GWCC Honors The Best
Kevin Finn, Founder and Chairman of Iron Hill Brewery, The Chester County Hospital, The Community Warehouse Project of Chester County and Former State Senator Andrew Dinniman will be celebrated as some of the best in Greater West Chester at Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce’s 2022 Annual Banquet, at The Desmond Hotel and Conference Center in Malvern on Thursday, October 6, 2022. The Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Banquet is an evening centered around honoring the people, businesses, and organizations that positively influenced the West Chester community during the previous year and beyond.
Craig Smith, Multimedia Retail Consultant/ National On-Air Electronics Expert/ Product Spokesperson sat down with our award winners to learn more about their impact in the Greater West Chester community and beyond.
Kevin Finn – 2021 Outstanding Citizen of the Year
After receiving his master’s degree from the University of Delaware, Kevin Finn wasn’t exactly sure what he would do with his life, but he certainly knew he was going to have fun doing it. At the time, he was working in the family billboard business and spending his off hours riding his bike and playing soccer. Life was good, but as time went by, Kevin’s wife wasn’t too fond of her husband’s nightly habit of chasing a ball around a field. Her solution - buy Kevin a home brewing kit. That would keep him home at night. Who would have guessed what a lasting impact that gift would have on both of their lives?
A fun gift turned into a hobby for Kevin and his soccer buddy Mark Edelson. These 2 guys in Delaware began to make some pretty good beer. It wouldn’t be long before it became award winning beer. They were on to something here. When they connected with Kevin Davies the idea for a brewery/restaurant was born. In November of 1996, Iron Hill Brewery was brewing beer and serving up food in Newark, DE. Success soon followed, and the trio had a plan for expansion. Downtown West Chester seemed like the perfect spot for Iron Hill’s next location.
The borough of West Chester in 1998 was nothing like the bustling hotspot we all know today. The shops and nightlife scene had long since left town. Kevin and his partners joked that you could see tumbleweeds rolling by on a Sunday afternoon. That’s when the Iron Hill trio planted their flag on the corner of High and Gay Streets, and a downtown renaissance was underway. At the time, once abandoned downtowns were making a comeback across the country, and Iron Hill brought the spark of energy that West Chester sorely needed.
“It made it lively. I was wanting to be out and about, and there were things to do. Not only was there a new restaurant, Iron Hill, it was good. It looked nice and the guys who ran it were good guys who got involved right away.” - Fred Gusz, former member of the West Chester Business Improvement District
As Iron Hill thrived so did the downtown of West Chester. More restaurants and businesses filled Gay and Market Streets, but it was Iron Hill that became the hot gathering spot in the borough. Lunch, happy hour, and dinner crowds kept the restaurant packed every day, and while Kevin enjoyed the success, he knew he needed to find a way to give back to the town.
It’s a great community, and I wanted to be a part of that. What better way than to give back. Part of its my DNA. Part of its my business DNA. Part of it is I live here and want to make it a better community.” - Kevin Finn, Founder, Iron Hill Brewery
“He did get involved right away and he was the point person. He was part of the community. It shows people like me that he’s not just here collecting money. He’s part of the community, and you can trust him. He’s one of us.” - Fred Gusz
Kevin’s philanthropic nature was instilled in him early on. His mother was a nurse, and when Kevin was a teenager he spent many Christmases traveling with his mom to nursing homes to make beds or to chip in with whatever was needed. After getting his undergraduate degree in Boston, Kevin moved to Delaware and immediately got involved in the Jaycees. Later, after his family sold their billboard business and Kevin looked for his next career move, he volunteered at a Boys and Girls club teaching math. Every step in his life, Kevin has been looking for a way to help others.
“I’ve always been someone who try to lead by example. I think it’s a big part of the community, and it’s a big part of who I am” - Kevin Finn
As we moved into the 2000s, Iron Hills were popping up all over the Mid-Atlantic landscape, but Kevin and his family chose to make West Chester their home. Kevin’s twin daughters went to school locally, and Kevin was a fixture at Iron Hill’s West Chester location. Our community has benefitted immensely by having him around.
Over the years, Kevin and Iron Hill have been strong supporters of the Jaycees. He also helped start the long running bike race in the borough. There were Muscular Dystrophy Lockup events, partnerships with former Philadelphia Eagle Jon Runyan to create a beer who’s proceeds went towards fighting cystic fibrosis, and long time support of CureSearch for Children’s Cancer.
