Mt. Airy USA to throw 10th annual fundraising gala at historic Sedgwick Theater

Mt. Airy USA’s annual fundraising event, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, celebrates its 10th anniversary this Saturday, March 15. Along with excitement over this year’s new venue and special guests, there is a decade of accomplishment and struggle to reflect on as MAUSA asks for donors to help continue its mission.

For six of the last ten years, the community development corporation has faced financial challenges unlike any seen in its 33-year history.

“There’s been no challenge bigger than the funding environment,” said MAUSA’s Executive Director, Anuj Gupta.

Event details

For the first time, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? will take place inside Germantown Avenue’s Sedgwick Theater rather than at the Commodore Barry Club. St. Patrick’s Day scheduling conflicts led to the change in venue. Though the space is more constrained, Gupta says its an opportunity to take advantage of the theater’s architecture.

Another change is that the special guests will be very different than those seen in the past, drawing more from “the creative class”, Gupta said.

There will be live rocked out jazz music from Philadelphia’s own School of Rock. Guests will include National Public Radio founder, Bill Siemering; Hidden City Philadelphia founder, Thaddeus Squire; Woodmere Art Museum CEO, Dr. William Valerio; President of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Siobhan Reardon; WHYY’s You Bet Your Garden host, Mike McGrath and others.

Projects in progress

One of MAUSA’s most ambitious development projects in the last 10 years was the ill-fated Mt. Airy Transit Village. The plan was to transform a vacant six acre lot, adjacent Awbury Arboretum and the Washington Lane station on SEPTA’s Chestnut Hill East line into a combined mixed-use development, featuring 200 residential units and 20,000 square feet for retail and other commercial tenants.

However, the recession nearly doomed the organization’s efforts.

The organization had sought to secure viable retail tenants for the site, with only McDonald’s showing interest, MAUSA didn’t feel the fast food chain was a right fit for the community, Gupta said. Then in 2011, the “stars just happened to align” when the Wissahickon Charter School began seeking a place to build their new campus, he said.

The new K-8 charter school will serve nearly 500 students and is anticipated to open in autumn 2014.

Together with community civics, East Mt. Airy Neighbors and West Mt. Airy Neighbors, MAUSA also recently established an Educational Improvement Tax Credit fund to raise money for six neighborhood public schools.

“If we succeed, we will be building a new model for what a CDC can do to work with public schools,” Gupta remarked.

MAUSA’s has also worked to improve the Germantown Avenue streetscape and revitalize the neighborhood’s commercial corridor.

While traditional sources of funding have drastically declined, the corridor improvements have helped MAUSA to put on Street Fare and its summer outdoor movie series.

MAUSA is looking to net $70,000 with the event to invest in keeping its programs going. The fundraiser is one of the few sources of revenue for the organization’s general operations and its most important event of the year, Gupta said. “It’s the life blood,” he added. 

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? will take place Saturday, March 15 at 7 p.m. The event will be held inside the Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Avenue. Tickets can be purchased through gomtairy.com.

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