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Community leaders whipped into shape at ‘boot camp’

Civic-minded residents were up early on Saturday for the first annual Block Captain and Community Leader Boot Camp, held at the Roberto Clemente Promise Academy, at 122 W. Eerie Ave.

The event, held from 8 a.m. to noon on the sunny morning of June 17, was intended to help block captains, community representatives and concerned local residents effectively communicate with City Hall their concerns and issues in the neighborhood.

“People might say I’m crazy to hold this meeting at 8 a.m. on a Saturday,” joked City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez (D-6th dist.) last weekend. “But look at all the people that came out. This means that they want to know.”

Quiñones-Sanchez’s office, along with the Philadelphia Prevention Partnership and the Latino Empowerment Alliance of the Delaware Valley, presented the event.

The councilwoman said she wanted to do the event early on the weekend to allow locals a chance to learn about how they can work with City Hall to handle local issues, and she wanted it to be a light, fun and informational meeting.

Throughout the day, residents met with representatives from various city departments, and listened to informational presentations on how to organize a block clean up or block party or utilize city services.

“People need to have access and understanding to know how city services work,” said Danilo Burgos, zoning and small business representative for Maria Quiñones-Sanchez’s office. “It’s all about letting them know how to do the asking.”

Burgos handed out plastic recycling bins to residents while he discussed how throughout the day, people expressed concerns over issues with blight and vacant properties in the area.

“A lot of questions we hear come from properties that have sat for a long time, in abandonment,” said Burgos. “We hear ‘why doesn’t the city go ahead and put that in a sheriff’s sale?’”

Burgos said the councilwoman’s office worked closely with Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.’s (D-4th dist.) office to organize the day as a to reach out to the community.

“This is a great vehicle to get out information,” he said.

As the day wound down, Steven Wade, a resident of Juniata who works with the 33rd Democratic Ward, said he appreciated the event because it provided information about working with the city that clarified how to use the city’s municipal offices and the 3–1–1 system, the hotline that connects residents to City Hall.

“This is a wonderful thing,” said Wade. “To become a block captain really is just the beginning of taking part in your city. People think you can just get on the phone and complain…not enough of us are savvy about the process.”

Too often, he said, quality of life issues as simple as neighborhood blight or having a street that needs a crossing guard can complicate life for communities. But by learning to navigate the system at events like last week’s, residents will be able to effectively take the right steps to combat local issues.

“You have to be vocal, but you also have to know all the right avenues of communication,” he said. “This is a wonderful event.”

As organizers cleaned up, the councilwoman walked through the school and reflected on the day, and said she hopes to present similar events again to reach more of the community and provide more information to help ensure that she has a well-informed constituency.

“We want to be here, to let people know we are out here working,” she said. “We want them to know we are here to help.”

Star Staff Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215–354–3124 or at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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