Comcast Cleans up in Kensington

Hun­dreds of Com­cast em­ploy­ees took to the streets on Com­cast Cares Day on Sat­urday April 21 to give back to the com­munity.

After years of neg­lect, Kens­ing­ton’s McPh­er­son Square is a changed place.

The park, which houses one of the city’s re­main­ing pub­lic lib­rar­ies fun­ded by the late phil­an­throp­ist An­drew Carne­gie, has long been saddled with the nick­name “Needle Park” be­cause of the il­leg­al activ­ity and drug paraphernalia that of­ten could be found there.

But last Sat­urday, the park was lush and green, with vo­lun­teers every­where re­paint­ing benches, pre­par­ing gar­dens, beau­ti­fy­ing the area and do­ing everything pos­sible so that the park’s derog­at­ory nick­name will be for­got­ten by fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

In fact, in what might be a sign of the com­munity tak­ing back the park, loc­al chil­dren have cre­ated their own garden there

Sat­urday was the 11th an­nu­al “Com­cast Cares Day,” when em­ploy­ees of the mam­moth me­dia com­pany spend their free time toil­ing to im­prove the com­munity.

In ad­di­tion to be­ing part­ners with loc­al groups to clean and green McPh­er­son Square, at 601 E. In­di­ana Ave., Com­cast em­ploy­ees vo­lun­teered to as­sist pro­jects across the city. Their ef­forts cre­ated a green­house at Ol­ney Charter High School and offered a help­ing hand to vo­lun­teers at Frank­ford High School and the North­east-Frank­ford Boys and Girls Club, among oth­er or­gan­iz­a­tions.

Bob Smith, Com­cast’s vice pres­id­ent in charge com­munity in­vest­ment for the Phil­adelphia re­gion, said em­ploy­ees vo­lun­teered to help 35 pro­jects throughout the Great­er Phil­adelphia area, and at more than 600 events across the coun­try.

“A lot of com­pan­ies will just write a check and not show up,” said Smith. “But that’s not in­vest­ment. This is com­munity in­vest­ment.”

Al­though he didn’t have an ex­act fig­ure, Smith said that Com­cast provided more than $1,000 in paint for the McPh­er­son Square pro­ject, as well as new play­ground equip­ment and re­pairs.

He said the com­pany se­lec­ted places for vo­lun­teer work on Com­cast Cares Day by tak­ing a closer look at the com­munity in­volve­ment be­hind pro­jects that had sought the com­pany’s sup­port.

“We get more re­quests than we could pos­sibly do,” said Smith. “But when there’s a lot of com­munity sup­port, like there is here, that makes this worth­while.”

Throughout the day at McPh­er­son Square, between 250 and 300 vo­lun­teers —in­clud­ing more than 100 Com­cast em­ploy­ees —painted benches and an activ­ity room in­side the lib­rary, es­tab­lished plant­ings throughout the park and un­der­took re­pairs to play­ground equip­ment.

Amy Dougherty, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Friends of the Free Lib­rary of Phil­adelphia, said that McPh­er­son Square has im­proved sig­ni­fic­antly with the reg­u­lar help of the Friends group.

She said the or­gan­iz­a­tion plans to bring new pro­grams to the lib­rary branch at McPh­er­son Square, such as GED-prep courses and pro­grams for teens, while also in­vest­ing in im­prove­ments to the park that sur­rounds the lib­rary.

“For the people who live around McPh­er­son Square, this is a park to en­joy,” she said. “But it’s also a lib­rary. Some people liv­ing in this neigh­bor­hood didn’t even real­ize this was a func­tion­ing lib­rary.”

Ac­tu­ally, last week­end’s cleanup was just one as­pect of big things to come at McPh­er­son Square. To im­prove safety at the park, Dougherty said, the of­fice of City Coun­cil­wo­man Maria Quiñones-Sanc­hez (D-7th dist.) is go­ing to have lights in­stalled, and the Phil­adelphia po­lice already have in­stalled two se­cur­ity cam­er­as at McPh­er­son Square.

“There’s a lot go­ing on,” Dougherty said with a grin.

She said the Friends group has been hold­ing meet­ings with com­munity groups, res­id­ents and city agen­cies since last Septem­ber to identi­fy ways to im­prove both the McPh­er­son branch of the Free Lib­rary of Phil­adelphia and the en­tire park.

“We star­ted meet­ing, and people said, ‘Kids pro­grams? We need to clean the park and get the drug deal­ers out,’” Dougherty re­called.

As the park sup­port­ers look to bet­ter days, neigh­bor­hood chil­dren have claimed a corner of McPh­er­son, in front of the lib­rary branch, as their own.

Tessa Ren­shaw, com­munity out­reach man­ager for the lib­rary’s Friends group, said she was sur­prised when she passed McPh­er­son Square one re­cent even­ing and no­ticed that chil­dren had turned a small mulch-covered area in­to their own space.

“They cre­ated this small garden,” said Ren­shaw, as she helped some young­sters in­stall a small fence around it.

“It’s like they are mak­ing the park their own,” she said.

As Ren­shaw spoke, some chil­dren worked the dirt as oth­ers painted a con­crete peri­met­er.

“We wanted to make the park nicer,” said Mi­chael Mar­tinez, 9, who lives across from McPh­er­son Square. ••

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­ 


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