Commissioners spotlight Coatesville-area successes

Meeting in West Brandywine a venue for local recognition

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

Chester County Commissioners Ryan Costello (from left), Kathi Cozzone and Terence Farrell pose with Thomas A. Williams, who received a citation for attaining Eagle Scout rank.

An Eagle Scout who built a footbridge across a Brandywine tributary. A farmer who has donated more than 50,000 pounds of produce to the Chester County Food Bank. A group working to expand a youth center that provides resources to under-served Parkesburg-area teens.

Those were among the initiatives showcased by the Chester County Commissioners Wednesday night in West Brandywine Township, the first in a series of “on the road” meetings.  The impetus for a periodic, rotating travel schedule occurred because many citizens cannot interrupt a workday to travel to West Chester, where the commissioners’ meetings are typically held, the commissioners said.

Commissioners’ Chairman Terence Farrell said county records indicate the tradition of varying meeting sites dates back to the late 1700s when leaders often conferred at local watering holes.  The first such gathering occurred at the Sign of the Ship in East Caln Township in 1777, Farrell said.

Commissioner Ryan Costello (left) congratulates Dwayne Walton, executive director of Parkesburg Point, a youth center that received a grant to expand.

“I am pleased that we have an opportunity to do this,” Commissioner Kathi Cozzone told the crowd.

Mindful that Wednesday night’s gathering might be the only opportunity for Coatesville-area residents to attend a session, the commissioners opted to highlight local accomplishments. For example, even though they recently approved more than $4 million in community block grants for 39 projects, Pat Bokovitz, the county’s Community Development director, introduced the recipients of four.

Dwayne Walton, executive director of Parkesburg Point, a youth center, expressed thanks for the $400,000 grant his group received to help fund a much-needed expansion of the center’s overgrown facility. Olivet United Methodist Church in Coatesville received $100,000, which will be used for kitchen renovations. The church has been providing free lunches to about 125 people, a number the improvements are likely to double, church leaders said.

Like the Parkesburg Point, the Coatesville Area Senior Center has also outgrown its space; a $363,000 grant will assist with its relocation, which will greatly improve its outreach, said Rich Saylor, president of its board. And a group of Caln Township commissioners gratefully accepted a $290,000 grant for sewer improvements to an area where a predominantly senior population faces failing septic systems.


Dozens of emergency responders attended the county commissioners’ meeting in West Brandywine Township to accept a proclamation for Fire Prevention Week.

Proclamations issued Wednesday night by the commissioners included support for Fire Prevention Week, an acknowledgement that drew dozens of emergency responders to the meeting. Ray Stackhouse, president of the Chester County Fire Chiefs Association, said the week was established as a reminder of the Great Chicago Fire on Oct. 9, 1871, which killed more than 250 people and left 100,000 homeless.

Stackhouse said 65 percent of fatal fires occur in structures with no working smoke detectors, a grim statistic that should motivate residents to be vigilant about checking them, calling the devices the “first line of defense.”

Commissioner Ryan Costello pointed out that the county’s volunteer firefighting force is “one of very many blessings we have.”  Beau Crowding, the county’s deputy director of fire services, estimated that volunteers work well over 100,000 hours a year, with 20,000 just for training. “We’re getting a great benefit,” he said, stressing that more volunteers are always needed for jobs ranging from firefighting to clerical work.

Larry Welsch, executive director of the Chester County Food Bank, told the commissioners that a recent national newspaper article recommended gleaning to help reduce the need for food assistance experienced by an estimated 1 in 5 Americans. Chester County needed no such push, Welsh said, explaining that the county’s gleaning progam – staffed by nearly 4,000 volunteers – has been producing benefits for 16 years.

One of the gleaning program’s greatest supporters has been Karen Vollmecke, chief farmer of Vollmecke Orchards and Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) in West Brandywine Township, Welsch said, explaining why Vollmecke was selected to receive a citation of appreciation from the commissioners. Over the years, Vollmecke has donated more than 50,000 pounds of home-grown produce to the Food Bank, Welsch said.

Vollmecke responded that she welcomed having the Food Bank as a resource. She said squash or apples with minor blemishes that might be unsuitable for her CSA’s 150 paying customers could be used by the Food Bank, which often dehydrates produce for year-round use in soups and other products. In addition, Vollmecke said the Food Bank supplies her with needed volunteers, creating a symbiotic relationship.

Welsch said about 78,000 of the county’s half-million residents rely on Food Bank assistance, and he is always seeking more partnerships, such as schools or churches that want to add raised beds and donate their bounty. Both Parkesburg Point and Olivet United Methodist Church described joint ventures with the Food Bank. Since the Food Bank opened its operations center in East Brandywine Township, drop-offs have increased from 6,000 pounds last year to 45,000 pounds this year, Welsch said.

Thomas A. Williams,  the son of West Brandywine Police Cpl. Gary Williams and Margaret Ann Williams, received a citation from the commissioners for his attainment of Eagle Scout. In achieving his rank, Thomas Williams constructed a foot bridge behind Pope John Paul II School, giving walkers access to the other side of a Brandywine Creek tributary.  Offering congratulations, the commissioners said “nearby residents and visitors will benefit from your efforts for many years.”












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