Good Things About Norristown

First published in The Times Herald on September 6, 2013

I have written two columns about Norristown: “Hope for my Hometown,” a personal look the town and ideas for its future, and “Something for Our Anything,” about the old Montgomery County Prison. As promised, I will occasionally write about the town I was born in and lived in for 22 years. Below is a list of some things that I believe are assets to the town and will grow with community involvement.

Who: The Norristown Project

The Norristown Project is a grassroots organization backed by residents of the community who share a vision for a better community. Volunteers focus on community cleanups and getting residents involved. When an area is selected, they pick up trash, clear weeds, remove graffiti and raise awareness of “community involvement.” The core value of the organization practices is that they refuse to sit back, refuse to complain, and refuse to wait for leaders and government to make a change.

Why they love Norristown: “I see the town for its beauty rather than the problems. There are so many great things that happen daily in Norristown but get overshadowed more than the average Montco town. There are residents who love to highlight everything that is wrong with the town that hurts our image. Things will change for the better in our town when we stop living in fear and get out and become an agent for change. My goal is to show others that it is okay to take pride in their town; the sooner they do, the sooner things will change.” — Shae Ashe, Founder.

A quick thought: One of the biggest eyesores in any town is litter and graffiti. Love the less-talk, more-work attitude. That’s how things get done. All ages are welcomed. There is no RSVP needed to attend, volunteers can just show up.

Who: Norristown Diary.

A blog written by lifelong Norristown resident Elena Santangelo, who has published numerous novels, short stories and nonfiction books. The main goal is to inform and to show fellow Norristonians that this can be a pretty decent place if they ban together and demand solutions. Some topics covered are people, neighborhoods and zoning.

Why they love Norristown:

“I love the history and absolutely love the architectural, immigrant, and ethnic and cultural diversity. Lets give people a reason to visit the town and spend their money here,” said Santangelo.

A quick thought: Most blogs are just online rants. The Norristown Diary is the opposite of that. It is well thought out and Santangelo’s writing chops shine through in her regular posts.

Who: Norristown Men of Excellence

Norristown Men of Excellence strive to promote and support a healthy, vibrant, and thriving community. They accomplish this by supporting and promoting community-based programs that encourage community engagement, economic development, youth opportunities, cultural awareness, and community health and welfare.

Why they love Norristown: “I (personally) love the pride of the people. There is nothing like that small town, close-nit unity and pride of the people of Norristown.” — Tre Hadrick, President of NMOE

A quick thought: The key to success of these organizations is engaging the community. The members of NMOE are huge advocates for the town and Hadrick is an active, involved president.

Who: Norristown Nudge

A forum for Norristonians to identify problems and find solutions. They meet every Saturday at 11 a.m. at Coffee Talk Artists Co-op – 507 W. Marshall St. in Norristown.

Why they love Norristown: “Location, diversity, history, architecture, friends, neighbors, community, great place to live.” — Aleksandra Eigen

A quick thought: An open discussion about Norristown with like-minded individuals who want to discuss the issues facing the town.

Who: Open Words at Jus’ Java, hosted by Mydera SpeakMeFree Robinson.

An open-mike event held on the first and third Wednesday of every month at Jus’ Java (1601 DeKalb St.). All artists welcome. Along with the open mic portion, they also feature local and national talent.

Why they love Norristown: “We are community, like so many others, that has seen better days. I personally believe that right now we lack guidance and direction. We have tons of very passionate people, who want to make a difference; they’re just not sure how to do it. I believe people are frustrated with the systems in place and feel hindered by them. All the time you will hear people say, “Norristown has changed,” and that’s hardly ever said in a positive light.

“One undeniable truth remains, though, we may be down, but we are definitely not out. We still have plenty of fight let in us. I believe there is great hope for a Norristown Renaissance, and I intend to be a part of it.

“We embody such vast potential with our diverse talents, engrained and emerging cultures, and our resilience. We are a global community in small town skin. I love Norristown for its diversity. I love Norristown for its possibilities.”

A quick thought: From the perspective of a former stand-up comic who spent a few days a week traveling to open mikes in Philadelphia and locations that tested my GPS, I can tell you a local venue is overdue. If Norristown plans to build on Arts Hill and embrace the arts it needs to embrace Open Words, since it is meant to bring in different artists at different levels of talent into the town.