The colorful letters measured 8-feet long below the El on Kensington Avenue, and their message was clear: This Place Matters.
“This Place” is Visitation BVM Parish, and if the community can rally enough online votes, the church and its adjacent community center could win a $25,000 grant to make sure it continues to matter to its neighborhood.
“We’re really trying to get people behind the idea that this place matters and that, while many people can tend to look down on Kensington, it can be a great place to live,” said Colleen Gibson, assistant director of the Cardinal Bevilacqua Community Center at Visitation.
Visitation is one of 100 places across the country chosen as a finalist in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual “This Place Matters” competition, and it’s the only Philadelphia location on the list.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private, non-profit membership organization dedicated to saving historic places and revitalizing America’s communities.
The winner receives a $25,000 grant, with $10,000 for second place and $5,000 for third.
The contest involves an online voting system, which allows only one vote per email address. The location with the most votes wins.
Earlier this week, Visitation was in 10th place and within striking distance of a quick move up the standings.
“We were very happy to see the votes when scoreboard came out,” said Gibson, who is helping lead the email campaign.
The voting site for Visitation is
www.preservationnation.org/take-action/this-place-matters/community-challenge/places/visitation-bvm-parish.html, which also provides the current standings and complete list of finalists.
Leading the list of finalists this week was a community theater in the small farming town of Wellington, Texas. Regionally, the West Chester Business Improvement District occupied eighth place.
The voting ends June 30.
Visitation learned of the contest through the city’s Office of Community Development, which rehabs houses and works with businesses to help struggling neighborhoods.
The contest called for hopefuls to submit an application explaining their place and why it matters to their community. A list of 100 finalists was whittled down from the more than 300 applications.
The Visitation application included a history of the church, its school and community center.
“Each one has its own significance,” said Gibson.
The 137-year-old parish currently boasts a membership of 7,200 and a school attendance of about 500 students.
“There is no missing the twin spires of Visitation Church as you drive down Lehigh Avenue in Kensington, Philadelphia,” is the first line of the online entry about Visitation that readers see at the National Trust’s website.
The contest application also included a picture of the eye-catching “This Place Matters” written in colored chalk on the street outside Visitation and visible to passing commuters on the El train above.
“That really drew a lot of attention,” said Gibson.
Gibson stressed how much the parish matters to the neighborhood due to its outreach efforts and programs offered. She said any cash prize would be used to support Visitation’s community programs, which run the gamut of athletic, charitable, educational and social endeavors.
Like most other organizations and individuals today, Visitation has been adversely affected by the slumping economy.
“We’ve seen the demand for our services increase,” said Gibson.
For instance, participation in Visitation’s housing counseling program is on pace this year to match the number of participants in the past four years combined.
Gibson also said the parish’s food pantry has been in high demand, while contributions to the parish have declined as well.
“When everybody feels it, wee see it across the board, so we’re seeking funding from anywhere possible,” said Gibson.
On the upside, the community center’s garden continues to thrive. Six new planting beds were installed this spring, so a bigger yield is expected with plans for a farmer’s stand by the end of the summer to show the community the possibilities of urban gardening, said Gibson.
With less than two weeks until the voting ends, it’s important that people spread the word via email that every vote counts, said Gibson.
“We’re really trying to get behind the theme of the contest, that this place does really matter,” said Gibson.
She noted the reciprocal relationship between Visitation and the Kensington neighborhood, which often suffers a less than stellar reputation.
“This can be a great place to live, and it’s the people in this neighborhood who allow us to do what we do,” said Gibson.
Visitation is also the only church on the list of 100 finalists.••EndFragment