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Lancaster City Alliance Blog

Neighborhood Connector: Jake Thorsen

The diverse neighborhoods of the City of Lancaster are unifying and organizing to improve the quality of life for their communities. They are forming committees, hosting block parties, cleaning up streets, planning public art initiatives, and communicating with neighbors to work together towards common goals. Each of these neighborhood groups have individuals who serve as connectors in their communities. Lancaster City Alliance is proud to shine a spotlight on them here.

Name: Jake Thorsen
Neighborhood Group: SoWe

Your work as one of the leaders in your Neighborhood Group is important because:

My work as the SoWe Neighborhood Director is important because I work with the residents of SoWe to implement the Southwest Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy. I provide support to the SoWe initiative to carry out the vision set forth by the residents of the Southwest. I try my hardest to facilitate leadership among residents to lead the change in SoWe.  I also work with partner organizations to bring resources into the neighborhood that historically have not been here. The list of residents and partners who have stepped up and committed to stemming the tide of disinvestment in the neighborhood is nothing short of inspiring.

Challenges that you are facing in your neighborhood right now:

A current challenge I am facing in my role is making sure all voices in the neighborhood are heard. I am constantly looking for new ways to engage residents so SoWe goals are aligned with the wishes of the community. When new programs are rolled out in SoWe we want to be confident they are benefiting our residents – we do this through our resident let board and committee structure who create, debate, and approve new programs. I hope for a SoWe where we feel safe to share our concerns about the neighborhood and confident in the solutions we generate together.

What are some of the rewards from being a neighborhood connector in your Group:

Everyone in our community has attributes and assets that can be used to better the community. The most rewarding part being a part of the SoWe initiative is watching neighbors grow to become neighborhood leaders and reaching their full potential. It is also rewarding to listen our neighbors’ stories and their vision of the neighborhood.

Can you give a specific example of how your neighborhood has worked together?

In SoWe, we have seen the neighbors grow into a cohesive and organized unit. This neighborhood has done it all, from organizing a resident board of directors to throwing block parties. Our committees are made up of residents and stakeholders; they work on issues and goals relating to housing, economic opportunity, parks and the public realm, neighborhood connections, education, and community safety. Our board and committees meet monthly to propel the goals outlined in the SouthWest Revitalization Strategy and address concerns in the neighborhood.

What is your secret to meeting new neighbors and welcoming them into the community?

I greet everyone I pass on the street so neighbors new and old feel welcome. I try to be approachable and available to all neighbors. Another secret is not so secret, free food always works to bring new neighbors in.

The neighborhood by nature is transient so our Neighborhood Connections committee is working hard on strategies to identify when new neighbors move into the area so they can be properly welcomed into SoWe.

Favorite way to spend a day with family, or friends in Lancaster City:

As a new home owner, my favorite activity in the city right now is working on the house with my fiancée Susannah.



Neighborhood Connector: Kevin Ressler

Name: Kevin M Ressler
Neighborhood Group: Southeast Unity; Elm Street Project, Meals on Wheels

Your work as one of the leaders in your Neighborhood Group is important because:

Communities thrive when they come together to share in their strengths. A neighborhood that is just a collection of people living close, without relationship, is a hotel. I love seeing a neighbor helping someone whose car is in a fender bender, or helping someone get their groceries inside, or just being kind.

My part has been to use my social resources and understanding of the way power gets used and abused through activism to speak for my neighbors who don’t have the time or opportunity to speak out when something wrong is happening in the community. And it’s important because that’s my part just as my at-home neighbors like Melinda or Max’s part is letting me know of suspicious activity around my house while I’m at work with Meals on Wheels of Lancaster, which is also an important part of ours and every neighborhood in how we can show up for neighbors who cannot get out.

Challenges that you are facing in your neighborhood right now:

Gentrification is occurring rapidly across Lancaster. With renaissance and rejuvenation of cities (all cities, not just Lancaster) comes displacement and disenfranchisement. This naturally, but not healthily, leads to decisions around how communities are policed, prioritized, and perceived. There are not enough voices from my part of town, the racial demographics of my part of town, or the economics of my part of town involved officially in the processes of power. Too often, when people are invited in to represent the neighborhood they are still those amongst us who are well connected or wealthy or both. Or, they are people who used to live here a decade or more ago. It is really important that people are not just seen and spoken of but are invited and listened to.

