Main Body

Chapter 8: Community Leaders

This section proved to be the most difficult to research. Formal community leaders are generally well-established and known within the community; however, in finding informal community leaders, it was largely based on subjective data from our interviews. In addition, there were a number of community leaders we could not include in-depth simply because we were unable to conduct official interviews with them, such as Deja Harris, Unit Director for Olivet Boys & Girls Club, Jeffrey Palmer, former CEO and President of Olivet Boys & Girls Club, and Pastor Mary Wolfe of Hope Lutheran Church.

Formal Community Leaders:

Donna Reed

Originally from Muhlenberg Township, Donna Reed has served four terms as District 5’s City Councilperson; among her roles were chair of the Public Works Committee, chair of the now-dissolved Marketing and Economic Development Committee, and member on the Administrative Oversight Committee. In addition, she has also been a member of Reading Beautification, Inc., Reading Planning Commission, and a board member of Crime Alert Berks County and the Centre Park Historic District (D. Reed, personal communication, February 22, 2017).

Much of Donna’s efforts focus on rebuilding the neighborhood economically. One project in which she is involved is the extension of River Road, which would improve commercial and industrial traffic from Route 183. This project has been in development since 2011, and in 2016, the project entered its design phase (D. Reed, personal communication, February 22, 2017).


John Slifko

John Slifko was originally born and raised in La Plata, Maryland before moving to Reading at the age of 36. He was a construction worker before discovering a talent for law and a love of public service. Beginning first as a legal advisor to City Hall, he worked his way up to become City Councilperson for District 6 (J. Slifko, personal communication, March 18, 2017).

Although Slifko’s district is not only Northwest Reading, he has contributed to revitalizing the Northwest neighborhood. As councilmember, he’s partnered with Donna Reed to plant trees all throughout the neighborhood to improve the landscape of the community. He’s also worked closely with the Reading Shade Tree Commission on several projects, including the widening of the Schuylkill River Trail. He’s also very much involved in the Friends of the Schuylkill River Trail committee, and tries to further the group’s initiatives within council (J. Slifko, personal communication, April 25, 2017).


Joel Brigel

Joel Brigel was born and raised in the Mt. Penn area of Reading, and has held a number of positions in the Reading School District. He has been principal at Northwest Middle School since 2012, having previously been Vice Principal at Southern Middle School and Northeast Middle School. He has played a role in the education and discipline of middle school students in Northwest Reading, encouraging academic excellence as well as parental engagement with students (J. Brigel, personal communication, February 24, 2017).

As principal, he has established relationships with community organizations to provide his students with great opportunities and a safe educational environment. He works closely with the Olivet Boys and Girls Club and the Reading Recreation Commission to provide sports activities, cooking clubs, and a Girls Leadership Club. He’s also worked with The Place Church, which sponsors holiday events, and the Reading Shade Tree Commission, which has helped plant trees around the school facilities to improve the landscape around the school (J. Brigel, personal communication, April 25, 2017).


Informal Community Leaders:

Brad Waples

Bradford Waples Jr. is an up-and-coming entrepreneur who has lived in Northwest Reading for most of his life. He currently owns three businesses: a clothing store, a printing shop, and a marketing firm, under the name Custom It. At the time of this writing, he is currently running for the District 5 seat in City Council, as Donna Reed has chosen not to run for re-election. His father was the longtime director at the Police Athletic League of Greater Reading (P.A.L.), and inspired him to be involved and engaged in the community (B. Waples, personal communication, February 15, 2017).

For the past few years, Waples has tried to produce events in the Northwest Reading community. Many of the events are creative and art-based and encourage attendees to appreciate visual, audio, and theatrical art. The purpose of his events are both to provide a good time to local residents, and to give hope to the rising youth and foster their creative knowledge (B. Waples, personal communication, February 15, 2017).


Father Angel Garcia

Father Angel Garcia is the current pastor at St. Margaret’s Roman Catholic Church on Centre Ave. Originally born in Puerto Rico and raised in Bethlehem, Fr. Garcia was a priest at St. Peter’s Church from 2003 to 2009, and has been at St. Margaret’s since 2014. Having grown up about an hour away, Father Garcia has become familiar with Reading’s fixtures and also its reputation across county lines. As the figurehead of St. Margaret’s, the largest Latino congregation in the neighborhood, he has had his hand in helping the community by giving the neighborhood hope and wisdom in their daily struggles, as well as providing resources such as food and money when available (A. Garcia, personal communication, March 13, 2017).


Tom McMahon

As City Mayor from 2004 to 2012, Tom McMahon had been Northwest Reading’s longest serving formal community leader, and even after retiring, continues to be a key figure within the community, particularly with its infrastructure developments. During his tenure as Mayor, he had his hand in the creation of the GoggleWorks and the implementation of Our City Reading. One of his most memorable contributions to Northwest Reading was establishing a home for the Boxing Club. The boxing program was created to encourage the youth to get involved in something positive instead of gang or illegal activities (T. McMahon, personal communication, March 13, 2017).

Since his retirement, he’s contributed to many different projects within the Northwest neighborhood. He had assisted the principal of Northwest Elementary in fundraising for a new playground and was able to bring the Gilmore Henne team, an organization dedicated to revitalizing communities, to visit the site of the playground. He also continues to attend meetings for the Reading Redevelopment Authority to find uses for the Dana Memorial 50-acre site. He hopes to be able to provide jobs to local residents after renovations. He also regularly attends meetings in all different sectors of the local government to help in the progression of the city (T. McMahon, personal communication, April 27, 2017).


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A Portrait of Life in Northwest Reading Copyright © 2018 by Penn State Berks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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