, residents form a resistance using YouTube videos and virtual townhalls, setting up a real-life showdown in the seat of county government.

The devastating social and economic impact of the “Immigration Resolution” is felt in the lives of real people in homes and in local businesses. But the ferocious fight to adopt and then reverse this policy unfolds inside government chambers, on the streets, and on the Internet. 9500 Liberty provides a front row seat to all three battlegrounds.

Popcorn, cider and child-care will be provided. The screening is free. Visit for more information.

Women’s Day at Janes

Janes Memorial United Methodist Church, 41 East Haines Street, announces its annual Women’s Day Event on Sunday, March 13. This year’s theme is “Grace, Love and Peace: It’s God in Me.” We will kick off our celebration and signature fundraiser with breakfast at 9 p.m. Tickets are now available.

Headlining for breakfast will be Sister Regina Scott, first lady of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, who will grace us with a comedy routine.

Continuing in the spirit of worship, our morning speaker will be Rev. Dr. Carol Lawrence.

Your support is invaluable to us and will contribute substantially to our Women’s Day goal of $20,000.

For information call the church at  215-844-9564.

Prayers on Hunger Crisis

Every week during Lent, Christ Ascension Lutheran Church is holding evening prayer.  The focus will be on the hunger crisis in Philadelphia, where nearly 1 in 3 lives with food insecurity.  Services take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday nights, from March 16 to April 13.  

To share this message in a variety of ways, each week will feature a different style of worship: March 16, folk service; March 23, Holden Evening Prayer; March 30: Evening Prayer from the Lutheran hymnal; April 6, Taize-style singing and meditation; April 13, a hymn festival.

A community soup dinner will take place on April 6 at 6 p.m., open to all and at no cost.  All offerings collected on Wednesdays will be donated to Philabundance.  Christ Ascension is located at 8300 Germantown Avenue and is on the web at 

At Grace Epiphany

Grace Epiphany Church, 224 East Gowen Avenue, is hosting an “Afternoon of Bach” on Sunday, March 13 at 3 p.m. The recital will feature the sonatas for viola da gamba by J.S. Bach, featuring Sarah Sutton, viola and Andrew Senn, harpsichord. Come experience some of Bach’s most complex instrumental writing performed by two of Philadelphia’s most accomplished musicians. A free-will offering will be taken. For information, call the church at 215-248-2950 or at its webside www.grace-epi-org.

Artists,  Art Lovers Turn Out for Mt. Airy Art Garage


Guest Writer

I was privileged to photograph the Mt. Airy Art Garage’s (MAAG) Funky February event the weekend of February 25-27, which was filled with art, music, and inspiration. Held at a popup location across from Weavers Way (while MAAG builds out their permanent space at 11 West Mt Airy Avenue), this event was all about people making connections. There was a can-do attitude embraced with love and acceptance that could only be Northwest Philadelphia.

Friday night’s Artist’s Cafe was jam packed with a diverse group of local artists, business owners, MAAG members, neighbors and people just coming in off the street. This night was all about introductions and meeting contacts from Germantown, Mt. Airy, and Chestnut Hill; it was a way for artists to find supply shops to help perfect their craft, galleries in which to hang the finished pieces and, in turn, a way for local business to thrive.  I met web designers, photographers, illustrators, painters and gallery owners; I walked away with over a dozen new possible employers, collaborators, teachers and friends.

Workshops and free demonstrations on Saturday gave examples of some new crafts and creative techniques one might find at the Mt. Airy Art Garage. Cofounder Arleen Olshan gave a hands-on workshop on how to make a leather belt, board member Donna Globus demonstrated how to bind a handmade book. Dumpster Diva artist Ellen Benson showed kids and adults alike how you can make useful items like luggage tags out of sequin waste and nail polish; Nettie Scott taught us how to make colorful jewelry with polymer clay. Maryanne Helferty gave an inspiring workshop on writing poetry.

Once the work was over it was time to party!! With food donated from all over the Northwest, everyone mingled, ate, drank and enjoyed each other’s company while listening to the sounds of Richard Drueding and Rob Sanders and the always entertaining Saint Mad!

I think this was a hugely successful weekend for MAAG and it gave people a preview of what MAAG envisions itself to be. What was so inspiring to me was how many people were simply there because they truly believe in the Mt. Airy Art Garage. Mike Zaikowski from Profiles Studio called MAAG “a breath of fresh air” for the Northwest and particularly Mt. Airy, a place that is finally embracing its potential with an explosion of art and creative ideas that have rejuvenated Germantown Avenue. The Mt. Airy Art Garage will be the hub of the Avenue, a place where artists can meet to collaborate, share ideas, teach their craft and exhibit their work. It will be the place where you can say “Hey, let’s meet down at MAAG to talk about that project we are collaborating on,” or “Let’s go see what the artists are working on in their studios at the Mt .Airy Art Garage.” They want to create a friendly, safe and optimistic place for your creativity to flow uninhibited. Their authenticity is heartening, the energy is infectious, their spirit never falters and this neighborhood is starting to take notice.

