By Shannon Mannon,
“If you came to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound with mine, let us work together.” – Lilla Watson, Activist & Artist
Phoenixville’s sense of community is palpable. The heartbeat woven into its social fabric is a shared culture of volunteerism and service. It may be because it’s a geographically tight-knit community, with one of the few remaining walkable downtowns in Chester County. It may be because its forefathers welcomed and supported a multi-race, interfaith workforce at the Phoenix Iron & Steel Company. It may because its foremothers ensured there was a stop on the underground railroad at Phoenixville’s primary crossroads, what was then called the “Corner Stores” neighborhood, to help slaves escape to freedom.
Whatever the cause, the result is a deep caring that permeates most facets of the community. Whether it’s a debilitating illness, a tragic house fire, or a new women’s shelter – this community shows up to support each other.
After years of struggle, Phoenixville has most certainly risen from the ashes of its namesake, the mythical firebird. Its revitalization is assured. New residents snap up properties in droves. So what better way to welcome these newcomers than to facilitate their ease in getting engaged in their new hometown? What better way to ensure this rare and beautiful culture continues than to build platforms that facilitate connection and service?
In that spirit, Activate Phoenixville Area, a community coalition forged to inspire wellness and wholeness, partnered with the Phoenixville Jaycees on May 17 to bring the first ever Community Service Expo to the beloved Dogwood Festival in Reeves Park.
Dreary weather couldn’t keep away more than 30 non-profit organizations representing the arts, youth, housing & homelessness, trails & parks, LGBTQ issues, seniors, healthcare access, green living and more. Gathered under tents, these leaders were an inspiration to behold. Community members coming through the Expo were drawn in by the organizations’ passion for their missions and were delighted to discover a rich array of volunteer opportunities. As Terri Potrako, of Volunteer English Program of Chester County said, “[Any volunteer] who comes out tonight comes from hardy stock. We know they’ll be very reliable!”
An unexpected benefit from this intimate setting was an unmistakable collaborative and supportive energy that arose between the agencies. It radiated an indescribable warmth. The Expo solidified and celebrated the essential power of the Phoenixville community: We are stronger when we serve each other because through service, we realize there is more that connects us than separates us.
In this age of polarization, community service gets elevated to an essential act of democracy.
If you missed the Expo, there will be more opportunities to get involved. To stay updated on volunteer opportunities, follow “Activate Phoenixville Area” on social media, or sign up for their monthly e-newsletter which has current volunteer options. Finally, check out the Phoenixville Area Community Service Directory, which provides an overview of volunteer options at: www.ActivatePhoenixvilleArea.org.
Building teams and leading coalitions in the U.S. & aboard at organizations like Operation Smile and Habitat for Humanity allowed Shannon Mannon to discover her love for empowering communities. Since coming to Activate Phoenixville Area seven years ago, she pinches herself each day she gets to move organizations and individuals towards wholeness and wellness. Her passion for listening to people’s stories has recently been directed towards a project that she co-founded with her husband: 3 Minute Storyteller. That project features artists and movement-makers who inspire. You can follow her writing and interviews right here.