Twenty-five years is a long time to be dedicated to any one thing.
But Christine Brown, who recently celebrated 25 years with Beech Companies, a community development organization operating primarily in the Cecil B. Moore neighborhood of North Philadelphia, has done that.
And it doesn’t sound like she has any plans of slowing down.
“When I started here at Beech, I just saw all the different things that were going on and the needs of the community, and it just felt right where I should be,” said the now-director of Beech Community Services (BCS), a nonprofit within Beech Companies. “My heart has always been here.”
Brown was honored for her 25 years of service at last month’s biannual meeting of the Consortium of Cecil B. Moore Organizations, a collective of organizations and entities working to improve the Cecil B. Moore neighborhood, hosted by the Alston-Beech Foundation.
She wanted to be a police officer when she was a child. However, her time growing up in North Philly and volunteering with a local child daycare center would start her on a path to eventually become an administrative assistant at Beech. The rest was history.
“I always wanted to give back to the community and I enjoyed being around people,” Brown said.
Today, Brown’s day-to-day work as director of BCS is daunting, to say the least, especially considering how she says she most often does it all solo. It includes overseeing the Beech Scholarship Fund which provides scholarships to high school seniors and local college students, spearheading a daily cleanup along some of the smaller blocks on Cecil B. Moore Avenue for the past 10 years and working with youth through the STEM-training organization Creative Tech Works.
Beech Community Services has an open-door policy when it comes to listening to the issues community members are struggling with.
(The list on her LinkedIn page should give you a better sense of it all.)
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Her main priority, though, is to be a competent director of an organization that has an open-door policy when it comes to listening to the issues community members are struggling with or are concerned about, whether it’s housing, education or employment. Part of that responsibility means having a presence at as many community meetings as possible so that BCS can be a source of information for residents who have a right to know what’s going on in their neighborhood.
For example, with something like the shaky past and present relations between North Philly residents and Temple University, Brown said that transparency is key in not only achieving some sort of harmony, but also helping community residents feel like they have a voice. And Brown isn’t only pointing out Temple — outside developers have made residents feel pushed out as well.
“People become really disgruntled or they feel left out of their own communities,” Brown said.
Fortunately, Brown said her colleagues and staff of around five, including folks such as Beech Companies President Kenneth Scott and Beech Interplex Director of Real Estate and Project Development Bernard Savage, been a crucial part in it trying to cover as much ground as possible.
So when it comes to something like the ambitious work North Broad Renaissance and its executive director Shalimar Thomas is doing in developing a commercial corridor from City Hall to Germantown Avenue, Brown said she has so far appreciated Thomas’ commitment in being transparent and accessible, along with that push for economic development.
At the end of the day, it’s about respect and putting community first for Brown. Even with an event like her 11th annual Jazz On The Ave Festival on August 12 — “This is my baby, my passion” — she makes sure it offers that summer fun for families who may not be able to make it out to the beach, in addition to paying homage to Cecil B. Moore Avenue’s rich history as a jazz hotspot.
“Consider the community, find out what the community needs, not what you think that they need,” she advised. “Just give us courtesy, respect and a seat at the table.”
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