Stacy Thomas (Spring 2011) has been involved in community projects since she was eight years old, but her lifetime of service really began after she bought her home at age 19. “When I moved on this block in 1979, I read an article about smoke detectors, and at that time there were so many fires.” Stacy took the matter into her own hands. “I went down to the fire department, got the petition, came back, got the neighbors to sign it, went back, picked up all the smoke detectors for the neighbors, and then everybody had a smoke detector.” Helping her neighbors, and taking steps to keep everyone safe, was rewarding for Stacy. “I just felt so happy about it. And then I said, you know what, somebody’s got to take charge. I’m gonna become a block captain.”
Since then, Stacy has been a block captain, served on her neighborhood watch, worked with a Neighborhood Beautiful program, and helped to organize the Hand-in-Hand oratory contest. She has supported her children as they grew up doing service projects with friends and residents, and has been an active member of her local community center since the 1960s, before it even had a formal building.
When a friend suggested applying for this new program, the Citizens Planning Institute, in 2011, Stacy wasn’t convinced. “She calls me, and she says, ‘listen, this may be something that fits you.’ I said ‘no, I don’t have time for that.’” But she applied on a whim, and wound up in the second ever cohort for CPI. “The Citizen Planning Institute kind of tied it all in,” Stacy recalls.
We were just meeting people from different sections of the city and hearing their stories about how much involvement they had, and it was just so exciting. It was all people out there like me, they have the same desires, the same wants... just [so many] community builders. Stacy Thomas
CPI also helped Stacy see the growth that was happening in her community: “my neighborhood was changing, but I didn’t, you know, realize it was changing… I know there were changes in the 70s, of course, that weren’t for the better, and I just never imagined it could get better.” Now, she sees positive change all over the City.
One change that Stacy has been passionate about is working with the Rebuild Philadelphia program to improve the Vare Recreation Center in her neighborhood. “I participated in the planning from start to finish.” Throughout the project, Stacy has also been able to tie her experience back to CPI. “The people that I worked with during [CPI] are the same people that I work with now—the engineers and architects… Parks and Rec, the city entities, the independent entities, the community entities.” But even with support from the City and other partners, it was really the community that got the Vare Recreation Center project through. “It started with just the community coming and gathering and talking. I just love how things just come together, you know, and how we’re making it happen. It’s just a wonderful thing for the City of Philadelphia.”
Vare Recreation Center building
Stacy and other community members at the Vare Community Design Workshop
Mural at the Vare Recreation Center
Now, Stacy is working on trying to enjoy her retirement, though it hasn’t been as relaxing as she had planned. “When I retire,” she used to think, “I’m going to rock and read. Sit on the rocking chair with a bunch of books. That’s it.” However, Stacy has been so busy this last year that it barely feels like retirement. “It hasn’t happened yet. But I’m going to get there.”