Bag painting: A simple way to connect city and suburban children


Swarthmore and Chester: three and a half miles distant, but it can be like a hundred miles to children growing up in those two communities. How to bridge that gap between city and suburban worlds?

The Swarthmore Presbyterian Church and Chester Eastside, Inc., came up with a simple but ingenious way: bringing children from the respective communities together to decorate bags that would be used to supply families with the essentials at the Chester Eastside Food

Center.  “Those bags will be distributed during the week before Easter week,”

said CEI’s Executive Director, Rev. Zuline Wilkinson. “Colorful bags represent the hopefulness that comes with spring.

Not sermons on race and class. Not self-conscious discussions about difference. Just bring those children together to work on a joint project. Bring them together, furthermore, at the site where food is distributed twice a week. For the children at Swarthmore Presbyterian, maybe

for the first time ever, there’s something about being there that makes issues like hunger a little less abstract.
As for the Chester children, meeting up with a group of peers from what is in many ways another world is in itself an important learning experience. And what better tool than taking paints and markers and creating something new?

To learn about other new initiatives at CEI and how you can become a ‘change agent’ in support of them, check out

By timmreardon

Defying the Odds: Chester Eastside’s new Technology Training Program

Technology TrainingThese days, expertise in digital technology is becoming a necessity for anyone wanting to rise to the top in just about any field. And now Chester Eastside, Inc., is launching a program to help Chester youth do exactly that. Through CEI’s new Technology Training Program, two students at Chester High School’s STEM Academy, Kashawn Butler and Raquan Fisher, will be learning everything from programming and system administration to 3-D printing. 
“The media are full of news about the odds stacked against Chester youth,” said CEI Executive Rev. Zuline Wilkinson. “Here is some good news about how they’re defying the odds.”
Helping Kashawn and Raquan master the digital technology will be a crew of experienced mentors, all of whom are donating their time to the endeavor.  “We know computers but we’re not professional educators,” says Alan Levi, who runs his own Swarthmore-based consulting firm, “so it will be a learning experience for us as well.” 
Not the only ones who will benefit from the experience. The young interns will eventually be passing their knowledge on to other youth in the CEI After School Program and in high school. 
CEI Board President John Mackey likened the project to a Sequoia tree, which starts out as a tiny seed and emerges as a 375-foot-tall giant. “The top of the tree may sway in the wind, but the roots hold it firmly to the ground. We are all those roots,” he added, gesturing to the group that had gathered for the launching at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, home of CEI. They in turn assured him and themselves that “Yes we will.” 
Chester Eastside is partnering with the STEM Academy in putting on the Technical Training Program. More than a dozen individuals and organizations have lent their support to the endeavor. 
For more information about how to support the Technology Training Program and other programs and services offered through Chester Eastside, contact: Tonya D. Warren at 610-872-4812 or via email at

By timmreardon

A special celebration of all those wonderful folks who make Chester Eastside, Inc., possible – News from Chester Eastside, Inc.

Volunteers, staff, Board members. They are what make Chester Eastside, Inc., a living reality – not to mention the many loyal churches, organizations, foundations, and individuals with their financial support. And on December 10 we had a big “thank you” event, complete with food and carols and just plain fun. It is our special way of bringing the CEI family together each year. As for the thank you part, more than one person has said they get more out of the giving than whatever it is they give us.


Prime example: The Busy Bodies It was just by chance that former CEI Executive Director Rev. Bernice Warren and  a group of retired craftsmen from nearby Ridley Park who call themselves the Busy Bodies learned about each other back in 2005.  They were all volunteering along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Though not many miles away, Chester was still sort of foreign territory to the men. But by the time they came back north, a new resource for CEI and a new volunteering opportunity for the Busy Bodies were underway; it’s a bond that continues to this day.


You can still be part of the celebration by making your tax-exempt gift to Chester Eastside, Inc. You can give on line at or send a donation via major credit card or Pay Pal or by designating a contribution to Chester Eastside in your United Way donation (#8253). And if you have already made a gift, many many thanks!


By timmreardon

In their own words: Thank you, Chester Eastside, Inc.

“I needed an extra bag of food last week. I was really nervous about asking. You all were more than kind and also invited me to more events you are sponsoring. The man who handles the food is always singing God’s praise. You feed us lunch and do things for our family with such loving kindness. I pray God’s blessings on each of you. Thank you!”
                                                                                                               – A Chester motherfood1

“We live amid the constant threat of guns and violence in our neighbor-hood. “This summer for the first time, the children not only felt safe but had the chance to talk about their fear.” 
                              -Mother of three first-time participants in the Chester Eastside, Inc.
Summer Enrichment Camp.

