Inquirer Editorial: Citizens in the best sense

Posted: December 28, 2013

For nearly a decade, Inquirer readers have readily identified a bevy of neighbors they viewed as representing the best qualities of citizenship. With the selection of The Inquirer's Citizen of the Year coming Sunday - marking the 10th such honor - this year's list of nominees demonstrates the familiar compassion, breadth of interests, and enthusiasm for making the Philadelphia region a better place.

The nominees' causes include helping the hungry, jobless, and homeless; stemming violence; promoting equality; improving health care; and increasing international understanding. These citizens have reached out to the powerless and spoken truth to power.

Nancy J. Gilboy, the president and chief executive of Philadelphia's International Visitors Council, was nominated for her lifelong devotion to "making Philadelphia a more attractive, interesting, and international city." Gilboy's leadership, following a career with the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau, is credited with enhancing Philadelphia's Sister Cities program and much more.

The efforts of another nominee are focused closer to home and on the importance of a home. The Endow-A-Home program run by Cynthia Brooks, which has been around for a quarter-century, has been hailed for its work helping formerly homeless women complete their education, escape domestic violence, and make a fresh start.

Also widely praised was the Rev. Robin M. Hynicka, pastor of Arch Street United Methodist Church. Hynicka "has used his pulpit to advocate for fairness and justice in social issues and the life of the city," according to one nomination. He has assumed a leadership role in local efforts to promote marriage equality, organizing several dozen clergy to celebrate a recent same-sex wedding at his Center City church. He has advocated for better pay for airport porters. And he has fought the spread of illegal guns and casino gambling.

Mariana Chilton was nominated for her leadership of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University's School of Public Health. In that role, according to one nomination, the associate professor's "dedication and commitment to end hunger is an inspiration." Recently, Chilton has been a vocal critic of cuts to federal food assistance. Her passionate advocacy was evident in one of her recent comments on the subject: "Families don't go hungry in a vacuum. Families make terrible tradeoffs - between paying for heat or paying to eat."

No doubt 11-year-old Sarah Murnaghan would prefer to have forgone her nomination and never faced a desperate need for the double lung transplant she received last year at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. But because Sarah's struggle triggered a needed national debate about organ waiting lists and transplant policies, she was recognized as helping to make "a notable change in medicine, science, and law for children in need of organ transplants."

Four teachers at Mercy Vocational High School, meanwhile, were cited for "preparing disadvantaged children with life skills and job readiness." That honor roll comprises Martin Corcoran, Loretta Corcoran, Teresa Przybylski, and Mary Ruskey.

Finally, for his work at the nonprofit organization Books Through Bars, Tim Dunn was singled out for offering "a ray of hope to the least among us" - the incarcerated people who receive the books that Dunn's West Philadelphia group ships out to prisons around the region each month. Relying on volunteers and donations - and even collecting tomes by bicycle, according to a nomination - Dunn is seen as "a humble servant to all Philadelphians." That's as fine a credo as can be articulated for any contender for Citizen of the Year.

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