“There are a lot of great businesses that help make our community a better place. However, Kevin and Iron Hill definitely stand out. Every time you turn around, it feels like they are leading the way towards helping out another segment of our community. Kevin and Iron Hill really care about the greater West Chester area, and that’s a big reason they are so well loved around here.” - Katie Walker, President, Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce
In recognizing Kevin Finn’s long standing and continued support for so many organizations, The Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce is proud to name Kevin Finn as the 2021 Citizen of the Year.
Chester County Hospital – 2021 Business of the Year
2021 On March 6th of 2020, things were moving along quite smoothly at Chester County Hospital. On that date, the hospital held an open house to proudly unveil their newest addition, a state-of-the-art, 99-bed wing. It was a celebration for a renowned community hospital that was already ranked as one of the best in America. There were talks of the Emergency Room renovations soon to be underway, and with the power of Penn Medicine behind them, Chester County Hospital was standing proud. However, the world was about to change.
On that same exact date, samples from Wayne and Delaware Counties confirmed what watchful healthcare officials feared. The first 2 cases of COVID-19 had been detected in Pennsylvania. Less than 2 weeks later, schools, businesses, and more were shut down. Add to that, the closing of multiple area healthcare facilities and the heightened awareness of racial injustice stemming from the death of George Floyd, and Chester County Hospital’s brief moment in the sun had turned into a storm.
“I’ve been in healthcare for 30 years. This is far and away the most challenging time I’ve ever seen.” - Mike Duncan, President and CEO, Chester County Hospital
By 2021, healthcare facilities around the world were pushed to a near breaking point. COVID death and hospitalization numbers were all over the news, and those daily numbers were in the thousands. Most of us were told to stay at home, wear a mask, social distance, and get vaccinated. Hospital staff didn’t have the option to work from home. As a result, the hospital needed to adjust to an ever-changing world. Certain staff members became experts in how to properly put on and take off personal protective equipment. Others became temperature scanners trying to determine who may be showing symptoms of the virus. Then, there were the challenges of addressing daycare and housing concerns for staff who weren’t able to go home for risk of exposing family members to the virus. The challenges changed on a nearly daily basis, and teamwork was essential.
“Most people who work in a hospital go into this field because fundamentally they want to help people. This gave us an opportunity to come together, be creative, be innovative, step out of our comfort zone, and do what we are really trained to do which is take care of our patients and take care of our community.” - Dr Karen Pinsky, Chief Medical Officer, Chester County Hospital
“There was never any panic. There was always great communication, and I think the character of the leadership is really what helped everybody stay calm and carry on.” - Ed Brenier, Chester County Hospital Board Member
Thanks to Chester County Hospital’s hard work, our county quickly became one of the most vaccinated in the state. By 2021, the hospital was able to better understand how to treat COVID symptoms, and the staff was better equipped to handle the patients who needed care. However, that was not the only stress impacting the community.
During the spring of 2021, social justice became an issue the nation was forced to confront head on as the trial surrounding the death of George Floyd became front page news around the world. More than 13% of Chester County Hospital’s staff is African-American, and senior staff members could see the impact that this moment was having their coworkers.
“Whatever happens in the community comes into the workplace, and when you have three thousand employees, you have to expect that” -Jackie Felicetti, - Chief Human Resources Officer, Chester County Hospital
“What I quickly learned was I was a well intentioned, naive, white guy. I really didn’t understand how different their experiences were in the community” - Mike Duncan
Just like adjusting to COVID, the hospital realized changes were also needed to create a more welcoming workplace. CEO and President Mike Duncan met with an African American mentor and many church leaders in the community to learn how to better partner with his minority employees. The hospital’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department quickly created a “Let’s Talk” education program to address concerns. A cultural belonging consultant also joined the staff and that person is still with the hospital today. For Chester County Hospital, a welcoming and inclusive work place is a key to providing excellent care.
“We don’t care if you’re white, black, Hispanic, lesbian, gay, transgender, older, young, from the south, or from the north, everyone belongs here. It’s been a very big push for us, and people have been open to it.” - Jackie Felicetti
As the year progressed, the financial crunch on community hospitals also landed on Chester County Hospital’s front door. The rumors that multiple area healthcare facilities would be closing became a reality. Brandywine Hospital - Tower Health was closing both its main hospital and its behavioral health facility in Coatsville, while Jennersville Hospital was also shutting down. That recent 99-bed addition at Chester County Hospital that was celebrated in 2020 was supposed to bring the closure to older wings of the building. That was no longer feasible. The additional patient load brought on by these closures increased ER visits alone by 30%. The hospital was pushed to its limits with an influx of patients desperate to find a new place that provided care.
