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Finding a New Home and Purpose in South of Penn

by Ruby Mora

Finding a New Home and Purpose in South of Penn

Idea Park is a small but glorious space located on the corner of South 4th and Chestnut Streets in the South of Penn area, just around the corner from Southwest Middle School and SafeBerks.

Not too many people know it exists, but that doesn’t diminish its significance. Consisting of two full trees, multiple raised beds ideal for plants, and a mural filled with characters from Winnie the Pooh that graced the park for decades.

The Idea Park is located at the corner of South Fourth and Chestnut Streets in south Reading.

Past the park, Mama’s Laundromat, and Pabavany Food Market, you’ll likely find Danny Guerrero either cleaning the park, or greeting his neighbors, but as many would tell you including him, if you don’t know Danny you don’t know anybody.

Born in the Bronx, New York, Danny grew up in a religious household with both his parents around.

“My mom and dad were Christians and we were raised in the church,” Danny said. “There was no drinking and smoking cigarettes in the house.”

He went on to talk about how much he loved his childhood and how his mother, although strict at times, gave him so much love growing up.

“She always wanted us to have what she never had,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot, but we never starved, we always had clean clothes, always had food on the table. I can say this with 100% certainty: we were rich with a lot of love, unconditional.”

Danny’s life shifted as he grew older but his eventual move to Reading helped him.

“To keep it simple, if I weren’t to have come down here, I’d fall off a cliff, but figuratively,” Danny said. “I needed some change in my life, and my mom and dad, and brother lived out here, so visiting back and forth, I saw a difference in my peace of mind down here, which is one reason I came down here.”

Reading became a place of peace for him once he arrived and is thankful for how different it was to the fast-paced environment that came with living in New York.

“It was a fresh start because I didn’t know anybody,” Danny said. “Coming down here not knowing anybody gave me that peace of mind. Moving from New York to down here, everything was at such a slow pace. I would say it’s exactly what the doctor ordered, but it’s what God ordered.”

With the help of a kind landlord and the Berks Community Action Program, Danny was able to eventually purchase the home he currently resides in.

Danny, center, speaks with Reading-based artist Juan Carlos Ruiz Jr., left, and Daniel Egusquiza, right.

A community member asked Danny to watch over the park every now and then, and eventually a trust formed between them to the point where Danny became the liaison that provided payment from Curt to those that cleaned the park.

Later on, the community member became unable to care for the park, so Danny took over. This is how he began his work in cleaning the area where he lives, causing others to do the same. Danny was already sweeping the front of his house, but was so inspired that he was adamant in continuing the gesture of caring, not just for Idea Park and the area surrounding it, but for the community as well.

“The feeling I got was how I felt back in my neighborhood in New York growing up as a kid where everybody looked out for each other,” He said.

He believes there’s already signs that the neighborhood is evolving and becoming more communal. However, he makes it clear that this isn’t an easy task to do.

“It’s a slow process,” Danny said. “I’m not gonna lie, it can be frustrating, but that’s life. You’re gonna get your ups and downs. I’m not getting any younger, so hopefully I can pass it on to somebody else. But I see it coming along. All the hard work is paying off, and I enjoy it. I really do.”

In what he does for the community, Danny continuously hopes that the community he’s a part of becomes more communal.

“I not only give back to my community, but I also want to make it feel like when I was growing up in New York. New York felt like one big happy family, one community that helps each other out and looks out for each other and no one would go hungry.”

Luckily, Danny was able to find a feeling of community in Reading.

“It brings such joy into my life and to see it and sit out on my porch and hear ‘good morning, Danny’ and some people don’t know my name. They’re just like ‘oh you’re the guy that sweeps.’ It’s such a good feeling to see one of my neighbors come out and start sweeping, and when I see that, what happens when you do something and people start to follow. I enjoy it.”

Danny was awarded the South of Penn Grant, which former South of Penn Task Force coordinator Tony Veloz helped him apply for and create a video stating how the grant could benefit the park and the community that uses it.

Danny, in the blue hoodie in the center, is joined by members of Barrio Alegría and The Wyomissing Foundation, South of Penn and artist Juan Carlos Ruiz Jr.

Created in partnership with Barrio Alegría and the Wyomissing Foundation, the grant allowed a new mural by Reading artist Juan Carlos Ruiz Jr. to be painted on the park’s walls, which was  a long-overdue change of appearance.

Idea Park and the area of South 4th Street that surrounds it have changed for the better. There have been multiple people who question why he does what he does for the community without any compensation.

“That’s my neighborhood,” He said. “I live here. Why not? I would sit out in front of my home until about 10-10:30 at night waiting for certain people to come out of work, come out of church, and when you see me out there when you come out of church, I did it because I want you to feel safe and I want to make sure you get home.”

Danny has accomplished a tremendous amount in the 28 years he’s been living in Reading.  He’s received certificates and recognitions for all he’s been doing and continues to do for the community, and he’s grateful for them, but doesn’t expect anything in return from what he does, because he loves it so much.

Images in Idea Park reflect the realities and aspirations of Reading residents.

“I don’t do it for the awards,” Danny said. “It’s like I tell my kids: if you don’t do something from your heart, then don’t do it at all.”

In the meantime, he’ll continue to do what he’s able to do.

“I’ll continue to do what I’m doing until I can’t do it anymore.”

This article is a part of “Historias del Barrio,” a series of stories written by local storytellers to highlight community members who have engaged with Barrio Alegría and the South of Penn Task Force, through a strategic partnership with The Wyomissing Foundation, to make positive impacts in their neighborhoods.