Getting to the Roots
From the moment we met her, we knew that Helen Brown was a force of nature – but also a force of love and care for people. Helen, along with Chis Whaley and Priscilla Bennett (Ms. T), worked tirelessly to engage the people in the neighborhood.
Ms. Helen first welcomed Project HOME into the St. E’s neighborhood, her home for over thirty years, when we sought to open a recovery residence in 1992. In a few years, with her vision, leadership, and energy, we embarked on a comprehensive community development plan in this, the poorest zip code in Philadelphia. Her initial proposal seemed at first hardly sufficient to meet the challenges: forming a youth drill team. But she knew what the kids – and the whole community – needed, and how the North Philly Footstompers would usher in the rhythms of transformation.
What ensued over the next two decades was truly astonishing: greening vacant and trashed lots; developing affordable homes for low-income families; strengthening local businesses; working with police to enhance neighborhood safety; developing the Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs (2004) and the Stephen Klein Wellness Center (2015). Our community work representing a profound deepening of our mission: both empowering people to break the cycle of chronic homelessness, and also getting to the roots to prevent future homelessness.
When Ms. Helen passed on September 5, 2018, she left an enormous hole in the hearts of her North Philadelphia community. But it has also left an astonishing legacy of the power of community – a diverse community of people working together to achieve a common vision: a whole generation of youth getting a college education, neighborhood adults improving work skills and getting jobs; working poor families finding stability in new homes; neighbors coming together to solve problems and make improvements; and a sense of hope and pride.