After months of searching for a new Community Manager, the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA) finally found the perfect match. At the community group’s July meeting, Celeste Hardester was unanimously approved to serve as Community Manager.
Hardester, who has been living in Roxborough for the last 24 years, saw an ad in the paper for the position. She was immediately drawn to it.
“(This position) taps into everything that I’ve been doing over the years,” Hardester said on Monday from the comfort of her new office in Town Hall on Germantown Avenue.
For 20 years, Hardester worked at the Hal Lewis Group, a Center City advertising and marketing firm specializing in the pharmaceutical industry. During her tenure with the company, Hardester worked her way up the company ladder, often by stepping across to adjacent rungs.
As she describes the many facets of her career with the Hal Lewis Group and the challenges she met head-on, Hardester smiles with a conqueror’s satisfaction.
“It allowed me to be exposed to a lot of different needs,” Hardester said.
Exposed to the creative process at Hal Lewis and inspired by the creative individuals there with whom she worked, Hardester decided to set her own challenge next, ditching the corporate life to try her hand as a freelance photographer.
With no photographic background she needed to first learn the basics, so she enrolled in a photography class at Temple’s Tyler School of Art.
After completing the course, Hardester spent nearly a year living abroad in Ireland. Camera in hand, she explored the Emerald Isle in every way she could. She photographed artists, musicians, architecture, and animals. This exploration was more than a mere photographic experience; it was also a “wonderful way to get to know a community.”
When she returned to Philadelphia, Hardester continued photographing the world around her and was able to establish a business as a freelance photographer. She showed her work in galleries and participated in art festivals.
Her eye now trained as an artist, Hardester began to see her community in a different light and sought to participate in the preservation and maintenance of Manayunk and Roxborough’s unique and historic properties and architectural heritage.
She joined the Central Roxborough Civic Association (CRCA) and immediately sprang to action to protect a beautiful, undeveloped plot of land in her neighborhood.
“I learned the hard way that there’s a lot more to it than just sitting in a meeting,” Hardester said.
Hardester started a sub-committee and successfully gained the support of Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. The issue has yet to be resolved, but Hardester said she feels confident there will be a positive outcome. She said that she learned from the experience and her neighbors who bravely took a small issue and made a difference in their community.
“I had the good fortune to watch people in Roxborough and Manayunk who know what they’re doing,” Hardester remarked.
When she began the interviewing process with CHCA board members, close friends who lived in Chestnut Hill warned her that the community was full of people with a lot of opinions. Hardester shrugged it off.
“I thought ‘good, they can really use me!'”
After a week on the job, Hardester is excited by what she sees, but admits she is in the learning process and is just getting her bearings. She knows it won’t be easy, but then Hardester does love a good challenge.
“I’m about problem solving and finding what positive solutions can be found.”
CHCA President Jane Piotrowski is confident that Hardester can meet the demands of the position. The pair worked together at Hal Lewis and Piotrowski said that she looks forward to working with Hardester again. By phone on Tuesday, Piotrowski said that the board was seeking a candidate who “had the ability to foster an organized culture.”
Hardester stood out from the other candidates because she “came in and really commanded the room in a positive way and that’s really what we were looking for.”
“She’s a very positive, moving forward thinker and I look forward to growing with her again,” Piotrowski said.