Profile of a Community Builder: Kathy Brown

Profile of a Community Builder: Kathy Brown

A self-described “board junkie,” Kathy Brown works with no less than 11 organizations in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, including the Germantown Community Collaborative Board, which governs one of the neighborhood’s CCI projects. “I’m a ‘connect the dots’ person,” she explains. “When I have different projects, I use my resources from each board to accomplish what I need.” Working with GCCB has allowed her to reach out to many local organizations and encourage them to work together, she says.

Her involvement in the community began as it does for many – through involvement in her child’s school. That led into working with her block club, and eventually into more and more invitations from community groups to join in their efforts. She even changed careers, leaving a job at a bank to work as a community organizer for the Mayor’s Office of Community Service.

“The meeting part does get overwhelming,” Brown admits. She attends at least one meeting each night every week, and often brings her children along. “I won’t miss a meeting. If you commit to something, then you have to follow it through, otherwise trust breaks down. If you say that you’re going to represent people, then that’s what you do. They’re dependent on you.”

But just attending meetings and passing along news to her neighbors isn’t enough to satisfy her. “It’s easy to call yourself a leader by just coming to a meeting and then telling people, but by putting it in action then you’re doing something.” She wants to see more people involved, but doesn’t expect to turn all her neighbors into the kind of activist she is. “A lot of it has to be within yourself. I can teach a person skills, but I can’t teach the passion.”

Brown points to a newly built playground in the neighborhood as her proudest accomplishment through GCCB. “We got 30 volunteers and turned a vacant lot into a totlot,” she says. Local businesses contributed food, residents volunteered their time, and the effort even received attention on the front page of the local newspaper. “There are abandoned houses up and down the block, but right in the middle kids can play in a safe environment.”

“As a parent I have to do something to say that I’ve done my part,” she says. “I’ve lived in this neighborhood my whole life. I went to the same schools that my kids go to. The neighborhood has changed a lot in that time, but I believe it can be what it was.”

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Shelterforce is the only independent, non-academic publication covering the worlds of community development, affordable housing, and neighborhood stabilization.


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