Fels Lab Feature: West Side Grows Together

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Meg Pierce, MPA '18
April 10, 2017

Fels Lab connects students with projects that serve the real-world needs of nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Sarah Lester (MPA ’16) serves as an Economic Development Manager for West Side Grows Together, and works with current student Ricardo Pena (MPA ’17) on a special project through Fels LabMeg Pierce sat down with Sarah and Ricardo to discuss their work with West Side Grows Together.

Sarah, could you please describe the mission of West Side Grows Together?

West Side Grows Together is a coalition of Wilmington's West Side residents, businesses, churches, and community groups working together to make our neighborhoods the best they can be. In 2011, we surveyed over 500 residents, community members, and key stakeholders to ask what the biggest challenges and opportunities were in the neighborhood. The results made up the West Side Plan, which guides our work via 4 pillars: Economic Development, Housing Choices, Parks & Open Space, and Youth Opportunities. 

Why is the work of West Side Grows Together important?

The West Side Plan calls for programs, policies, and ideas to improve the quality of life for the residents of the West Side. The team at West Side Grows Together works tirelessly to ensure that our implementation efforts are driven by community residents and stakeholders. The Steering Committee that oversees our efforts has continued to meet over the past 5 years and represents 27 community organizations, churches, businesses, and residents in the community.

Why is the Fels Lab Project valuable to the organization?

The Fels Lab is a great opportunity for West Side Grows Together to increase our capacity. We are a small staff and there is always so much work to be done in the community! Having access to academic skills and analysis will help support and drive our grant proposals, storytelling, and branding. 

What kind of work are you looking for a current student to conduct?

We always have projects for students to work on. Currently I am looking for someone to help with the Holiday Guide for local businesses, community surveys, business surveys, survey analysis, and more!

Ricardo, how did you find out about West Side Grows Together, and why did you decide to work with the organization as part of Fels Lab?

I originally found out about West Side Grows Together from the Fels staff, who tipped me off that a project had surfaced focused on economic development, which is of great professional and academic interest to me. I decided to turn the project into my final capstone project, a requirement of the Fels MPA curriculum.

Are you working on a specific project/initiative? Please describe.

I am working on creating specific recommendations regarding West Side Grows Together’s 2012 Revitalization Plan, called West Side Outside. I am creating a report analyzing the accomplishments of the plan. I will tie in recommendations based on peer-reviewed articles to provide additional feedback.

Please speak to the value of Fels Lab projects in general- why is it a positive opportunity for students?

My Fels Lab experience has been amazing. I feel I have been able to do something practical, needed and interesting. Other students can also benefit from the same type of work- these are real-life projects that can have a real impact.  

Photo: West Side Grows

Fels Institute of Government

The Fels Institute of Government
3814 Walnut St. 
Philadelphia, PA 19104

(215) 898-7326

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