“It’s bananas out here, that’s our official weather report,” said Habitat for Humanity organizer Zach Wilcha at the 4900-block of Stiles Street in West Philadelphia on Thursday where about 30 volunteers from congregations and organizations were restoring homes this week.
Volunteer Nydira Russell said she’d rather be in a pool, but that she’s taking the heat “one stroke at a time” as she white-washed a porch on Stiles Street, and Kenneth Davenport, a volunteer from the Cathedral Park Civic Association, took a break to dunk his head beneath a hose.
Wilcha said he was genuinely surprised by the strong turnout of volunteers this week. About seven teams worked to restore 23 homes on the block, repairing facades, painting chipped porches and clearing lots for future construction projects.
“No one has come here to relax,” said Wilcha, who began his job at Habitat just last year, and credits longtime residents like Genita Millhouse for the ongoing beautification of Stiles Street.
Millhouse moved to her house on the block in 1959, and she remembers when more than a third of the properties on the block were abandoned, many collapsing into the street. Millhouse co-founded the West Philadelphia chapter of Habitat for Humanity in the ’70s because she wanted to see the revitalization of a community home. Her partner and co-founder was activist Catherine Minnis, who passed away last year at the age of 95.
“She was always out on the street,” remember Minnis’ daughters Elizabeth and Vera, who now live in their mother’s house on Stiles Street. Minnis was known as the “matriarch of the neighborhood” and the daughters remember having to share their mother, who always invited everyone into their home, with the rest of the community. In their living room hangs a commemorative hammer given to their mother from Habitat in 2003 for her work on Stiles Street and in West Philadelphia.
Millhouse says the thought of leaving the 4900-block on Stiles Street has never crossed her mind and thinks Minnis felt the same.