Summer boot camp/carnival aims to recruit new block captains for NW Philly

4th District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. is having a party this summer, and everyone’s invited.

As part of an initiative to spur community engagement and facilitate communication with neighborhood representatives, the Councilman’s office announced last week that a Block Captain Boot Camp and Carnival would be held on July 7 at the Belmont Picnic Grove in Fairmount Park.

Joshua Cohen, special assistant to Councilman Jones, made the rounds of civic groups in Northwest Philadelphia in recent weeks to spread the word about the picnic, which will feature food, music, and games, in addition to the boot camp’s traditional workshops and presentations.

According to Cohen, this will be the 5th annual Block Captain Boot Camp, held annually since Councilman Jones’ first term in 2008.

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Traditionally held at local college campuses, the Councilman’s office is trying to shake things up this year with a new venue and, hopefully, with some new faces.

“We found that the same people were attending year after year,” said Cohen, adding that the workshop presentations tend to be similar. “We’re going to try to make it more fun this year.”

‘Block contact’ program 

Cohen also began recruitment of “block contacts,” a new proposal by the councilman’s office that will attempt to establish a contact person for every block in the 4th Councilmanic District, which includes East Falls, Roxborough, Manayunk and sections of West Philadelphia.

Under the block contact program, the Councilman’s office would distribute information from city agencies – including the Streets Dept., 311, and License and Inspections – pertinent to local residents.

Cohen stressed that no contact information would be used for political purposes. And, unlike the city’s formal “block captain” program, there will be no formal swearing-in process.

“It will be useful information you can use for yourself, your families, and your neighbors,” said Cohen of the block contact program. “We think it’s a great way to get this information out to neighbors.”

Increasing the NW Philadelphia presence 

At present, Cohen observed, residents of Northwest Philadelphia are underrepresented in terms of block captains, especially when compared to their 4th District counterparts in Wynnefield and Overbrook.

“We’re making a concerted effort to recruit more block contacts and captains on this side of the district,” said Cohen. “A lot of people don’t put down roots, and we want to change that.”

Darlene Messina, head of Manayunk Neighborhood Council’s Quality of Life committee and a current block captain herself, looked favorably upon the initiative at a recent MNC meeting.

“It would be great if there were one or two people from each street willing to talk to their new neighbors and share information,” she said.

Cohen emphasized the positive impact this program could have for the Northwest community.

“It’s a win-win,” he said. “We get the information out to you, and you get the information to help empower yourself and help empower your neighbors.”

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