The group, PhillyRising, officially launched operations in Southwest Philadelphia with a community kickoff meeting at Shaw Middle School on Thursday.
Community residents and a number of city service providers gathered at the school to attend the event hosted by a group.
“We are trying to make sure that we can make a difference,” said PhillyRising Southwest Regional Coordinator Bennie Ruth. “We kicked off the event to get out the word and talk to the neighbors and residents so we can get their feedback [on local issues and concerns].”
Listening to local residents has been one of the main objectives of PhillyRising, which prides itself on helping members of the community express their issues and concerns and helps them implement solutions.
This, according to members of PhillyRising, is much different from other groups and agencies which impose externally derived solutions that may not be adequate to address local neighborhood problems.
“This organization is about us,” said Marsha Wall, a long-time Southwest resident, block captain and president of the group Southwest Community Advisory Group (SWCAG) during her address at the kickoff event. “We had other groups come in and try to tell us what to do and how to do it but this group isn’t like that.”
Wall noted Ruth is accessible to the public and often gives his personal number to residents at public events, encouraging them to call him any concerns.
Ruth, now retired from the U.S. Army, reflected on the seriousness with which he holds his responsibilities at PhillyRising.
“In the military, when there was a task at hand, you had to come together and execute that task,” he said. “When people didn’t do what they were supposed to do, sometimes people died.”
During the gathering residents were asked to voice their concerns.
One by one, attendees raised their hands to complain about problems in their communities.
However, Ruth cautioned those who expressed their concerns they will in turn be asked to do something as well.
“I believe in hand-outs; some good things can come from them, but I also believe in hand-ups,” Ruth said. “We have to go to work. For every suggestion about cleaning up the block or cleaning up the neighborhood or about crime, blight or quality of life, there’s something you are going to have to come out and do as well.”