In 2007, the Wilmington HOPE Commission (WHC) named Southbridge as a HOPE Zone. The Wilmington HOPE Commission and Nemours Health and Prevention Services (NHPS) developed a shared vision to assist with improving the quality of life for the residents of Southbridge. In an effort to better coordinate services and build strategic partnerships among agencies serving the residents of Southbridge, the South Wilmington Planning Network (SWPN) was created in 2009. The founding members of SWPN were the result of a merger of existing working groups led by Marvin Thomas, President of the Southbridge Civic Association and 4th District Councilwoman Hanifa Shabazz.
Shortly after the merger, the WHC under the leadership of Charles A. Madden assisted with partnership development, strategic planning and resource development while NHPS under the leadership of Dr. Milton Delgado assisted with important administrative responsibilities to include the facilitation of “core group meetings” and expansion of Network membership. The “core leadership group” consisted of Neighborhood House Inc., Southbridge Civic Association, Nemours Health and Prevention Services, Wilmington HOPE Commission, Henrietta Johnson Medical Center and Elbert Palmer Elementary School.
The SWPN quickly shifted from being a vehicle for information sharing to the development of planning teams to a “network” of specific objectives and deliverables. The following “action teams” were formed in response to accessing community needs: Environmental, Workforce, Healthcare and Youth Development. The action team model faltered, however, due to lack of leadership.
In 2012, Bill Swiatek of the Wilmington Area Planning Council, the SWPN chair, oversaw a reorganization of the coalition. Today, the SWPN supports a handful of collaborative projects among its membership (which include community leaders, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and elected officials).
Growing from five members in 2009 to 30 today, the SWPN has been instrumental in the planning and development of Southbridge’s signature event, the Annual Southbridge Weekend established in 2009. The SWPN also continues to implement and call attention to the goals outlined in the SAMP (Special Area Management Plan) developed by the community in 2006. This work includes various transportation initiatives, youth projects and the development of community gardens.