In this holiday season, as you think about gift giving, you are encouraged to think about a special gift to  Chester Eastside, Inc. It’s one of those gifts that never stops giving, in lives sustained and a better start in life for the next generation and for generations after that. 
Chester Eastside, Inc., P.O. Box 36, Chester, PA 19016, is a 501.c.3 tax-exempt community organization. You can give on line at via major credit/debit card, Pay Pal, or by designating a contribution to Chester Eastside in your United Way donation (#8253). 

And if you have already made a gift, many, many thanks!

By timmreardon

Chester Eastside, Inc.: Changing lives

“[Chester Eastside, Inc.] exposed me to relationships and opportunities that helped me see beyond my local context…. In middle school, I held my first job helping in the library at [CEI]. Secondly, they allowed me to help others with reading. These opportunities built confidence in me and planted the seeds for my passion to teach and for the arts. Lastly, [CEI] has continued to serve as a resource throughout my vocational journey. I am really proud of and believe in the mission of [CEI], and feel like there is much to learn through their efforts.” 
-Dr. Sarah Farmer, faculty member, Yale Divinity School.

farmer1In this holiday season, as you think about gift giving, you are encouraged to think about a special gift to  Chester Eastside, Inc. It’s one of those gifts that never stops giving, in lives sustained and a better start in life for the next generation and for generations after that. 
Chester Eastside, Inc., P.O. Box 36, Chester, PA 19016, is a 501.c.3 tax-exempt agency. You can give on line at via major credit card, Pay Pal or by designating a contribution to Chester Eastside in your United Way donation (#8253). 
And if you have already made such a gift, many, many thanks!

By timmreardon

Chester Eastside is expanding its food program in the face of urgent need and new challenges – News from Chester Eastside, Inc.

nov-28-16       Numbers can be numbing: The equivalent of more than 120,000 meals provided by
Chester Eastside, Inc., in a year. Over a thousand people receiving food in the month of
October alone. But behind every one of those statistics is an individual or family
struggling just to get by: a person with a disability; a young mother raising a family on
her own; an elderly person beyond the work years. Or just somebody laid off from a low-
paying job and needing a temporary lift to get back up and keep going.
       Already one of the largest such operations in the area, Chester Eastside is looking
to expand its food program: being open more days each week, adding one or more
another sites. That means a greater effort from everybody with a stake in Chester
Eastside’s mission of meeting basic human needs, helping people of all ages be all that
they can be, and working for a more just society.
       Nearly half of the people being served by the Chester Eastside Food Center are children.
A new report by Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) shows the toll that
poverty is taking on children in Delaware County as a whole. Needless to say, Chester,

reputed to be one of the most poverty-beset cities in the nation, is a special case in point

in that regard. In the County overall, the share of children experiencing economic and
related hardships was higher in 2015 than in the depths of the recession of 2008. The rate
of poverty among children was 14.1% as compared with 5.6% for seniors. And child
poverty has immediate ramifications for everything from child wellness to success in
school to the chances of winding up in prison.

New Challenges

     The timing for the expansion couldn’t be better. Since the Great Depression of the 1930s, government at all levels has provided the social safety net that is the mark of any
civilized society. But there are signs that government may be less of a resource for social
welfare programs in the future, at least in the near term. As one person close to the
Washington scene put it recently, “We the people have the responsibility to take care of

the indigent in our society. It’s not the government’s job.”

       While ‘we the people‘ can be interpreted as neighbors looking out for their
neighbors, an admirable sentiment to be sure, in reality in a place like Chester, struggling
with major economic challenges, it boils down to the lion’s share being borne by agencies
like Chester Eastside working together to create their own social safety net. There are
many such agencies at work in Chester, doing a great job of looking after those in need.
Now they will be facing new challenges, very likely with less help from government


Hidden costs

      What people sometimes overlook are the hidden costs behind every one of Chester
Eastside’s programs: managing the basic agency functions, keeping the lights and heat
on, paying for custodial services, and maintaining and upgrading the premises. Think of it
as the ‘overhead’ for running any operation.

      In this holiday season, as you think about gift giving, you are encouraged to think about a special gift to Chester Eastside, Inc. It’s one of those gifts that never stops giving, in lives sustained and a better start in life for the next generation and for generations after that.

     Chester Eastside, Inc., P.O. Box 36, Chester, PA 19016, is a 501.c.3 tax-exempt organization. You can give on line at via major credit card or Pay Pal or designate a contribution to Chester Eastside in your United Way donation (#8253).


