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My Philly Neighbor: Why Hestonville’s Juanita Acree encourages civic engagement

Juanita Acree. February 14, 2019 Category: FeaturedMediumPeople
Wandering the blocks of West Philly’s Hestonville neighborhood in August, you might come across Juanita Acree’s annual block party.

Complete with grilling, games, bouncy castles, clowns and a DJ, community members and their kids come together in the summer heat. Those in need can take home school supplies and clothing.

Acree, 72, has used her own money, alongside other neighbors, to organize the community event since 2012. She started it after noticing some parents couldn’t afford to send their kids to summer camp.

“I wanted to do something so when the kids go back to school, when the teachers ask them, ‘What did you do for the summer? Where did you go?’ they’ll have something that they can always say that they did and liked,” said Acree, who has lived in Hestonville near Fairmount Park since she was 8 years old and bought her own home there in 1971.

Acree has worked as a cleaner at One Liberty Place for 32 years and is part of the 32BJ SEIU union, where she serves as co-chair of its political club. During election season, Acree goes door-to-door to turn out the vote and encourage young people to register to vote.

She also feeds children and the elderly in need of a home-cooked meal and spends her Saturdays encouraging neighbors to wake up and clean their streets and stoops.

Reflecting on her years in Hestonville, Acree said she’s proud of the tight-knit community for being family-oriented.

“We put together and shared what we had with the other people that didn’t have, and that’s what you’re supposed to do,” she said.

Acree said the neighborhood has struggled with drugs and new developments, and she thinks college students will start moving in — “but they’re going to have to build over me, because I’m not going nowhere,” she added. “And I’ll be here to help those kids if I can.”

Acree’s own childhood inspired her to give back. Her parents always spent time with their seven kids and their friends.

“We always had enough and my mom always shared,” Acree said. “My mom always cooked and we always sat down at the table and I’m the same way now.”

From her civic engagement, Acree hopes the next generation will learn compassion.

“It’s not about yourself, it’s about what you can do for others,” she said. “I really would like … if I held my hand out and said, ‘I need help’, that somebody would be there to hold it. And I’m quite sure the young kids feel the same.”

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