Peace campers show their stuff at rousing fundraiser – News from Chester Eastside, Inc.

Peace Camp 15

CHESTER: It was a jubilant expression of young Chester talent that greeted those fortunate enough to attend the fundraiser for the Peace, Leadership, & The Arts Camp (PLAC) at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in June.

Serious business: The camp, a partnership between Chester Eastside, Inc., and 4 Circles Beyond, Inc., has to generate its own primary funding. That it did, to the tune of $1,200 on that particular occasion. Students who have benefited from the multi-sided program were in the spotlight that evening: reciting poetry and rap, singing beautiful renditions of original compositions — most from memory, without a note or prompt in front of them. It was an outpouring of remarkable talent. Also on the program was a set of dazzling selections by Tribe 1, a Philadelphia-based performing group that numbers among its members Foluke Bennett, Director of PLAC.

There were searing messages about what young folks face these days in many of the campers’ renditions, but also a strong sense of pride in who they are and hope for the future. As if to underscore the challenges for young people of African descent, the group observed a period of silent prayer for the victims of the mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and their families.

A beacon of light for Chester youth.
The Peace Leadership and the Arts Camp (PLAC) has provided a creative space for youth within Chester City and throughout Delaware County since 2009.

The camp has served as a beacon of light for young people who have witnessed the city struggle to bring down gun violence over the years. PLAC opened its doors in the summer of 2009 when gun violence began increasing.

“It was evident that the young people really needed a place to go and learn how to deal in a more peaceful way with the conflicts going on in the community and to take some of those skills back to the community,” said Foluke Bennett, Director of PLAC. Bennett said she has witnessed campers become more confident in being their “authentic selves” due to the camp’s focus on conflict resolution and leadership skills.

“Seeing how young people have been able to grow… now they are taking more of a leadership role in the camp as well, designing the activities, leading the activities, and leading their peers,” said Bennett. “I’m constantly inspired by them. Just seeing them be their authentic selves, which is why I’m coming back for a fourth year.”

She recalled how a young camper named David Collins came to PLAC unaware of how dynamic his poetry was. He is now returning to the camp for his third year but this time as an intern counselor. Collins said if it had not been for the camp he would not have known just how creative he could be as a writer. “Throughout the camp, through the exercises and the group activities it helped me open up and express myself more than I usually did,” said Collins. “It even helped me find out talents, features and qualities that really I didn’t see in myself but others did. It helped me acknowledge it better.”

Collins graduated from Cardinal O’Hara this year and is heading to Lincoln University to start his college career, majoring in technical and mechanical engineering… and of course minoring in music. At the fundraiser, he presented an original poem titled “The Power of Words.” He says he is looking forward to being a counselor so that he can give to new campers what was given to him. “It’s a great place to feel safe, express yourself and find your talent; to become a better you,” promised Collins.

Persons wishing to contribute to the Peace, Leadership, & The Arts Camp should send checks to 4 Circles Beyond, Inc., Princeton, NJ 08540.

By timmreardon

Chester Eastside board member honored by Widener University

Jim Ley - 2

Rev. James Ley, Vice-chairperson of the Chester Eastside, Inc., Board, received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Public Service in ceremonies as part of Widener University’s 2015 commencement, in recognition of his many years of service to the Chester community and the University.

In his remarks, Dr. Ley paid special tribute to Rev. Bernice Warren, Executive Director of Chester Eastside, Inc., among others, who “are my continuing mentors and teachers…. I must also thank Widener for inviting me to participate in the life and essence of this great university for these past 13 years. It is here in Chester and at Widener that I have literally found my passion and reason for being.”

In addition to his Chester Eastside Board responsibilities, which include serving on a number of key committees, Dr. Ley has given lectures and participated actively in “service learning” for Widener students, in which they provide volunteer services for the people of Chester at Chester Eastside and elsewhere in the community.

Dr. Ley is Archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, in which capacity he has played a key role in the developing relationship between Chester Eastside and St. Paul’s, other churches in the area, and Episcopal Community Services of Philadelphia.

By timmreardon

Child Food Insecurity – Executive Summary

In September of 2014, the Economic Research Service at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its most recent report ( on food insecurity, indicating that 49 million people in the United States are living in food insecure households, 15.8 million of whom are children. While the magnitude of the problem is clear, national and even state estimates of food insecurity can mask the nuances that exist at the local level.

