READING, PA (December 30, 2019) – I always try to make my last blog post of the year a hopeful one. At Berks County Community Foundation, we tend to focus on what’s broken and how it can be fixed. That’s what we’re paid to do. We’re not supposed to be the community cheerleaders.
But it’s hard not to see how much great work is going on in the community and the progress we’re making. And it’s important to sometimes note that, all things considered, this is a pretty great place to live and work. So, in no particular order, five hopeful signs for Berks County in 2020:
1. We’re transforming into a hub of innovation and technology.
Drexel University and the Conrad Weiser School District are transforming the educational landscape. It’s impossible to overstate the impact that a medical school, now under construction in West Reading, will have on our region’s future. The Drexel University/Tower Health partnership and its 200-student medical school will bring a shot of economic growth and, more importantly, a hub for research and innovation.
If you think it’s a stretch to pair that news with the good work being done at the Conrad Weiser Science Research Institute, you haven’t been there. High School students doing undergraduate- and even graduatelevel research are drawing international attention to our community. We can capitalize on that.
I predict that Berks County will be seen in 2020 as transforming from a post-industrial community to a hub of innovation and technology. That’ll be fun to watch.
2. Downtown revitalization is actually happening.
Alvernia University’s foray into downtown Reading will add fuel to a rapidly growing revitalization. Since the Community Foundation started promoting the idea of downtown revitalization as a priority in 2001, there have been times when we’d wonder if the idea would ever catch fire. Alvernia will be joining some great restaurants that have been here for years, but 2019 also saw the opening of both the Saucony Creek Brewing Company and Reading Distilling Guild, the kind of amenities that attract, and benefit from, student populations.
There hasn’t been a more exciting development in the revitalization effort than Alvernia’s decision. There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the university’s commitment. Alvernia taking steps to create a new engineering program, adding to that culture of innovation and technology, would be excitement enough. But our real optimism comes from having a significant community institution recognize that downtown Reading represents a key opportunity for our region.
3. We’re getting cooler all the time.
Berks County is attracting “cool” quality of life amenities, the kind that appeals to the type of people we need from the Philadelphia and New York areas to sustain a new pattern of economic growth for the region. In 2020, the Reading Science Center, a hands-on science museum, will open downtown. Just in the past couple of years, Berks has gained attractions that include The Nature Place, the Colebrookdale Railroad, the Classic Auto Mall, and the DoubleTree by Hilton Reading.
So whether it’s learning about bees or finding a 1955 Chevy Bel Air, we’re giving people a lot more reason to become part of our community.
4. There’s progress on poverty.
We’re making dramatic reductions in poverty rates. Lots of people love to wag their finger at me in meetings and complain about the poverty rate (most of them don’t know what it is), and how “somebody” should do “something.” Or worse, they’ve got the one-size-fits-all cure to all poverty.
Poverty is a multi-faceted, multi-generational problem that doesn’t lend itself to simple, clever solutions. But anyone who works on the issue will be happy to affirm that the single worst thing that can happen to a child — statistically — is to be born to a teenage mother. And it’s also not good for the mother. Virtually every indicator of health and wellness deteriorates when a teenage mother gives birth. Cutting that pregnancy rate is a key step to cutting poverty overall.
5. Our youth are inspiring.
Jermaine Edwards and Lonnie Walker IV are both raising money to support charities in Berks County.
Lonnie Walker, in case you have been on another planet for the past few years, is a shooting guard for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and a graduate of Reading High School. This year, his foundation held a toy drive to benefit local children and provided a summer basketball camp for 250 kids. Lonnie turned 21 this month, making him ancient compared to Jermaine “Maine Maine” Edwards.
Jermaine is a kindergartner in the Muhlenberg School District. Earlier this month, he set up a pop-up toy store in the DoubleTree with a goal of raising “1,717 coins” (which makes about as much sense as most of the fundraising goals we see). He divided his proceeds equally between “Make-A-Wish” and the Anthony Myers Movement. Excess toy inventory went to The Lonnie Walker IV Foundation, of course.
You can fake a lot of things in a community, but you can’t fake the quality of the children you’re raising. We see stories like Lonnie’s and Jermaine’s every day. The students who are involved with VOiCEup Berks or who serve as Youth Ambassadors for Berks Teens Matter are part of a huge movement of young people who are actively engaged in our community and working to make it better.
My generation may not have bathed itself in glory, but our kids should give us great hope.
Berks County is a great place to live and work. All across the community, people strive to make it better every day. And that’s our goal at Berks County Community Foundation: To make it better. This progress gives us hope.
Happy New Year.
Kevin K. Murphy, President
Berks County Community Foundation