by Fred P. Gusoff
A Northwest Philadelphia woman who is head of the class at four area colleges is taking on a fifth assignment. Karima Bouchenafa, an English instructor and resident of East Mt. Airy, has taken the helm of West Mt. Airy Neighbors (WMAN). She was appointed executive director by the group’s board of directors at a meeting in October. There were no other candidates for the top spot.
“There was no mudslinging,” she said of the uncontested, non-controversial elevation.
She said she got the job, in part, because of her work and comfort level with technology. She has promoted West Mt. Airy in the WMAN e-newsletter.
“We look forward to working with Karima,” said WMAN board president Leslie Winder. “She shares the passion we have for our neighborhood, and we know she will be an enthusiastic and effective leader in working with our neighbors, community leaders, elected officials and the other organizations with whom we partner.”
Bouchenafa succeeds Yvonne Haskins, who held the post on an interim basis after former executive director Marilyn Cohen stepped down for personal reasons about a year and a half ago. Haskins is remaining with WMAN.
Bouchenafa, like her father, was born and raised in Germantown. She has strong ties to both Mt. Airys. She is a member of East Mt. Airy Neighbors, and her aunt and uncle live in West Mt. Airy. Her doctor’s office is there, too.
“We all work in conjunction with Mt. Airy USA,” an advocacy group, she said.
Bouchenafa, 42 and single, is a Central High School graduate. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in English Language and Literature at Georgetown University.
“I have no human children, but I have four cats and a cockatiel,” she said.
Bouchenafa has been a college instructor for 15 years. This year she’s teaching English at four institutes of higher learning: Community College of Philadelphia, Delaware Valley College, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Peirce College. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” she said of her quartet of teaching assignments. “It’s a lot of personalities to manage.”
She has worked with several non-profit organizations including the historic Belmont Mansion and Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Education Center and is a former member of the board of directors at the Johnson House Historic Site, an Underground Railroad stop and museum on the 6300 block of Germantown Avenue.
Her new position at WMAN is not necessarily a cakewalk. “Resources can be a challenge. We’re dependent on the generosity of our members,” she said. The area has many interesting and vibrant businesses with which there are opportunities to form partnerships, she added.
She praised the community spirit seen at a recent BlocktoberFest event. Despite cold, windy, rainy conditions, more than 35 people came out to take part in a 5-K run and tree planting. “This has been a very strong group for a very long time,” she said of WMAN, which was established in 1959. “There’s a definite responsibility and camaraderie in the group.” Board members, she said, appreciate the richness and racially diverse nature of West Mt. Airy and want to make sure it remains an attractive community with good schools, businesses and civic pride. “I really like the energy in the community,” she said.
Apathy has plagued many community organizations throughout the city, but it is not a problem in West Mt. Airy, Bouchenafa insisted. In fact, crime issues helped to generate a “fantastic turnout” at a Dec. 3 joint meeting of the East and West Mt. Airy Neighborhood associations. The presidents of both groups and the commander of the 14th Police District were on hand.
WMAN has about 400 members; several hundred more are recipients of the group’s e-newsletter. WMAN’s board of directors has a capacity of about 21, but the number of board seats may be reduced, possibly in January.
Meanwhile, Bouchenafa touted her group’s slogan: “Creating a Better Mt. Airy Together.”
“I really enjoy and value the enthusiasm of the residents I’ve met,” she said. “I love West Mt. Airy. I love West Mt. Airy Neighbors.”