“Our greater challenge in 2020 and into 2021 has been absorbing and taking great care of patients who had nowhere else to go. We’ve absolutely seen unprecedented volume growth in the organization. What that has required is that we not just be nimble but that we grow” - Dr Karen Pinsky
2021 will be a year that the staff of nearly 3000 at Chester County Hospital will not soon forget, and many of those challenges remain today. A stalwart of our community is being put to the test, and they continue to answer the call. Due to their remarkable dedication to the community, The Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce is proud to name Chester County Hospital as the 2021 Business of the Year.
“I’m grateful that the community recognizes all of our employees. We do take wonderful care of people.We’re a community hospital and ultimately the community is the judge if we’re serving the people well or not - Mike Duncan
Community Warehouse Project of Chester County – 2021 Community Service Honoree
There is a long list of amazing charities in Chester County that have made a lasting impact on countless lives. There are groups that help those battling disease, those in search of housing, and those in need of a hot meal. Many of these great organizations have spent decades helping the most vulnerable in our community, but it is a relatively new charity that is being recognized by the GWCC this year. The Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce is proud to present the Community Warehouse Project of Chester County with the 2021 Community Service Organization Award.
The Warehouse Project was an idea that was kicked around for several years before finally becoming a reality in 2017. The organization’s goal is to provide free furniture and other household items to local veterans and families in need. Think of a food bank, but instead of shelves filled with bread, milk and meat, it’s a warehouse full of couches, beds, dressers, and a whole list of other needed items. The organization partners with more than 60 others charities in the area who then refer people to the Community Warehouse Project. Finding the safe housing is the key goal for many of those groups, but there is so much more that is needed to turn that house into a home.
“It’s a really nice time saving thing for us. It allows us to stay in our lane, focusing on homelessness and it allows their team to provide furnishings for those that really need it. It’s really a wonderfully collaborative environment we’ve created” - Michelle Venema, Chief Executive Officer, House of Sparrow
Glenda Brion has been with the Community Warehouse Project since day-1. As CEO and Executive Director, she oversees an ever growing staff of volunteers. In those first few years, the organization was helping around 150 families per year while operating out of a donated building in Downingtown or grabbing storage space wherever they could find it.
Since July of 2020, the organization has found a new space just east of downtown West Chester. Stop in and you’ll see that the 5300 square foot warehouse is in constant motion. New furniture is always passing in through the doors and heading back out just as quickly. In a typical week, the Community Warehouse Project will provide 10 families with all if the furniture they need. That adds up to over 500 families who will receive needed furniture and home goods by the end of 2022. Thankfully, that constant need for gently used furniture has been met by the generosity of those in Chester County.
“There’s so much stuff out there that people just want to give you. They’re thrilled to find us. They don’t want it to go to the dump and they don’t know what else to do with it. We’re lucky to live in a wealthy county where people have great stuff, and they replace it often.” Glenda Brion, CEO and Executive Director, Community Warehouse Project.
For years, there have been other outlets for people to get used furniture at a deeply discounted price, but having a resource that provides these items at no charge and is willing to deliver it to your door is unique. In fact, the Community Warehouse Project stands alone as the only charity of its kind in the county, and they often hear from organizations in surrounding counties who do not have this service in their own communities. You may think that a roof over your head and a warm meal would be enough, but without the needed furniture in a new dwelling, many people are still desperately in need. Statistics show that a previously homeless family is 30% more likely to return to homelessness if they move into a home without furniture.
“They don’t have to worry about that part. They can now focus on what the other important pieces are. Whether its getting a job or paying for something that their child really needs or better food quality, all of those kind of things.” - Glenda Brion
Walking through the warehouse’s narrow passageways gives you a true appreciation of the volume of furniture the Community Warehouse Project distributes. Stacks of mattresses in every size fill a back wall. Down the next aisle, there is one bookshelf after another leaning against a coffee table or a stack of lamps on top of a children’s bed frame. With only 2 paid employees, keeping track of all of the inventory is a colossal undertaking. If not for the dozens of volunteers who chip in to make the system work, keeping the process moving along would be impossible.
“They want to be part of something better that helps out another family or a veteran have a better life. That makes a lot of people very happy and very fulfilled” - Glenda Brion
“I love working there. It’s such a great project. It’s a feel good thing. It’s filling a great need. People’s lives, thousands of them have been made better by having Glenda facilitate furniture so that people can live normal lives in a matter of days” Mac Neilon, Rotary Club of West Chester
In just its 5th year, the Community Warehouse Project continues to evolve. Today, their biggest cost is related to furniture delivery. Thankfully, Glenda and her team have partnered with local moving companies to keep those costs manageable. Add in the efforts of that group of volunteers, and hundreds of families and veterans in our county are on their way to a better life thanks to the Community Warehouse Project of Chester County.
