Hunting Park is a lower-income neighborhood in North Philadelphia. It has the city’s highest rate of gun violence (CBS News), proximity to Kensington, the center of Philadelphia’s heroin epidemic (Banyan Treatment Center), and is a frequent site of illegal dumping (ABC News)—but you won’t find any of those stories in a recent video project documenting Hunting Park’s community action. Produced by the Climate Witness Project, a joint ministry of the Christian Reformed Church's Office of Social Justice (now part of the denomination's congregational ministries) and World Renew, it’s a window into the mostly Latino and African American community’s work toward renewal.
“We wanted to center and highlight a story of hope and community resilience," Andrew Oppong, the project’s co-leader, said.
Hunting Park's efforts to plant trees, train students in solar-based trades, and grow local produce have support from the neighborhood’s communities of faith.
“I grew up hearing the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” said Fred Harvey, pastor of Spirit and Truth Fellowship, a Christian Reformed congregation in Hunting Park. “If this is true that the earth belongs to God, and everything in it, then it matters to God how we engage it,” he says in one of the project’s short films, “We are Called to Do This.”
Climate Witness Project Eastern U.S. regional organizer Allen Drew, who lives about 15 minutes away in Mt. Airy, has been a big part of the community connecting. He attends Spirit and Truth church, and that congregation supports him as a commissioned pastor in the CRC.
Drew described how the Hunting Park Community Solar Initiative worked to connect 10 low-income Hunting Park residents with a publicly funded home repair, weatherization, and solarization program. “Each of them will have (or are currently having) their homes repaired, weatherized, and given a rooftop solar array,” Drew said. The upgrades allow the homes to better retain heat or cooling and to generate their own electricity, reducing residents' costs. It makes a difference in this section of the city where black top and fewer trees create a heat sink.
The Community Solar Initiative also has sponsored solar installation training, using two Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection environmental education grants to start up a training course with the Vocation Career Prep High School, a Christian vocational school in Hunting Park. Ten students have graduated from the program, prepared to join a solar installation crew. “Our intention is to continue growing this program and offering it twice a year. We also hope to expand into white roof training (a thermal barrier that reflects the sun’s heat, helping to keep homes cool and thus lowering energy bills and reducing environmental impact) once our solar training class is more established,” Drew said.
Oppong said preparing for and completing the video project, including producing a study guide for groups to spark their own community action, ran from October 2021 through the fall of 2022. It premiered March 4 and was paid for through a focused fundraising effort and contributions from the two Climate Witness Project sponsors, World Renew and the Office of Social Justice. The cost breakdown of a specific project is not typically available for disclosure, “beyond our internal structures” Oppong said.
Drew is one of the Climate Witness Project’s six regional organizers in the U.S, and there are four in Canada. Oppong said each has been engaged in similar community partnership building. “We believe in the Indigenous wisdom of ‘digging where we stand,’ and with that understanding comes the realization that there are many other organizations and allies doing similar work in their local context and it behooves us to unite together and work towards a common goal,” Oppong said.