What are some of the rewards from being a neighborhood connector in your Group:

I’m always impressed with people who have been rooted in this community not just for years or decades but generations. The way people talk about individuals here isn’t as transactional as many other communities I operate in throughout my day, they are relational. They relate to “when this happened” or “when they did this.”

They are also historical. One of the things about the Southeast is it feels more historical than other neighborhoods. There is a long history here, too often painful. And people feel it acutely and it influences their caution when “development” comes to the neighborhood because they’ve had broken promises before. When someone returns to build a park, people remember when they left. When someone promises better policing, they remember when there were different rules for different parts of town. People remember not philosophically bur personally the urban renewal policy decisions that felt criminal to people who lost not only their home but their doctor and lawyer and favorite shop.

Where is the reward? The reward comes in being a translator. Living in this part of town helps me know personally those who remain. Those who didn’t leave when others fled because they wanted to make an impact. Connecting with those living legends and also working with those who have power now can be a trust builder and a BS barometer. I’m grateful to be a new generation mindful of the old generation’s story and working with friends and collaborators like David Cruz, Jr. and Tanay Lynn Harris who are torchbearers raised upon the legacies and good work of their parents and grandparents revolutionary civil rights action.

Can you give a specific example of how your neighborhood has worked together?

When it was announced that our District Magistrate was going to be closed the community banded together and took up the call to make a noise that could not be unheard. Signs were bought, meetings were attended, and many of us met frequently to figure response. While there were differences of opinion on strategy one thing remained: our community more than any other in Lancaster requires proximity to its MDJ and we would take the fight to whatever heights required. And we won. They didn’t close the magistrate. The next time they come to take it away we can ask, “have you yet solved our lacking public transportation?” If the structural barriers haven’t been addressed than our community should not be further punished with inadequate resourcing.

What is your secret to meeting new neighbors and welcoming them into the community?

This is one of the hardest things to do in part because our community moves a lot. We have many refugees who are settled here. Our community is one where people start out and move when they can buy a house instead of renting. Still, something Melissa and I have been glad to take part in is a community garden. Tim and Sonya Charles lived on our block and attended In The Light Ministries. They asked their church if we could create a community garden intended to welcome local refugees through partnership with at Tabor Community Services and Church World Service.

And I think this is key. You have to not only work in isolation but partnership with organizations and individuals who have vested interest in the success of the neighborhood. It can’t just be about the politics of it, how it looks when talking about it in an interview like this one, or driven by guilt that someone else is lower on the wrung than you. I’ve gotten to know neighbors like Troy and Michelle who have moved out, and some who stay. I’ve watched as people who have come to the neighborhood like our neighbors Nick and Erin Myers quietly keep the garden up more than I could dream of doing. It’s a new way to interact with our neighbors who are also our tenants Jazzy and Karen. And it’s a great opportunity to call up In The Light at least once a year and say, “hey, we appreciate you as a neighbor, can we use your land again?”


Favorite way to spend a day with family, or friends in Lancaster City:

You think of phrases like “concrete jungle” when talking about cities. Lancaster doesn’t feel like that and it’s great that no matter who we are visiting anywhere in this city there is a park somewhere nearby to take Acacia (4 years old) and Iriana (1 year old). Now, if only we could do something about the mosquito problem in this city it would be great to enjoy the playset in our own back yard!

Kathlene Carroll Sullivan: The Lancaster Farmacy Mural

It is no surprise that this mural would appeal to Kathlene Carroll Sullivan, Social Media & Engagement Manager for Lancaster City Alliance, having spent a lifetime in and around flower shops before her retirement. She is particularly fond of this little gem of a mural not far from her Lancaster City home.
This unexpected mural on the side of a small  garage tucked away on a stretch of Grant Street between Mary and Charlotte Streets is an homage to Lancaster Farmacy and the healing powers that nature provides growing all around Lancaster County.

