Marilyn Cohen takes over as executive director of West Mt. Airy Neighbors

Marilyn Cohen is no stranger to civic engagement.

For nearly 20 years, the Philadelphia-native lived and worked in post-apartheid South Africa. Cohen was part of that country’s reconstruction efforts, working with President Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress on its revitalization plan. Most recently, she did fundraising for The Peace Train, a program focused on improving interracial relations and community empowerment.

Now, Cohen has returned to her hometown and will take on a new community-centric role as the new executive director of West Mt. Airy Neighbors (WMAN). Cohen will replace interim Executive Director Yvonne Haskins, who took over for former Executive Director Lizabeth Macoretta after she resigned in April.

This week will be Cohen’s first on the job. It’s the kind of opportunity she’s been waiting for.

“I always dreamed of being able to share what I learned [in South Africa] elsewhere in the world,” she said.

Those lessons include the importance of realizing the power of a strong community, embracing diversity and differences and letting unity and joy rule out over fear and divisiveness.

For Cohen, West Mt. Airy’s cross-cultural, community-driven roots make it the perfect place for those ideas to blossom.

“It’s a community that’s committed to helping people solve problems as good neighbors,” said Cohen, who moved to the Northwest neighborhood this year.

Cohen wants to continue that tradition, but she’d also like to get more people involved in the neighborhood to “maintain the fabric of a good neighborly community.”

To that end, Cohen wants to develop more “community-building” activities. She said WMAN will organize a trip to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

She also wants to tackle neighborhood-based issues, including public schools and crime. It’s all part of her interest in learning about her new neighbors and what they want for their community.

“The organization is 50 years old, so what do we need to do for the next 50 years?” said Cohen.

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