The Honorable Andy Dinniman – Lifetime Achievement Award
Andy Dinniman was not born and raised in Chester County, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone more dedicated to making our community a better place. For the past 50 years, Andy has leant his efforts to causes helping the vulnerable like the homeless, the elderly or the ill, to caring for cats and dogs, from improving educational opportunities to fighting for equality for all. Andy has shown a tireless dedication to helping others, and he has a long list of awards to show for his efforts. The Greater West Chester Chamber for Commerce is proud to add another award to that list in naming Andy Dinniman as just the third person to be presented with the Greater West Chester Chamber’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Andy was born and raised in New England, and after graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut, he gained his master’s at the University of Maryland. Then, Andy’s life forever changed when he drove through West Chester for the first time. Andy had landed a teaching position at West Chester University, and as he cruised down the tree-lined roads of High and Gay Streets, Andy felt a connection. Something spoke to him that said this was the place he would call home.
West Chester was an ideal spot for Andy to begin teaching African-American studies. Our area was the sight of much of the history Andy was sharing with his students. In 1979, he became Director of the Center of Ethnic Studies at WCU, and Andy felt a desire to not just share his wisdom with people in his classroom, he wanted to use that understanding to make a positive impact on the community.
“I was willing, based on my knowledge and teaching to stand up for diversity and inclusion and understand what took place here. For me to do research and to teach material that I learned in my doctoral programs and my master’s programs and then be able to take them into the community and make them a reality was a privilege” - Andy Dinniman
Andy’s first foray into politics began with his work with the Downingtown Area School District in the mid-1970s. He then became a member of the Chester County Board of Commissioners and was chair of the Chester County Democrat Committee. Then in 2006, Andy was the first Democrat in more than a century elected to the state senate representing Pennsylvania’s 19th district. Was this historic victory a sign of a political sea change in the area? Not at all, according to Andy who believes we are all one community and politics should not stand in the way of progress.
“I know he had a vision of an older generation of leaders like Roosevelt, Lincoln and Obama who saw the value of enhancing our democratic way of life. It was not just a Republican thing or a Democrat thing. His reelections speak to the fact that he touched the hearts and minds of the people that he served. They saw him more than an elected, partisan official. - Dr C James Trotman, Founding Director of the Douglas Institute, West Chester University
“You can overcome party. You can overcome issues if you’re a good person who tries to help people, and we forget that today. People agree more than they disagree. They just don’t know it. If you can strike that note, you can bring people together” - Andy Dinniman
Andy served 4 terms as the 19th district’s state senator, and with his open door policy at his office in downtown West Chester, he worked to help anyone who stepped in off the street looking for assistance. Andy was a champion for small businesses, and he fought to preserve the Barclay Grounds in West Chester. Andy stood up for the homeless in helping to create the Safe Harbor shelter on Matlack Street. He also developed the Chester County Gleaning Program to help feed the hungry and pushed for additional school funding during the early days of the pandemic.
Of course, there were also plenty of political battles that Andy lost along the way, and not every one of his constituents’ beliefs aligned with his own. In today’s environment, politicians are often viewed as being on one side or the other. Any issues can quickly become a flash point for division and bitterness, but that’s not Andy’s style. As a representative of the people, Andy would often travel across the county to meet with those he agreed with and just as often he would meet with those with opposing points of view.
“ You have to be willing to get beat up. You have to be willing to be challenged, and you don’t have to respond by hitting the person back” -Andy Dinniman.
“When he was in the senate, he was always at his desk, always working, looking at things, reading, talking to people, doing the things he needed to do. In my opinion, if people don’t work diligently, the end product is never as good as it should be, but Andy worked hard. People knew that” - John Eichelberger, former PA State Senator
Following his 4th term as a state senator, Andy stepped out of the political ring, but his career is far from over. Today, he still has friends on both sides of the aisle, and he often meets with them on his current projects. Andy’s love of dogs and his support of seniors led to the creation of Henry’s Helping Paws, a charity named after Andy’s beloved poodle who passed away in 2014. The new organization partners with seniors who are not able to provide food for their furry loved ones. Andy was also recently named Professor Emeritus at West Chester University, and he is currently working with the school in the development of a diversity themed walk near the university’s new Sciences and Engineering Center. Plus, he is partnering with Republican John Eichelberger to push for term limits in congress. Engage in a conversation with Andy, and you will likely hear a few more plans about projects and ideas he is working on with the goal of creating a positive impact on another part of Chester County. Let’s hope his efforts continue to shape our community for many more years to come.
2/18/2023 11:02:21 am
2/18/2023 11:03:22 am
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