Focusing on Downtown Reading’s current economic renaissance, Alvernia University’s O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship and community leaders announce the formation of the Cultural Coalition, a volunteer-based, Berks County-focused, strategic planning and execution group that aids in identifying and attending to some of the city’s social and economic issues.
“With several projects currently underway and many others on the horizon, we are pleased to serve as a catalyst to ensure economic revitalization positively affects all neighborhoods and constituencies, especially those typically under-served and under-represented,” said Alvernia University President John R. Loyack. “While we have started this enterprise in the City of Reading, it will serve as a pilot to guide future strategies to serve all of Berks County.”
The coalition is comprised of three task forces which include arts and culture, community and neighborhood revitalization and education and workforce development and several projects, including a block captain and stewardship program, the relaunching of the First Friday events, and the creation of a financial consortium are already underway.
“Reading has a tremendous number of positive attributes, including no shortage of individuals and organizations looking to enhance the region,” said COO of the O’Pake Institute, Vice President and Interim Dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Dr. Rodney Ridley. “We are working to bring these efforts together. The Cultural Coalition was not developed to do anything new, but to work together on the things already being done. The goal is to come together and take a synergistic and collaborative approach to the existing activities and expand their impact.”
The community and neighborhood revitalization task force’s works with residential neighborhoods and businesses in Berks County to increase homeownership and strive for zero vacancies in the commercial district of Penn St. Alvernia Students in the O’Pake Fellows Program will also work in partnership with the city and the county through this task force to form the city block captain program.
Each partner will take ownership of each block in Reading to assist the city in regaining its downtown designation from the commonwealth. The goal is to facilitate community engagement and improve the social connectedness across the region over time.
“This concept has been done successfully in many other places,” said Community and Neighborhood Revitalization Task Force leader Lizette Epps. “It is not a new concept and with that, we think we have the right energy and effort to execute it here. These projects will not only facilitate community engagement but improve the social connectedness across the region over time.”
The arts and culture task force caters to the awareness and celebration of local artists and the vast cultural diversity in the City of Reading and Greater Berks County. For it’s first project, the arts task force will utilize a co-design process to create a collective communications campaign.
“We want to advance city pride, capture the unique look, voice, and vibe of our community, and lift the proverbial tide for creative people working and living in Reading through this project,” said Goggleworks Center for the Arts Executive Director and President Levi Landis.
“Our short-term goal is to partner with Goggleworks Center for the Arts, BCTV, and others, to rally city artists and cultural leaders and utilize a co-design process to galvanize support from the creative community, increase representation from the typically marginalized groups, and create the core message and key deliverables.”
The education and workforce development task force’s primary focus is partnering with organizations and institutions in the City of Reading and Greater Berks County to enhance access to post-secondary opportunities in the workforce and higher education in the region.
Opportunities are abundant through the five institutes of higher education in the area, along with many forms of continued post-secondary education and skill development that can provide high school graduates with the advantage needed to fulfill their goals and dreams.