Recognizing that children are particularly vulnerable to the economic challenges facing families today, Feeding America sought to replicate the food insecurity model used in the original Map the Meal Gap study to reflectm the need among children. In the past, Feeding America has conducted research in an effort to learn more about child food insecurity across the country. Beginning in 2009, ConAgra Foods Foundation funded annual reports that included state-level estimates of child food insecurity based on three-year averages. With the Map the Meal Gap methodology developed by Dr. Craig Gundersen, an internationally-renowned expert on food insecurity, we are now able to estimate annual child food insecurity rates at the county and congressional district level. Additionally, this study provides information on the proportion of the child food insecure populations above and below the income eligibility threshold for most government child nutrition programs, as well as a review of food cost variation alongside CFI rates.

These reports summarize findings from an analysis of child food insecurity at the state, county and congressional district level, and the data will be updated annually. This study was generously funded by the ConAgra Foods Foundation.

Child Executive Summary

For the 2013 report, it was combined with the overall food insecurity Executive Summary.

By timmreardon

The Longterm Cost of Food Insecurity – News from Chester Eastside

​Since November, 2014, the Food Center at Chester Eastside has served over 300 households a month. Children alone have averaged 118 a month. Generally it’s the adults who come to the agency Mondays and Wednesdays to pick up bags of food. But many of these are parents struggling to make ends meet.

What does this mean in human terms?  Recently two women with children who came to Chester Eastside had no food in the house at all. One had lost her job as a personal trainer, and with it lost her home. She and her two children were staying with her mother to avoid living on the streets. The other woman had a roof over her head, but would have no food without her visit to the Food Center. She was especially grateful to have meat.

Cutbacks in funding from the State and other sources have meant that meat and fresh produce are a rarity.  Cheese, which is one of the more expensive items, is totally missing. So families try to subsist on things like canned goods and pasta, which are more readily available. Aside from what they can pick up at the Chester Eastside Food Center and other such programs in Chester, many families have to rely on cheap foods with lots of sugar, salt. and fat but little nutritional value. Over reliance on those foods can lead to health problems like diabetes and obesity.

The Food Center helps to make up for some of these gaps by providing home cooked hot meals at every session.

Hidden cost: the long term effects on children.

The idea of somebody, especially a child, going hungry is something that immediately captures the imagination. It’s been that way since little Oliver Twist pleaded in vain for just a little more gruel, in Charkes Dickens’s classic tale of that name. But what people often miss are the long term indirect effects on a child of a chronic lack of food and what is called “food insecurity” (i.e., uncertainty as to where the next meal is coming from).

Aside from the effect of hunger on a growing body, food insecurity is one more traumatic experience that can have a devastating effect on a child’s future. Poor nutrition has been found to affect a child’s school performance, which in turn is a predictor of everything from whether a person drops out of school to one’s job prospects to the likelihood of substance abuse and even prison time.

“God bless you!”

Many volunteers from Chester and suburban communities help to staff the Food Center at Chester Eastside. And what do they get in return for their efforts? The knowledge that they are truly making a difference in the lives, not only of this generation, but of the next generation and the one after that.  That and the two most frequent comments from recipients: “God bless you!” and, “What would I do without you?”

By timmreardon

Two Chester Eastside Board Members’ Shock & Awe

Both get a searing look at a world of problems out there.

Kamer and Gibbs

Kameron Gibbs and Darren Davis, members of the Chester Eastside, Inc., Board, recently attended a national conference on “Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation,” on behalf of Chester Eastside. What they heard in those few days — often from the victims themselves — was a litany of the kinds of suffering that is the everyday experience of many people both in America and around the globe.

Now they want to share what they learned with fellow Board members in hopes that Chester Eastside can find ways of addressing these problems as they get played out in Chester and beyond.

Having grown up in Chester, the two Board members are not strangers to the challenges of life in urban America. But still, “I found it shocking and surprising,” said Kameron Gibbs, who will be doing graduate studies at Capella University in his chosen field, child psychology. “I realized this could be happening to me.” Already he’s thinking of ways to use what came out at the conference in programs at Chester Eastside.

The conference agenda was not just to shed light on the issues but also to give participants the tools to do something about them. Politics is not a career interest of Darren Davis, who will be doing graduate work at Temple University’s Fox School of Business in the fall. But the conference workshop on lobbying will come in handy as he and Kameron look for ways to help Chester Eastside fulfill its mission of “working for a more just society.” Darren’s longterm goals include developing programs for first-time home buyers

A woman’s account of what she went through in prison after being convicted of a minor offense; the stories of life in refugee camps in the Middle East: These are the kind of thing s that come back to haunt one long after an event is over. As Kameron Gibbs and Darren Davis share these and other gleanings from “Breaking the Chains” with Board, staff and volunteers at Chester Eastside, it’s hoped that they, too will be spurred to action.

By timmreardon

It’s a matter of Life and Death – News from Chester Eastside, Inc.


