Cohesion Network Rallies to Build Healthy Communities in Lehigh Valley

Community engagement can transform neighborhoods, and organizations like Cohesion Network stand at the forefront, fostering connections and promoting well-being. With the support of United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley’s Fund for Racial Justice and Equity (FRJE) grant, Cohesion Network is working on enhancing health and wellness in Allentown’s Franklin Park and First and Sixth Ward communities.

Cohesion Network’s mission involves collaborating with residents, neighbors and organizations to support healthy communities and neighborhoods. Leveraging the FRJE grant, the organization has expanded its community engagement programs, addressing long-standing issues and promoting holistic community development.

“Healthier neighborhoods make a healthier city,” said Darian Colbert, founder and executive director of Cohesion Network. “A healthier city makes for a healthier state, and a healthier state can, ultimately, lead to a healthier nation.”

One of the nonprofit’s notable achievements using funds from the FRJE grant is resolving a two-decade-long parking issue around Sheridan Elementary School in Allentown. Cohesion Network facilitated community meetings, engaging various stakeholders, including the parking authority, the school district and local businesses. This collaborative effort eradicated the 20-year parking problem in two weeks, improved safety and reduced parental tensions, showcasing the power of community-driven solutions.

Another success story made possible through the FRJE grant involves the construction of a basketball court at Sheridan Elementary. When a $7,000 funding gap threatened the project, Cohesion Network rallied support from local organizations and community members. Within 20 minutes of learning about the issue during a community meeting, it was resolved with contributions from St. Luke’s University Health Network and a local former professional athlete, and the city stepped in to provide free labor. This project underscores the organization’s ability to galvanize community resources and enhance local amenities.

In Franklin Park, Cohesion Network collaborates with various organizations, including Ripple Community Inc., Ripple Church, Community Bike Works, Valley Health Partners and Leonard Parker Pool Institute for Health, to address housing issues, food insecurity and youth engagement. The organization successfully advocated for a $1 million grant from the city to support housing initiatives, demonstrating the impact of active community groups in securing essential resources. The group’s efforts also include tackling food insecurity by organizing a community garden and multicultural farmers market, fostering a strong sense of community and providing access to healthy food options. The long-term goal of the farmers market is to create a community recipe book that includes recipes from local food vendors, families and other resources. The recipe book will feature a diverse collection of Syrian, African American and Hispanic recipes.

The nonprofit’s commitment to continuous improvement is evident in its upcoming initiatives. It conducts the Flourishing Neighborhood Index (FNI) survey to gather comprehensive data on neighborhood connectivity, civic infrastructure, safety, education, health, housing and local commerce. This survey aims to inform future projects and ensure the community’s needs are effectively met.

Cohesion Network’s story exemplifies the transformative power of collaboration and community engagement. Through the support of the United Way’s FRJE grant, the organization is creating lasting positive changes in the Lehigh Valley, proving that a UNITED community can lead to healthier, more resilient neighborhoods. Its achievements highlight the importance of community-driven initiatives and the incredible outcomes that can be achieved when people come together for a common cause.

United Way awarded the following local organizations with grants ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 through the FRJE:

Grant funding is made possible thanks to partners and donors who directed their support to the Fund for Racial Justice and Equity, including PPL Foundation, Crayola, Behr, Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation, Truist, Lehigh Valley Community Foundation and United Way Women United.

Learn more about United Way and the FRJE grant program by visiting our Fund for Racial Justice and Equity page.