The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum
Minnie McNeil — 2020

14th Rebecca lukens award recipient

Minnie McNeil was born in Marion, South Carolina and came to Coatesville at a young age. The Scott Senior High School Graduate went on to lead the opening and operation of the W.C. Atkinson Memorial Community Service Center in Coatesville. Nestled on 822 East Chestnut Street, the center continues to operate 28 years after its inception and enhances Coatesville by providing community resources, referrals, affordable housing for individuals and families, shelter for homeless men, five supportive and transitional houses, and provides space for critical programmatic services and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle through education, preventative support and cultural services.

The motivation to start W.C. Atkinson Memorial Community Service Center, Inc. was initially to provide shelter and support for homeless men, an outgrowth of a former shelter for men, women and youth located at the Coatesville Seventh-day Adventist Church. Minnie wanted to also provide income-based housing within a wealthy county and develop integral community services. She explained, “At the time, we had no shelters for men in Chester County.” Minnie and her husband Andrew knew this would be an immense undertaking but they started the project in 1987 and had the first man walk through the doors in 1992. “I consider the men priest of the home, and know there were a lot of priests out there that if given the opportunity would contribute largely to family and society.”

From the start, the shelter offered night-time placement but more recently shelter hours were expanded to extended hours for Individualized Intensive Case Management with support from the Stewart Huston Charitable Trust and the Genuardi Family Foundation grants. W.C. Atkinson served 122 men in need of shelter in 2019, as a direct outcome of this new initiative, 48% of the men moved from the shelter into permanent housing. A vision for excellence continually evolves as a volunteer male nurse now provides monthly health workshops and screenings.

“When the apartments were completed, the years of toil and uncertainty and advocacy for the highest quality paled in comparison to the glowing comments of the first tenants.” Soon partnerships began in an effort to grow the Center into an all-inclusive community support system. Minnie explains, “We envisioned a space for Brandywine Hospital to develop a community Health Center that offered easy accessibility and affordable primary health care, including care for persons with no insurance or money, as modeled by Dr. Atkinson.” This vision came to fruition as the Brandywine Hospital Health Center at Atkinson served the community for twelve years, ending 2007.

The Center built various community service classes and groups including Diabetic and Grandparent support groups, health education, English as a second language courses, summer camp which utilized area assets like Palmer Park and 9th Avenue Community Center, computer literacy, after-school homework assistance and creative arts and music lessons; and space for Family Services and Legal Aide. The vision was, by providing opportunities for individual development, the new found skills and purpose would return full-circle to continue to enrich other’s lives as well. When reflecting on how far the center has come, Minnie says, “God has been really good to us”.

The community center is named after Dr. Whittier C. Atkinson, an African-American physician who built the first portion of the Clement Atkinson Memorial Hospital in 1932; having been turned away from practicing medicine at the local city hospital. His primary goal was, to provide an efficient, voluntary institution for the medical and surgical treatment and temporary care of the sick and injured.  Minnie knew the doctor, he in fact employed her at her very first job as a housekeeper at the hospital. As her duties expanded, she was led through different departments and eventually into her career in nursing. “Dr. Atkinson was a man of few words, great vision and self-sacrificing for the community he faithfully served,” Minnie said, “his legacy is steadfast commitment among challenges.”

Minnie has enacted a steadfast commitment among challenges in many different ways during her lifetime. As with the community center, the outcomes have been rewarding. During her 33-year tenure as a nurse at Brandywine Hospital, Minnie served 10 years each on the boards of the American Cancer Society and Chester County Health Department. She traveled extensively as director of Community Service, Disaster Response, Prison and Women’s Ministries for the Adventist Church throughout the US, Canada, Europe, Africa, Panama, Bermuda, Bahamas…She represented her church on the Housing Committee for NVOAD and also coordinated responses to hurricanes among many in Haiti, the Caribbean, Missouri, and an extended response for nearly 8 years in the Katrina aftermath.

When asked about her opinion on Rebecca Lukens, Minnie responded, “Years ago I assigned one word for her, “tenacity”. She continued, “The fact that we live in a City where a woman paved the way in securing her own family, and in doing so impacted and secured the city, provided work for thousands from everywhere, and in result impacted the world.”

“Both Rebecca Lukens and Dr. Atkinson faced what would have seemed to most, great challenges and overcame them. They both had reason to give up; but did not. Rebecca Lukens a woman, and Dr. Atkinson a black man impacted their world in amazing ways, and leaves us with little excuse for doing less.” Minnie portrays the traits of Rebecca and Dr. Atkinson, within herself. She is a woman who took a vision, put it into motion and in result has invoked community-wide revitalization in the lives of the people served. 

Minnie and Andrew are the proud parents of 3 sons; Andrew, John, Mark, 13 grands and 5 delightful great-grands.