A display of T-shirts representing Delaware County residents killed over the past five years.
Last year Chester set a record of a kind it doesn’t like to set: 30 violent deaths, most of which involved guns killing young men of color. That in a year when the homicide rate was down in most parts of the country. Now Chester Eastside, Inc., has joined others in the community seeking to stop the violence. Its Board unanimously passed a resolution to that effect at its April meeting, putting the agency squarely on the side of the peacemakers.
Overall, the statistics say that the number other serious crimes is down from what it was in Chester. So there are signs of progress. Which doesn’t take away from the need for action when it comes to gun violence.
In a strongly-worded resolution that appears at the end of this article, the Chester Eastside Board committed itself to join the fight for more effective gun control and include content  on the subject in its programs.
Such efforts are not new to Chester Eastside. Some years ago it gave birth to and continues to support the Peace Leadership and Arts Summer Camp that helps young people find alternative ways to settle their differences and work for a more peaceful society.
It’s not only the risk of bodily harm that is at stake. Children exposed to the trauma of having family members die violently and parents worried about their children’s safety are also hurt by the threat of gun violence.
Chester Eastside is hoping more churches and community organizations will also join in the effort to stop the violence.

        Here is the full text of the resolution passed by Chester Eastside, Inc.’s Board:

Whereas, Chester Eastside, Inc., is committed to working for a just society; and

Whereas, African American males are only 6 percent of the U.S. population but nearly 40 percent of those murdered in any given year; and

Whereas, a major threat to the wellbeing of the people of Chester, particular among young people, is gun violence; and

Whereas, such threat includes both direct danger to life and limb and indirect effects such as trauma; and

Whereas, contrary to national trends in recent years, the 30 homicides in Chester during 2014, most of them gun-related, set a new record; and,

Whereas, there exist various initiatives to reduce gun violence in Chester and elsewhere; therefore,

Be it resolved that Chester Eastside, Inc., work to include content on this issue in its programs; and,

Be it further resolved that Chester Eastside, Inc., commit itself to support the Peace, Leadership & the Arts Camp; and

Be it further resolved that Chester Eastside, Inc., join Heeding God’s Call in their efforts to reduce gun violence; and

Be it further resolved that Chester Eastside, Inc., seek to involve additional organizations in this cause; and,

Be it further resolved that Chester Eastside make known the above initiatives to its stakeholders and the general public in order to encourage their support.

By timmreardon

Chester Eastside, Inc., to have new state-of-the-art Learning Center thanks to Presbyterian Women’s Group


Education is at the heart of most programs at Chester Eastside, Inc. “We’re in the business, not just of meeting urgent human needs, but of helping the people of this community realize their full potential as well,” says Rev. Bernice Warren, Executive Director of the agency.

Now that mission has received a big boost in the form of a $20,476 grant from the Presbyterian Women in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The funds will be used to build a computer learning center for youth and adult education programs.


        “Without this grant from the Presbyterian Women, it would have been impossible to create the learning center,” according to Rev. Warren. The facility will be located at the agency’s new home, St Paul’s Episcopal Church on East 9th Street, Chester.

Computers have become a must in all kinds of education in this rapidly changing world, and education is the most important means of helping people of all ages fulfill their dreams.

The direct beneficiaries of the new learning center:

  • Children in the After-School and Summer Camp programs, providing everything from tutoring to new life experiences in the wider world.
  • Older youth in the Peace, Leadership, and Cultural Arts Summer Camp, helping young people find constructive ways to deal with conflict, become the leaders of tomorrow, and get in touch with their historic roots.
  • Adults of all ages working to complete their high school education through the GED program. All GED testing is now done by computer.

The hope is that the computer learning center will be up and running by fall of 2015.

For further information please contact:

Will Richan

By timmreardon

Chester Eastside: Resurrecting Place and Partnership – Covenant Connections

by Rev. Greg  Klimovitz, Associate Presbyter


CEM logo

In 2014, Chester Eastside Ministries encountered the resurrection in a way many had neither expected nor dreamed possible. Located within the crumbling remnants of a recently condemned yet historic Third Presbyterian Church on 9th Street, Chester Eastside refused to let their call die with their building. Rev. Warren, Pastoral Director of Chester Eastside since 1995, grinned with confidence as she reminisced, “[Our goal was] not just to survive but live into the future.”bernice1

As Rev. Warren and her team awaited a new place to call home, Chester Eastside Ministries transitioned their corporate status into a self-supporting 501(c)3 known as Chester Eastside, Inc. Around the same time, new life came by way of an unforeseen invitation from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The neighboring congregation, located only a few blocks down the road, extended an offer for Chester Eastside, Inc. to take up residence within their building. Rev. Warren and the leadership of Eastside responded with a resounding, “yes!”

