6601 Greene St. | Philadelphia PA 19119 | 215-843-6333 | 215-843-6655 (FAX)
Hours: Mon-Fri 9am-2pm
Pictured left to right: Ted Hall, Ebony DeBrest, Susan Beetle.
Meet three of the tens of thousands of teachers, students, board, staff and others who help make up the MALT community. Few students have registered for more classes than Ted over the years. Ebony is one of our beloved teachers and has taught more than 1,900 individuals swimming and water aerobics through MALT. Many of those students return term after term to continue and advance their skills. Susan has been a MALT supporter since day one and has served on our board for many years. Here’s why they love MALT.
Ted Hall: "I love being able to learn something new at each class and have fun, too. One of my retirement goals is to do, try, or learn something new each day and MALT gives me that opportunity. My neighbors and friends have such varied interests and hobbies and they are willing to share these with me. My best experience so far has been learning to line dance (The Baltimore) in the pool at the shallow end in water aerobics class with a lot of crazy ladies."
Ebony DeBrest: "My goal for my students is to have them step outside the box, try to put their fears aside and see how far it will
take them. I go in with the best possible attitude I could have and it is 110% reciprocated by my students. My favorite story was when
an adult pair of sisters came in the spring of 2008. Learning to swim was something they wanted to accomplish together as they have had a lifelong fear of the water. Once they finished the class both were swimming reasonably well. One sent me a note that said: “Now that I have accomplished this I know I can do anything.” That is the kind of attitude I want everyone to have. You can’t do something new if you don’t try. By trying I know that success will come."
Susan Beetle: "MALT gives us an opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. I’m all for community and it has been the context for my life. I’m constantly amazed by the creativity and generosity of the board and staff, and the teachers and students. I love MALT because it enhances the community it serves. It strengthens ties among residents, and provides opportunities for participants to engage in common areas of interest as teachers and students. The best part of my involvement with MALT over the years has been working with the talented and creative members of the board and staff."
Barbara Bloom had a dream: to create an affordable community education program that would bring diverse residents together to get to know each other. Based on the concept of neighbors teaching neighbors in a community setting, that dream became the Mt. Airy Learning Tree, affectionately known as MALT. Starting in 1981 with 17 classes and 125 registrants, today we average 750 classes and 5,000 students per year.
Q. You were the moving spirit behind creating the Mt. Airy Learning Tree. Tell us more.
A. Yes, I was. What I realize when I look over MALT’s history is how incredibly lucky I was to draw many talented people to MALT from the beginning. Before we started to gather classes, I asked East and West Mt. Airy Neighbors to jointly co-sponsor us, and that’s how Bill Ewing and Susan Beetle, Eversley Vaughn, Dianne Reed, Pat Henning, Gayle Koster and others got involved. I think my gift probably was in asking for help. I was never afraid to say, “Would you like to do this?”
Q. What was MALT like in the beginning?
A. It wasn’t always easy. People we asked to teach didn’t seem to understand what we were doing, which seems odd today. At first they didn’t have any idea of what we were talking about. “Huh? Why would people want to study bird< watching with me?” or “Why would people want to learn how to repair bikes?” After several sessions we could just show them the brochure and it got easier to recruit teachers.
In those early years, our policy was, “If you can’t afford the fee, pay what you can and come anyhow.” One of our first courses was on women’s assertiveness. The first three registrations didn’t pay anything. I thought, “Oh, we’re cooked.” Fortunately enough, the later registrants all paid, but it made for an anxious beginning.
Q. There was a lot of talent in Mt. Airy, wasn’t there?
A. Actually I think that’s still true. People are eager to be helpful and just need to be asked.
Q. Where did the name Mt. Airy Learning Tree come from?
A. Eversley Vaughn, one of our first organizers, quoted the famed photographer, musician, writer and film director, Gordon Parks. In Parks’ book The Learning Tree, it says “Everything you need to know you can learn under this tree.” It seemed appropriate for what we were setting out to achieve. You will see those words in the mosaic MALT commissioned to celebrate our 25th anniversary, outside Lovett Library on Germantown Avenue.
Q. How do you feel about MALT today?
A. I’m just very pleased with what it has become and what people have made of it. I’m delighted that the people who have followed me have done so well and made it their own.
Pictured at right, MALT's early organizers:
Left to right, top row: Maura Johnson, Eversley Vaughan
Second row: Jessie Birtha, Gail Hicks, Jessica Koster, Ray White;
Third row: Pennie Marcus, Terry Hicks (with Christian Hicks), Patricia Henning
Fourth row: Susan Beetle, Judy White, Barbara Bloom, David Hale
Front row: Neil Swenson, Gayl Koster, Robert Harting.