By timmreardon

New Executive at Chester Eastside ready to take the reins: Rev. Zuline Wilkinson comes with an impressive resume

Zuline1.pngRev. Zuline Wilkinson, Chester Eastside, Inc.’s new Executive Director, has worked in a number of cities – her native Philadelphia, the Boston area in Massachusetts, and Trenton, New Jersey, to be specific – during a remarkable career as a social worker and member of the clergy. So one might be moved to ask, Why Chester? Without hesitation she replies, “I feel called  by a passion and commitment to serve those in need in cities like Chester.  
“I am excited about joining Chester Eastside, Inc. and building upon the strong foundation that has been laid by Rev. Warren,” say the new Exec. “It has long been my desire to offer my gifts in a faith-based context and I look forward to working with the CEI Board, staff, community volunteers, government agencies, religious organizations and stakeholder groups.” 
There are needs that are common to any of these communities, she says. But she knows that Chester, like other urban centers, has its own distinctive characteristics. “It’s too easy to focus just on the problems and forget the strengths.” 
Rev. Wilkinson starts her new duties on October 31. For the first two weeks, she is busy getting acquainted with Chester Eastside and the community, working closely with Rev. Warren. 
Rev. Wilkinson has a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. As an undergraduate at Temple University, she majored in Spanish. Over the years, she has developed her leadership skills in senior positions at several social service agencies and medical facilities. 
And she comes with a wealth of knowledge about communities like Chester; as she says, their strengths as well as their challenges.

By timmreardon

Huge Thanksgiving bounty from the County to benefit Chester Eastside’s people – News from Chester Eastside, Inc.


It was a massive undertaking by anybody’s measure: Getting thousands of pounds of food stored away at Chester Eastside and distributing the remainder to other food cupboards in the Chester community. But when the Delaware County Council designated Chester Eastside as the main delivery point for its annual Thanksgiving Food Drive this year, they picked a center who’s staff and volunteers are known for taking on a big job and doing it with style. 
The annual drive’s goal of 25,000 pounds of nonperishables  was ambitious, to say the least. That will go a long way to helping the more than 600 men women, and children who receive food aid from Chester Eastside every month. 
Open two days a week, Chester Eastside’s Food Center is one of the busiest such programs in the County. But it’s not just bags of food that people receive. It’s also a hot meal, useful information on a range of services, and, most of all, a warm welcome that says, “You matter.” 

By timmreardon

Creating safe space for Chester’s children takes many forms – News from Chester Eastside, Inc.

Taking young people to the seashore may seem to have little to do with safe streets and

the problem of gun violence in Chester, but it is all part of the work of making parents
and children feel more secure in a sometimes threatening environment. Just one of the
many ways in which Chester Eastside, Inc., seeks to meet people’s needs wherever they

     Rev. Bernice Warren, CEI Executive Director, has worked closely with Heeding
God’s Call to End Gun Violence, an organization dedicated to reducing the threat of gun
violence. CEI Board member Will Richan was instrumental in involving a local group in
working on the theme of peace in the streets, looking toward a special program during the
Martin Luther King weekend in January, 2017. And the two of them are working with the
Chester Upland School District in fulfillment of the District’s anti-bullying policy. Some
years ago, CEI helped launch the Peace Leadership & Arts Camp, dedicated, among other
things, to helping teenagers find peaceful ways to settle their differences. And in 2015,
the CEI Board passed a resolution affirming the agency’s commitment to seek to reduce
the threat of gun violence.

Confronting reality.

     A feature article in the September 11 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer told Chester
something no city wants to hear: Between the years 2000 and 2014, the average number
of homicides, mostly from guns, in relation to population size in Chester was the highest
of any city in the United States. And the majority of such cases were never solved,
meaning perpetrators might still be free to walk the streets. Victims were as young as two years old. A 14-year-old was gunned down while running an errand for his mother. More typically, young men in their twenties and thirties were the victims.

     It’s not just the outright loss of lives, but also the impact on those who have been
shot and survived, to say nothing of parents worried about whether their children will
make it home from school or the play yard, and the trauma that impacts the very young
for years to come. To say nothing of the numbers people who feel impelled to keep
loaded weapons in their homes on the false assumption that they are thereby safer.

     But Chester, if nothing else, sees bad news as a challenge, similar to how the
American people viewed the events of 9/11/2001. And so Chester Eastside, Inc., and
others in the community are actively seeking ways to reduce the threat of violence.

Heeding God’s Call.

     Rev. Bernice Warren and others in this faith-based grassroots movement work to end gun violence on many fronts: holding vigils outside gun shops; asking how a person who is
not authorized to have a handgun gets one anyway through a so-called “straw purchase;”
demonstrating that one can walk into a gun shop and buy any number of weapons;
pushing for legislation to limit the trade in weapons. And then there is the work with
young people to convince them that owning a gun does not make you powerful but is
actually a sign of weakness. And those trips to the seashore and other activities to give
kids a break from the stressful conditions they live under.

