The power of getting organized – and connected

Neighborhood group celebrates 35 years of building community in Mt. Airy

by Len Lear
Posted 6/29/23

Community spirit is alive and well - and few know that better than the members of Mt. Airy’s Cresheim Village Neighbors.

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The power of getting organized – and connected

Neighborhood group celebrates 35 years of building community in Mt. Airy


Most people who live in Northwest Philadelphia will say they thoroughly enjoy living in their neighborhood. The communities of Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and Germantown all offer their own version of big, leafy trees, unique and historic buildings, and a wide variety of vibrant local businesses. 

But it's the community spirit that really makes a place – and few know that better than the members of Mt. Airy’s Cresheim Village Neighbors (CVN), which is currently celebrating its 35th anniversary.

And they are marking the occasion by reflecting upon how they did it. Gathering at a recent monthly meeting, which was held over Zoom, they each had their own explanation for what makes it work. 

“I moved here 50 years ago, and have found people who are caring, watching out for each other, no fear at all, friendly,” Celeste Zappala said at a recent monthly meeting. “Our first 'Walk & Talk' confirmed that we made the right choice to move here. Every day I am grateful for the kind, diverse, incredibly supportive people in this community.”

“I have been here for 40 years. This is one of the few communities in the city that has resisted redlining and white flight,” Margaret Lenzi said. “This is a vibrant, diverse community that has always been committed to justice.”

“I love the extended family feeling in this neighborhood. For a woman living alone, that is important,” said Lynn Schleifer, who moved to the area 42 years ago and then to an apartment building in April of this year. “It is walkable, very green, with lots of strong women. I am spiritually, intellectually and emotionally nurtured here. It is also good for kids and rescued dogs. In fact, it's a dog utopia.”

CVN dates back to 1988, when neighbors responded to a series of break-ins by establishing the Mt. Airy-Nippon-Bryan-Cresheim-Durham Town Watch. It became a neighborhood association in 1998, with the informal boundaries of the 100 blocks of Nippon St., Mt. Airy Ave., Durham St., and the 7100 and 7200 blocks of Cresheim Rd. and Bryan St. from Mt. Pleasant to Allens Lane. In March 2020, it adopted the name Cresheim Village Neighbors Association. 

Perhaps more important than its longevity, however, is what this group has accomplished. It has not only managed to keep their organization going for more than three decades, it’s also demonstrated just how much residents can do when they get  organized. 

Under the leadership of Steve Stroiman, CVN coordinator since its inception, the association has spearheaded various initiatives that have transformed the neighborhood. One of their notable accomplishments is a private snow plowing service that has been in operation for 26 years. Recognizing that the city rarely clears their streets, CVN collects funds from each household to ensure the neighborhood remains accessible during winter storms.

The group also has provided residents with lamp timers, light sensors, informational materials, and extensive address lists. They keep everyone in the loop with a monthly newsletter, which they distribute to every neighbor, and they manage an  active online listserv.

For many years, CVN even had its own Trees Committee, which successfully planted more than 50 trees in the neighborhood. These efforts beautify the area but also contribute to a sense of shared environmental stewardship. As Stroiman puts it, "The more we tend to know each other, the more we tend to care about one another."

One of CVN's most recent big projects was its collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for the renovation of the Allens Lane Bridge, which was completed in 2021. Eric Sternfels, an architect and resident of Allens Lane, played an integral role in the project, working closely with the construction crew for three years. Sternfels generously volunteered his expertise, offering sketches, drawings, notes, and design adjustments to ensure the bridge's successful transformation.

Over the years, it’s this kind of work that has resulted in the group being recognized by both the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and the Philadelphia Police Department for its “commitment to fostering a safe and close-knit community.”

Now, they’re facing a new challenge. One of the issues they now worry about is the explosive cost of housing.

“I have lived in Mt. Airy for 40 years, and it is a wonderful, diverse neighborhood,” said  Elayne Blender. “The houses have become so expensive, though. That is a concern. I would not be able to buy a house here today. I don't want them messing up my haven.”

They love the way it is now – a place where everyone can thrive. 

“It's a great place to grow old,” said Sheila Erlbaum, who describes herself as “a lifelong” resident of Bryan Street. “Everybody I know wants to move here.” 

“As an ex-teacher for many years, I love seeing kids and parents interacting, and that's what I see in this neighborhood – kids know how to be kids, riding bikes and writing on the sidewalk in chalk, not being on cell phones,” said John Colgan-Davis, a former contributor to the Local. 

But perhaps it was Penelope Myers who summed it up best.

"This neighborhood is a place of joy,” she said. “There is something for everybody."

For more information about Cresheim Village Neighbors, email Contact Len Lear at for