By Eldon Graham
Civic organizations in South Philadelphia often go unnoticed for the good deeds they strive to do. But when one group changes its name, it catches the eye. By any name, East Point Breeze Neighbors, formerly known as Newbold Neighbors, is about getting things done.
On the last Wednesday of every month, EPBN convenes a general meeting to discuss how to improve the surrounding neighborhood while also bringing the community closer together. The meetings are led by Miguel Garces, president of EPBN.
Garces and his board were instrumental in changing EPBN from its original “Newbold” name. He explains the reasoning as a way to quell fears of redevelopment and expulsion of long-term residents.
“Newbold was a term that came out in 2007, around when our neighborhood organization was formed. Newbold, overtime, created some tension as it was a symbol for gentrification,” Garces said – something the organization did not intend, he insisted. “A lot of people were concerned: ‘Hey, you’re trying to change the name of Point Breeze’; and so the pressure built up to a point where our board, within the past year or so, realized it was time to change it. We want to help relieve those tensions and we want better relationships with other Point Breeze groups.”
The name change took place in August 2016. The decision to vote in the change came in July of last year, according to Garces.
EPBN is dedicated to serving residents, owners, and businesses in the Point Breeze area of South Philadelphia from Broad Street west to 18th Street and from Washington Avenue south to Passyunk Avenue. These people care about their neighborhood.
Meetings take place on Wednesdays at the end of each month. It starts out with each attendee introducing themselves and then they go into business. In the most recent meeting, nominations were made for position on the board of directors. Various positions are available. “We did some nominations tonight. Hopefully, we’ll fill all or at least some of the seats next month in February,” said Garces. Voting will take place on Feb. 22.
Garces said, “We’re looking for technology co-chairs, we’re looking for a secretary and we’re looking for a clean-and-green person. I’m putting the call out the community.” The group is also seeking a public-safety person for the committee.
In addition to announcing new board position availabilities, EPBN also thanked and honored their longest running board member, Mary A. Faustino, its former treasurer, who stepped down at the beginning of the year.
This group is very detailed in their planning stages for the neighborhood. A number of events are already planned to bring the area closer, for which EPBN hopes many can come out as possible.
What is Garces looks forward to the most in the upcoming year? “Continuing to engage with other groups, other community groups. That’s really, for me as president, a part of my job: to reach other groups. East of Broad [Street], we’ve got Passyunk Square, East Passyunk Crossing; south of us, you have a couple of groups who still have the name ‘Newbold’ in them still. Over to the west, we have Point Breeze groups, we’ve got South Philly Homes. I’ve built a relationship with all of them and I hope to continue to build that relationship and see more collaborative events, more working together instead of us working against each other.” The association’s Planning & Zoning Committee aims to meet with these neighbor groups in person.
Public safety is a priority as crime has risen in the neighborhood. To combat these problems, the Public Safety Committee is planning a neighborhood walk Feb. 7 at 18th & Federal at 7 p.m., a town-watch meeting on Feb. 9 at 6 p.m. and a number of other events to educate the community in addition to allowing for extra safety measures.
One development the board took notice of was how the section along Federal Street is becoming a new hub for dining spots.
In other references to food, the last business of the meeting contained information on the South Philly Food Co-op, which has recently acquired a location at 2031 S. Juniper Street. The co-op is a community of South Philadelphia residents who are working together to open a grocery store that “uses food as a force for good.”
Katy Travaline, a member of the co-op, explained co-op is owned and governed business by its members. What does becoming a member of the co-op mean? “You get a say in how the business is run and how it is governed,” Travaline said. Then she handed out pieces of information about the co-op, seeking to interest people interested in joining. It’s a community-building effort.
2017’s first official meeting of the EPBN concluded with promising business and activities to look forward to in the coming year. The EPBN Annual Banquet, hosted by the Police District Advisory Council on May 19, is something to put in your calendar.