Jan 26, 2018

Meet a Community Partner: Kensington’s Impact Services

by: Laura Kochman

Across the street from the Somerset stop on the Market–Frankford El, our year-old Porch Light hub space is a neighborhood gathering spot—and when we say “our,” we mean it. The hub is a truly collaborative effort that operates throughout the year thanks to an ongoing partnership between Porch Light (itself an ongoing partnership between Mural Arts and DBHIDS), Impact Services, NKCDC, and Prevention Point. The space belongs to the community, and to the organizations that serve the community. For some, like local resource center and Kensington Storefront partner Impact Services, they’ve been on the ground for years, connecting neighbors to services and to each other. We chatted with Impact’s Community Development Associate, Zoë van Orsdol, about their work in the neighborhood.

Can you tell us what Impact Services does in Kensington? 

We are a nonprofit. I work for the community development department, and my job is to bring a public health lens to our community development work. We have a workforce development department that mostly deals with people returning from incarceration, we have a veterans’ department that houses about 200 vets on any given day, at various stages of life. We’ve been in Kensington for over 40 years, so we’re obviously very committed to the community and what goes on there.

We just finished a year-and-a-half-long planning process with the neighborhood, to develop a strengths-based neighborhood plan that works to strengthen the economic and community foundations, so that work takes a bunch of different forms. We’re trying to develop a new community engagement strategy that takes a public health approach. We also work a lot at McPherson Square Library—we have great relationships with the librarians there. We do events throughout the year aimed at kids, we do cleanups, and we work at the block level to foster good relationships between block captains and residents.

Trying to create a trauma-informed community engagement strategy that addresses neighborhood trauma—but doesn’t treat people as though they were traumatized—is the main focus of my job right now. Kensington is a community that has intense needs; in particular, the opioid crisis is so intense there. If we’re going to address that as a public health crisis, then we need to be talking about it in terms of public health outcomes. Right now, we’re figuring it out: what are the public health outcomes we can affect change in?

How do partnerships and community come into your work? 

New Kensington CDC is our partner and collaborator in this trauma-informed community development project. It has been really great to go through this process with another organization that is also trying to figure it out, facing incredible neighborhood challenges as well. I work very closely with their associate director of community engagement, Tess Donie, and she and I have taken this very emotional journey together. We spent the summer working with residents on the engagement curriculum, getting their feedback, and it was so immediate—the way they responded to the information they were given about trauma, and the effects of trauma—that we were both sort of taken aback, like, “Oh, this is going to work. Holy cow.” The residents have been the true collaborators throughout the process, and their dedication shows the commitment people have to the neighborhood.

We’re also trying to strengthen our relationship with Prevention Point, and with the library as well. Then we’re pretty excited about the next few years with Mural Arts. Murals are fantastic, and they bring an awesome vibrancy to neighborhoods, but the community engagement piece of it is such an opportunity for social cohesion, for neighbors to meet one another, to talk about whether or not they have shared goals for the neighborhood and the block, and discuss the future of the neighborhood. It’s not just about the mural.

The Kensington Storefront is a strengths-based approach. It places people first, which is trauma-informed, and all the partners definitely share that ethos. It has made the hub a very welcoming space. You see people coming in who come in repeatedly, and they’re not ready to enter into any sort of treatment, but they know that this is a safe space that they can come to and get a variety of needs met. Sometimes it’s an art class or a workshop and sometimes it’s a sandwich. Sometimes it’s a clean sweatshirt. Sometimes it’s a referral. People who are homeless—or homeless and active in their addiction, or just active in their addiction—need touch after touch after touch before they’re ready to enter into any sort of service. The Storefront is one of the places in the community where they can get some of those touchpoints.

What are some of the issues you’re facing right now? 

We are really committed to equitable development, but gentrification is coming towards us. We have a few scattered sites that we developed for our veterans, but we’re really grappling with how we—as an intermediary—work with the neighborhood to stabilize things, while doing our absolute best to maintain people’s housing status and keep people in their houses if they want to stay. We haven’t really figured that out yet.

Where the art, I think, fits into that, is that in addition to all the opportunities for community engagement that pop up around these processes, there’s also something to be said for having something beautiful in your neighborhood. There’s a group at UPenn that has done some studies on the effect that neighborhood green space, even if it’s just a clean and stable empty lot, has on a heart rate. If having green space can affect your heart rate and lower your blood pressure, then I imagine that having a beautiful mural that you feel is part of your neighborhood might have the same effect, especially when the neighborhood faces such challenges. Speaking for myself, art makes me feel good about where I am, and it should make me think, “Oh, this neighborhood also deserves beautiful things.” The B Street Bridge is a great example. I was out there for the community paint day, and everybody, even people that were high, were walking by and saying, “Oh, my god. This looks great. Kids are really going to like this.” At first you may think, “Oh, it’s just a bridge, right?” Except it’s so much more than that. It’s a symbol of place, and belonging, and what a neighborhood deserves to have, and Kensington deserves to have beautiful things, just like every other part of the city does.


Porch Light is a collaboration between Mural Arts Philadelphia and the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. Kensington Storefront funders include DBHIDS, the Hummingbird Foundation, the Patricia Kind Family Foundation, and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Support for Mural Arts’ Neighborhood Storefronts and Hubs is provided in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Last updated: Jan 26, 2018

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