The Community Nest is one of the ways the CDC is expanding into Germantown

On the Cliveden of the National Trust grounds in Mt. Airy, you’ll see a new structure. It juts out to the sky, with wooden panels reaching upwards to create The Community Reading Nest. It includes a little free library, multiple spots to sit and read, story starters, and an audio listening station to hear more stories told in seven different styles. 

It’s one example of a learning installation, part of an engaged and community-led initiative called the Literacy Rich Neighborhood Initiative, a program by Mt. Airy CDC and supported by a grant from the William Penn Foundation. It is just a small part of the literacy activities and programming that will happen in the Germantown and Mt. Airy neighborhoods.

Roberta Frempong, the literacy and schools coordinator for Mt. Airy CDC, says The Nest is a great place for neighbors to tell, share, and maintain stories. It’s one way Frempong, her community partners, and the Mt. Airy CDC team are building literacy in the Northwest.

They also run a school coalition, coordinating with seven local public schools and their principals to figure out what resources they may need and pair them with local businesses and other organizations to help find those resources. 

The CDC also facilitates the Northwest Reading Captains program, sponsored by the Free Library of Philadelphia. It’s partnered with Read by 4th, and over 100 reading captain volunteers are in the area. Frempong meets with them monthly over Zoom, where they discuss events and programming to increase literacy and meet students and families where they’re at. Frempong says some of the captains even set up tables on their blocks and around them with books and literacy. 

“This is our goal, Mt. Airy CDC’s goal within our literacy and community department, is to ensure we are embedding literacy and literacy resources in our community in everyday spaces and everyday places,” said Frempong.

Frempong said they support innovative ways to keep literacy-rich programming in all kinds of spaces. They’re even partnering with reading captains to read stories in Germantown libraries and nearby laundromats.

Community-led partnering and collaboration are key to the organizing work that Frempong is doing. 

“There’s already working programs and already working systems in the community,” said Frempong. “So connecting and adding to the already working programs and systems and adding to what they can offer is the way that Mt. Airy CDC leads in our community work. We see what you’re doing, and this is what I can add. I have funds, and I can buy you some books. I can pay for someone to come and do a program for a certain amount of weeks.” 

This is how they connected the Johnson House and Pomona Cherokee Civic Council (PCCC) in Germantown to create a free summer reading camp at Holman Field, a community garden and park maintained by PCCC. The civic organization was already busy trying to keep Holman Field protected, active, and engaged for neighborhood youth and the Johnson House was looking for an opportunity to partner with community organizations. 

Together, with neighbors leading the camp that included handing out free lunches from the city, they ran a 10:00 a.m., to 3:00 p.m. day throughout the week.

Ian Baker, a local parent and current president of PCCC, loves how they have grown and expanded the program and how community-focused it is.

“It’s not just people they are pulling from outside of the city or outside of the neighborhood but actual people that live in our neighborhood, who are working with families there,” said Baker. “So (the camp) is something where an environment of community is prevalent.”

Baker himself was one of the volunteers. Alongside being a husband and father of three children, he is also a chef and culinary instructor at Cheyney University. Frempong invited him to lead a program at the camp, making guacamole and reading stories to the campers. His children came along and volunteered for the day. 

“As an educator, I will always say a higher educated community will be a better community,” says Baker. 

He stresses the importance of instilling curiosity and exploratory skills through reading at an early age group throughout the city, and it’s part of why PCCC wanted to get involved in the Literacy Rich Neighborhood.

And as for The Nest and all its story starters? Baker and his children have already used it.

“The fall is the best time to be out there; it’s the best weather for it right now. We’ll frequent it on our bike rides,” he said. “It’s a good place to sit, enjoy nature, it’s a good place to be.”

Neighbors can access The Nest during the Cliveden grounds hours , when the gates are open, which are usually 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on weekends.