Northeast Times

Visitation BVM vies for dollars, national name

Vis­it­a­tion BVM Par­ish could win a $25,000 grant to make sure it con­tin­ues to mat­ter to its neigh­bor­hood.

Start­Frag­ment

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.••

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