For more information, contact MAAG at

Keep Philadelphia Beautiful

Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, the Philadelphia’s leading organization  assisting communities in improving the physical and visual aspects of their neighborhood environments, wants to recognize individuals throughout Philadelphia who are working to make the city a more beautiful place to live, work and play by hosting the Token Appreciation Awards.

Now until March 21, Keep Philadelphia is asking the public to nominate those in their community who are making a difference. From planting community gardens and educating kids about recycling, to helping seniors take out the trash and sweeping neighbor’s porch fronts every Saturday morning, the real heroes are not people of great renown; rather, they live near us. By performing small acts, they win our admiration. With that knowledge, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful wants to award these individuals who are bettering their communities.

The organization asks that the public send a nomination of 50 words or less to, detailing how and where these civic-minded Philadelphians are making a difference, along with the nominee’s name and phone number. The winners will be recognized at a special ceremony taking place on Friday, April 1, 2011, with special guest Miss America Teresa Scanlan in attendance.

Keep Philadelphia Beautiful first introduced the Token Appreciation Awards in 2008, with the purpose of providing neighbors with a vehicle to publicly recognize people doing good work via a citywide forum.

During its inaugural year, the Keep Philadelphia Beautiful team was introduced to a variety of community leaders around the city who were admittedly surprised that their efforts meant something to their neighbors.

Shanley’s ‘Doubt’ at Old Academy

“What do you do when you’re not sure?”  Such is a central question in Doubt, A Parable, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning drama by John Patrick Shanley, which will be performed by Old Academy Players from March 4 through March 20. 

Set in a Bronx parish in 1964, Doubt pits the conservative and strong-willed Sister Aloysius, the principal of the parochial school, against the more compassionate and forward-thinking Father Flynn, the young assistant pastor.   When Sister Aloysius suspects Father Flynn of abusing a young student, she relentlessly pursues what she believes to be the truth.  Confrontation and conflict follow.  Sister James is the idealistic young teacher caught in the middle.   The play is a powerful drama that leaves open the ultimate question of where the truth lies. 

Doubt, A Parable is directed by Old Academy veteran Helga Krauss (of Chestnut Hill).  It is produced by Carla Childs (of Mt. Airy),  Virginia Kaufmann (of Roxborough), Dale Mezzacappa (of Mt. Airy), and Christopher Wunder (of Manayunk).  Sister Aloysius is played by Barbara Pease Weber (of Oreland).  Father Flynn is played by Ross Druker (of Lafayette Hills).  Jane Schumacher (of Moorestown, NJ) as Sister James and J. J. Johnson (of North Wales) as Mrs. Muller, the mother of the student Father Flynn is suspected of abusing, round out the talented cast.

The play runs from March 4 through March 20.   Tickets are $12.  Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m.; Sunday performances (March 13 and 20) are at 2 p.m.   Parking for all performances is free.  For information and reservations, call (215) 843-1109, or visit

Old Academy Players, a non-profit community theater group established in 1923, has been in its almost two hundred year old building, “The Old Academy,” since 1932.  Both Grace Kelly and Robert Prosky started their acting careers at this historic and intimate theater, which is located on Indian Queen Lane in East Falls.

Friends of New Wolf Park to Meet

The Friends of Ned Wolf Park, the group which sustains the award-winning public gardens at the southwest corner of West Ellet and McCallum streets, is having a meeting.  Open to all interested in supporting this lovely neighborhood resource, the meeting will be held on Sunday, March 13 at 2 p.m. in the third floor community room at Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane.  At the meeting, we will plan activities for the spring, including an April clean-up, a May plant sale, and new design and planting opportunities.  A new leadership plan for the Friends group will also be on the agenda.

If you have questions about the meeting, feel free to contact Janet ( or 215-248-2642) or Syd ( or 215-844-8745.)

Mt. Airy Day Needs Volunteers

The Annual Mt Airy Day celebration sponsored by East and West Mt Airy Neighbors will be held on Saturday, May 7 from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.  The rain date is Sunday, May 8 and admission is free.  As it has for many years, the community celebration will take place at the historic mansions Cliveden of the National Trust  and Upsala, located across the street from each other in the 6400 block of Germantown Avenue.

The fair features more than 150 vendors of crafts, attic treasures, and personal services; children’s games and pony rides; musical entertainment; a food court; a raffle with cash and prizes; a plant sale sponsored by Weavers Way Co-Op and Valet Bike Parking.  Visitors may tour the historic house and stroll the beautifully lush azalea-filled, dogwood-ringed grounds.

Now is the time to get involved.  The Committee is looking for folks who can help out in a variety of ways, from serving on the Committee, to helping out on the day of the event.  Service hours are  available for students who need them.

We are also seeking businesses and individuals who are interested in lending their financial support to Mt Airy Day, which will help support the organizations that have been serving the entire Mt Airy community for more than 50 years.

Committee meetings are held on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. in the EMAN Office (on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary, 7301 Germantown Ave., Wiedemann Bldg. basement). Please call for the dates to 215.287.7056.

Check out our website or call for information  at 215-287-7056.

Vendors may also e-mail to

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