For the last 15 years, luminaria have lined the streets of Swarthmore on New Year’s Day.
Portions of Wallingford are now aglow, too.
The project, which benefits A Better Chance (ABC) Strath Haven, helps light the way for students of color to graduate from the high school and go to college. Including additional neighborhoods within the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District was a natural expansion of the effort.
“Three years ago, the founders of the Swarthmore program began turning it over to a new group of folk who started looking at ways to grow,” said ABC and luminaria board member Chris Darrell. “They took a philosophical look and decided since ABC is really a school district initiative it should involve families in both towns.”
Founded in 1974, ABC Strath Haven has partnered with the Wallingford-Swarthmore community to provide a college preparatory experience for students who reside in underperforming public school communities in urban areas of Georgia, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and other states.
Through challenging coursework, exposure to the arts and sports, academic support and tutoring, a nurturing home environment, friendship and mentoring, the program strives to provide scholars with the skills and experiences they need. Eight students are living in the ABC house this year, each of whom is also connected with a local host family who helps guide them through their four-year journey. To date, more than 110 scholars have graduated from Strath Haven.
The luminaria began not as a fundraiser, but as a way to adorn the borough in welcoming the New Year. When the project netted a profit, the creators opted to donate the proceeds to ABC. Through the support of hundreds of community volunteers who inspire others to participate, then scoop sand into white bags and package them with candles, nearly 22,000 orders are filled each year. The kits, sold in increments of five for $1 per bag, are placed at every five feet of curb line. Some participants choose to “light it twice” with an extra donation.
Residents who light their luminaria at 5 p.m., Jan. 1, annually raise more than $20,000 for ABC Strath Haven, a significant contribution to its annual $140,000 operating budget. The figure increased to $29,000 in 2015, as Swarthmore College has given $5,000 each year as part of a five-year financial commitment, said Darrell.
“Just about every block in Swarthmore participates,” he added. “You are hard pressed to walk around and find a dark block.”
Two Wallingford neighborhoods were selected as test sites last year and the successful reception resulted in choosing two additional areas for 2017. Heatherwold, the homes near Helen Kate Furness Library on Providence Road, was one of the spots and approximately 40 families participated, said coordinator Elizabeth Bromley.
“I had seen the luminaria and thought for years Heatherwold would be such a wonderful neighborhood to support such a loving and beautiful event,” she said. “I was thrilled with the response and truly know it will grow every year and become a neighborhood tradition.”
As part of the expansion, the committee has also chosen to extend the way in which the funds will be donated. The level of support for ABC will be maintained and excess amounts will be contributed to other organizations within the school district with similar vision.
“What began as a way for the community to do something for itself has grown into a wonderful way for it to support ABC,” said Darrell.