Chester Eastside was not the only voice of affirmation that echoed throughout the streets of this Chester neighborhood. Members from the surrounding community heard of the relocation and responded by literally lifting and carrying Chester Eastside from old to newness of life a block CEM_foodpicaway. In a rolling processional of grace and solidarity, local residents moved furniture, equipment, files, industrial freezers, and computers down the street and into St. Paul’s during the spring, summer, and winter months of 2014. “We thought we had good local partners [before the move],” remarked Rev. Warren. “Our move exposed the need for more intentional local relationships of support and engagement.”

Chester Eastside’s renewed emphasis on long-term sustainability through intentional local partnership has fueled and funded their neighborhood ministries ever since. They presently collaborate with Chester Upland School District, ecumenical congregations, synagogues, Widener University students, Boys and Girls Clubs, government leaders, and the Presbytery of Philadelphia. Chester Eastside also partners with local food consortiums and operates as one of the largest food distribution centers in Delaware County, providing monthly groceries and fresh produce to over 600 children and adults and over 112,000 meals annually.CEMbullboard

In 2014, Chester Eastside was also the recipient of a grant from the Presbytery of Philadelphia’s Covenant Fund. These dollars have benefited Chester Eastside’s Whole Child Program, an initiative that recruits, equips, and trains mentors from local congregations to walk alongside and tutor elementary-aged children in their After School programs. Many who participated in these childhood programs have gone on to graduate from high school and college, serve as current board members, and launch new initiatives through Chester Eastside.

About eight years ago, a current PhD candidate who was nurtured as a child by these very After School programs, partnered with Chester Eastside and local leaders to launch a Peace, Leadership, and Cultural Arts Camp. As a part of this now thriving local restorative justice initiative, youth from ages 12-18 gather for five days to engage in the creative arts. Young people develop spoken word pieces, participate in vibrant musical compositions, and explore dance as a means to counter raw feelings of frustration, sadness, and anger. The camp also incorporates annual trips to Broadway and has previously hosted speakers from South Africa who reflected on the power of reconciliation in the wake of apartheid. The Peace, Leadership, and Cultural Arts Camp continues to be an effective means to empower and equip local youth for community transformation. The ministry is now fully funded and coordinated by one of Chester Eastside’s partners. Initiatives like the Whole Child Program and the Peace, Leadership, and Cultural arts camp continue to empower young people as they resurrect personal and communal narratives out of despair and towards hope.

“The only thing people know about Chester is the bad news reported on the news,” remarked the Chair of the Board of Directors, William Henderson. “But there are a lot of positive things happening here, too.”

The witness and work of Chester Eastside’s staff, leaders, and community partners is one such good news story worthy of report. They have indeed been a vital part of the Spirit’s resurrection of both their ministry and an entire neighborhood. As Rev. Warren affirmed, “Chester Eastside is a spirit not a place…I know what happens here is nothing but the work of God.”

Click here for a bulletin insert of Chester Eastside’s Summer Enrichment Camp: CEM_Insert_2015A

Article link:

By timmreardon

Saluting Chester Eastside’s volunteers in style – News from Chester Eastside

News from Chester Eastside, Inc.

Saluting Chester Eastside’s volunteers in style.


Those attending Chester Eastside’s Annual Christmas Program in December were treated to a dazzling
display of artistic talent. The year-end program and luncheon are Chester Eastside’s way of saying thank
you to the many volunteers who make its services to the community possible.

Along with inspiring renditions of traditional Christmas music was something called speed
painting, pictured above. Anyone who has not witnessed it first-hand can be left wondering if it’s even
possible. But there it was before the eyes of those attending the annual Christmastime event.

In front of the gathering in the sanctuary at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church stood a broad, brown
empty canvas on an easel. Then, as soul music with a special beat welled up, Desire Grover and her
young protege, Angel Pabon, began rhythmically daubing bright colors on the canvas in a seemingly
random fashion. But it soon became evident there was nothing random about it. Mary, Joseph, and the
infant Jesus were taking shape before their very eyes.

“It takes a lot of planning in advance,” said Desire, who’s been a mainstay for arts education at
Chester Eastside, Inc., over the years. “We’ve done everything from The Last Supper to a scene from
Harry Potter,”

For more examples of Desire and Angel’s artistry, see

Discovering and nurturing the talents of young people from Chester like Angel is in so many
ways what Chester Eastside is all about. Several years ago, one of the young men in a theater arts
program at the agency was picked to play the lead in a production of The Little Prince at People’s Light
and Theater of Philadelphia. Several of those who started out in the After School Program at Chester
Eastside have gone on to college and in one case earned a doctorate.

By timmreardon