Lori Herr: The Grant Street Mural Tribute to Charles Demuth

Lori Herr, Team Coordinator for Lancaster City Alliance, has a special fondness for this mural that is just steps away from her Downtown Lancaster home.
The Grant Street Mural has long been a city favorite for mural lovers and beautifully depicts life in the City of Lancaster. Created as an homage to Charles Demuth the mural was painted by artist Karen Hunt in  Demuth’s style and concentrates on the iconic architecture and treasured historic buildings of the City. It is a mural you need to hunt for as it is hidden behind 115 E Grant Street.  The Lancaster City Alliance team consider it a special perk that they get to view it each workday to and from the office.


Shelby Nauman: Poetry Paths Mural in the Portico at PCA&D

Lancaster City Alliance Vice President Shelby Nauman loves the Poetry Paths – Lancaster mural created in the PCA&D – Pennsylvania College of Art & Design portico by the artists of Root222. The poem for this mural is by Mary Szybist and presented in in a sunburst format with no linear beginning or end, and Szybist states that she was “…thinking about faith and doubt and how the two can be entwined and even, perhaps, simultaneous. I wanted each line to read as a declaration and as an open question.”

Anne Williams: Behind the Scenes Mural at Robert Fulton Elementary School

Anne Williams, the Director of Communication at Lancaster City Alliance,  is in love with the bright, bold “Behind the Scenes” mural created for Robert Fulton Elementary School by artist Ophelia Chambliss. So many details in this beautiful mural! The assortment of windows, doors, and rooftops signifies elements of diversity and variety that come together to make up a whole. The street names depict the boundaries of the school neighborhood, and the fish, books, and other items in the windows were inspired by students. Stop by for a closer look soon!

Jeremy Young: View from Trinity Church Steeple Mural

Lancaster City Alliance Community & Economic Development Manager Jeremy Young has a real love for the history of Lancaster City and so he is drawn to this Grant Street mural on the 200 block of E.Grant Street between Lime and Shippen Streets – “The View from Trinity Steeple” by artist Steve Wilson.
The “view” is from the bell tower in the steeple of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. The star at the top of the mural is representative of the star that Charles Demuth painted in the bell tower, which is still visible today.

Neighborhood Connector: Jeff Tischer

Name: Jeff Tischer
Neighborhood Group: SoWe

Your work as one of the leaders in your Neighborhood Group is important because:

I hesitate to use the word “leader.” I’m not. I’m just a person who saw an opportunity to help and contribute my skills. I think it’s a good example of doing what you can and playing to your strengths. But I’m glad to be a part of SoWe and I’m thrilled to see the impact SoWe is making in the community.

Challenges that you are facing in your neighborhood right now:

I think resident apathy is the biggest concern. We are getting a lot of recognition from City Hall and non-profit organizations around the city. But SoWe residents are still not connecting as fast as I would like. When we have programs like free porch lights and there are struggles to find participants, that is an issue. Now that we have so many resources behind us, we need to do a better job connecting with the people we are working for.

The other big challenge is perception of how the neighborhood is changing. As I said, we’re attracting outside attention, but not all of it is the type we are looking for. I think the goal of SoWe is to make the neighborhood better for those who are already here, not to fix things up so that investors can come in and then price people out of their homes. I am worried that investors will look at our work as an indicator that they can swoop in. And there are already indicators that this is starting to happen. That concerns me quite a bit. I don’t want the character of this neighborhood to change.

What are some of the rewards from being a neighborhood connector in your Group:

Meeting all the wonderful people living in my neighborhood. I’ve lived here for 11 years, but before SoWe I was pretty insular. Getting to know those around me – and count them as friends – has been so great on so many levels.

Can you give a specific example of how your neighborhood has worked together?

I think the entire SoWe initiative is a great example of the neighborhood working together. We saw a need due to systemic neglect and together we are making an impact on this entire neighborhood. We pulled residents and community partners together and built upon their individual strengths to make change. And we are succeeding.

I think a tangible example of that would be the Block Party. Seeing all of these people come together to share and celebrate made for a great day. I’m excited to see that grow over the next few years.

What is your secret to meeting new neighbors and welcoming them into the community?

Forcing myself to be more outgoing – which believe it or not is against my nature. I like to take cues from people like Emerson Sampaio who are just so warm and gregarious.

Favorite way to spend a day with family, or friends in Lancaster City:

That really depends on the mood. Sometimes it’s sitting around a table kibitzing over a glass of beer, sometimes it’s my girlfriend and I taking our dog to the Buchanan Park dog park.



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