A familiar face with a long history at Mt. Airy USA has been named its new executive director, and he plans to remain consistent with what his predecessor had started.
Brad Copeland, who was promoted last month, has been with the organization for seven years, previously serving as its director of real estate development. He had recently shared the interim executive director position with colleague Abby Thaker after Anuj Gupta departed in June.
Thaker was promoted to the new role of managing director, a position specially created for her.
Copeland praised Gupta’s leadership, noting that he had left the community-development organization in a good position from which to move forward. “I have a good understanding of who we have been and who we are,” Copeland said.
He’s committed to continuing MAUSA’s core programs in housing counseling, corridor management, real estate development and educational partnerships, he said.
Copeland’s promotion comes as welcome news to Jimmie Reed, owner of Little Jimmie’s Bakery Cafe. He was worried, Reed said, that the position might be filled by a newcomer with little knowledge of the community. Copeland understands his business needs and those of others in the neighborhood, Reed said.
A history with MAUSA
In the years he has been with MAUSA, Copeland has worked to eliminate blight through a mix of large and small redevelopment projects that have helped to transform Germantown Avenue. One of the projects was a collaboration with the Wissahickon Charter School to locate its $18 million Awbury campus at Washington Lane and Chew Avenue.
A Coatesville native and father of four who now resides in Lansdowne, Copeland said that his career path to executive director has been non-linear. An English major who went on to seminary school, he was pursuing his doctorate in religious studies and supporting his family with retail jobs when his friend Manuel Delgado, executive director of the Cramer Hill CDC in Camden, thought community development might be a good fit for him.
Copeland’s thesis centered on how religious communities impacted urban space, and whether it led to demise or revitalization.
He took a part-time position as a project manager at the People’s Emergency Center in West Philadelphia and loved the experience. He went on to join MAUSA as a real estate associate.
“I wouldn’t have predicted that this is what I’d be doing, but I’m very glad I’m doing it,” Copeland said.
Moving forward with current projects
Copeland is taking the helm in the midst of several ongoing projects:
Philadelphia Immigrant Innovation Hub. The aim of the project is to assist immigrant entrepreneurs by offering them the business tools needed to succeed. The plan is to have the hub’s headquarters at 6700 Germantown Ave. up and running in November, he said. Next month, MAUSA will begin marketing the project to immigrant communities and taking applications for assistance.
Mt. Airy 2025. The 10-year neighborhood plan is at its midpoint. Thaker will continue to lead the project, which is in the process of conducting door-to-door surveys to get community participation on a vision for growing the area. An open house is scheduled for November.
Lovett Park renovations. Though all funding has been secured, the project to renovate the park is on hold until the Lovett Library expansion begins in spring 2016. MAUSA will be coordinating its construction schedule with that of the Free Library of Philadelphia on the library improvements. Upgrades to the green space will be completed last.
Connecting & Building Philadelphia’s Safest Corridors project. MAUSA is still identifying sources of funding for the project to implement wayfinding signage and bus shelters.
Mt. Airy 2025 will provide MAUSA with specific, focused direction and community input to help shape its future and partnerships, Copeland said. The last plan, completed in 2004, identified a need for investment and development on the 6500 to 6700 blocks of Germantown Avenue, he said.
Right now, the organization is focusing on its third annual Street Fare food truck event on Thursday, Sept. 17. Funding cuts had threatened to close the fair, and MAUSA conducted an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise $6,000. It was not successful, however.
Opportunity to do more and better
MAUSA will be undergoing programmatic planning for each arm of the organization, evaluating services offered and how well they are being provided. The process will ensure that the organization is serving the community in the way that it desires, he said.
The goal is to continue MAUSA’s collaborations to eliminate vacancies, boost foot traffic on the business corridor and foster a community where people with diverse backgrounds can mix.
Copeland says he’s not concerned with leaving his own mark on the neighborhood and the organization. “I think of myself more as a steward, hopefully a cultivator,” he said.