Looking Ahead in a Time of Transition

Aquinas Center Friends, Supporters, and Colleagues:

Every so often in our lifetime we are fortunate enough to be graced by an inspirational force that emboldens us to live a life beyond ourselves.  Without exaggeration, we can say that Dr. Bethany Welch, Executive Director of Aquinas Center, has been that force for many of us.  Thus, words cannot express our emotions as we announce that Dr. Welch or “Ms. Bethany” will depart Aquinas Center in mid-November of this year.

“In 2012, the parish invited Bethany to leverage her research on urban revitalization to help them repurpose the space.  Seven years later, Aquinas Center has become an energetic hub of unity in diversity, learning, and thoughtful action.” 

Many of you may remember a time when the St. Thomas Aquinas convent sat largely vacant between uses. In 2012, the parish invited Bethany to leverage her research on urban revitalization to help them repurpose the space.  Seven years later, Aquinas Center has become an energetic hub of unity in diversity, learning, and thoughtful action.  It has been a pleasure to watch the Center grow and succeed thanks in part to her leadership and the dedication of so many people of faith and good will who have invested in the mission.

Some of Aquinas Center’s accomplishments include:

  • The establishment of the Center as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
  • The Encounter Program, which over six years has brought together 2,000 high school and university participants for immersion experiences that cultivate connectedness and underscore human dignity
  • An afterschool program and the Green and Growing Summer Camp, which has served over 350 children and employed 28 local youth
  • Dynamic programs reaching teens, from the Youth Researchers to the Creative Action team
  • An English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program that helps 45-55 adult learners pursue their language goals each semester
  • Immigration Legal Services that supports applications for permanent residency, naturalization, DACA, and the pursuit of many other pathways
  • The Community Literacies Project—a partnership with the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania—which has been a means through which community members investigate issues in educational access and equity
  • Dedicated learning experiences for 95 undergraduate interns, graduate students, field placements, seminarians, and novices over six program years
  • The eight murals and mosaics—inside and outside the center—that speak to the value of working side-by-side on projects that beautify and transform
  • The multiple articles, book chapters, and book that share findings from the unique collaborative, community-based research undertaken by youth and families within the Aquinas neighborhood

The Board of Directors and community leaders are collaborating closely to plan for a strong and fruitful future. The amazing Aquinas Center team will carry on with core programs as the center transitions to new leadership in the coming months. We are excited to continue work that Bethany and her team pursued through impactful programs, and we have much to look forward to, including:

  • The dedication of the “Dare to Understand” mural (Tuesday, September 24, 2019 at 6PM) made possible by Interfaith Philadelphia and Mural Arts Philadelphia with the artistry of Jared Bader and Rashidah Salam as well as the participation of St. Thomas Aquinas parish, St. Thomas Aquinas Independence Mission School, and Aquinas Center.
  • Continued immigration legal services that offer affordable, community-based support, such as the Municipal ID pop-up event this week that assisted over 65 individuals and families
  • Robust afterschool and educational programs supported by multi-year funding from the Patricia Kind Family Foundation
  • A partnership with YouthBuild Philadelphia that will create hands-on service-learning experiences for local young adults in our garden and greenhouse
  • And the “Creative Action for Collective Wellbeing” project with the Scattergood Foundation and Interfaith Philadelphia to advance

Yes, there is much to be proud of at Aquinas Center.  We invite you to celebrate Bethany Welch and the Center at a farewell gathering on Sunday, November 10th at 1PM in the parish hall across the parking lot from the center. More details to follow. (Yes, we checked, that’s a bye week for the Eagles!)

We hope you will join us in continuing to drive the Aquinas Center’s core values of hospitality, solidarity, responsiveness, and transformation as we journey into the next chapter.

Aquinas Center Board of Directors