     “We are talking about changing a whole culture that these children grow up with,”
says Rev. Warren.

Peace in the Streets.

     When CEI Board member Will Richan invited agency professionals gathered at the
monthly meeting of Communities That Care (CTC), an offshoot of the Chester Education
Foundation, to join him in working to include peace in the streets as a theme during the
Martin Luther King celebration in January, he got an immediate response from a number
of people, including sponsors of the meeting. Out of this has come a plan to devote a
major part of one of the monthly CTC meetings to the subject.

     A panel of people from advocacy organizations and law enforcement, along with
those who have lost loved ones, will look at what can be done to stem the violence, then
invite the audience to join in the search for answers. “We still want to do something on
the Martin Luther King weekend,” says Richan, “which, after all, is about a young black
man who was the innocent victim of gun violence. But the work needs to begin long
before that and continue afterward.”

     Richan noted that politicians have traditionally shied away from the issue of gun
control, often intimidated by the National Rifle Association, but this year both U.S.
Senate candidates from Pennsylvania are vying to show that they are the real ally of gun
control. “We may have reached a tipping point on the issue, with those preaching sanity
regarding guns being more willing to speak up. And what better place than Chester?” he

Bullying: a different kind of violence.

     It started with a series of physical bullying incidents on a school bus, one in which the
driver and an aide did nothing, not even report them to higher ups. Eventually it came to
the attention of top administrators of the Chester Upland School District. To its credit,
the District has been working to turn things around on the bullying issue.

     Bullying, which can range from nasty messages on Facebook to serious physical
abuse like that on the school bus, is sometimes written off as just kids being kids. But it
can have devastating effects on children that can stay with them through life, even to the
point of suicidal thoughts in the victims. And, yes, in a few cases resulting in actual

     From the start, representatives of Chester Eastside, Inc., have been following up
with school officials to make sure those fine words in the District’s anti-bullying policy
are translated into action at the classroom level and beyond. Rev. Bernice Warren and
CEI Board member Will Richan, working in league with psychologist Dr. Janice
Hoffman Willis, met recently with the Lead Nurse at Chester High School, who is
overseeing the anti-bullying training program for teachers.

     One more way that Chester Eastside, Inc., is helping to create a safe space for
Chester’s children.

By timmreardon

‘Make a Change’ was more than just a slogan at CEI’s Summer Enrichment Camp – News from Chester Eastside, Inc.

CE Camp 2016

It was a jubilant wind-up session of Chester Eastside, Inc.’s Summer Enrichment Camp at the end of July: young campers and their counselors celebrating the experience and each other through song, dance, and art.

But there was a serious side to the closing event and to the camp season that preceded it. “Make a Change” was the theme, and the change they were talking about had to do with everything from avoiding gun violence in the streets to getting a quality education.

What struck the observer most forcefully was the love-in between campers and the folks who had been doing the enriching on a daily basis for the previous six weeks. The campers waited patiently for a good half hour before the program got underway. No fidgeting. Nobody yelling at anybody. Quite a departure from people’s stereotype of Chester, or what goes on in some classrooms where a lone teacher is trying to manage 25 or more restive children and hoping to teach a little something as well.

The program started with a salute to the people who had helped to make it happen. Counselors introduced themselves – young people, many of them products of the same enrichment camp experience and the CEI After School Program. Then came a series performances by the campers, ranging from six-year-old Leanna Dyitt’s solo, Take me to the King, to middle schoolers expressing their hopes and fears in dance, and the display of massive camper-created portraits of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistan woman who braved Taliban death threats and bullets in her fight for education of women.

The finale was a rousing rendition, by everybody, from Rev. Bernice Warren and Summer Enrichment Camp Directors Kathryn Redd and Vida Johnson on down to the youngest camper, as well as parents in attendance, of Man in the Mirror:

I’m gonna make a change, for once in my life
It’s gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right...

Performance was at the center of the final session, but has  been only one part of the enrichment experience. Everything from helping kids get over the hurdles in reading and math to broadening their world through swimming lessons and visits to museums.  

The staff and volunteers have served as marvelous role models, people the campers haven’t watched from a distance but have become their close companions over the course of the camp experience.  

But the learning has not all been one way. As counselor  Janni Moody, who is headed for a law degree at Widener University, put it, “Working with the kids convinced me that a had to become an advocate.” 

Make a change? The campers have already been doing it, maybe without even realizing it. 

By timmreardon