PLEASANTVILLE — A new local gospel radio station celebrated its first year Saturday by honoring those who lift up the community.
Sister Jean Webster, who runs the soup kitchen bearing her name in Atlantic City, and Greg DePiano, a city police sergeant who heads the Atlantic County Toys for Kids Program, received WEHA-FM’s first Community Service Award during a banquet at Pleasantville’s Mount Zion Baptist Church.
As host of the Egg Harbor Township-based station’s “In the Community” show, Thelma Witherspoon said she tries to point out the positives in the community. Two of them are Webster and DePiano.
“You hear so much negativity, but we have a lot of heroes in the community,” she said. “They’ve been doing the work all along.”
But guest speaker the Rev. Al Sharpton said the gospel music played by William and Elaine Hawkes on 88.7 FM also has a part.
“We need this station to help us rise up above the drugs and the crime,” Sharpton said.
Speaking to the black community, the well-known civil-rights leader said much of the negativity going on now is coming from within.
“No one from outside is forcing us to shoot each other,” Sharpton said. “No one from outside is making us sell dope to each other. No one from outside is making us show disrespect to our women and our families.”
The community needs to lift its voices above that, he said. That is what “brought us from slavery to the White House.”
“We didn’t get there by singing the song we’re singing and doing now,” Sharpton said. “We got there by singing the song that the Hawkes family plays on WEHA.”
Before taking the stage, Sharpton said the station’s positive message “combats some of the social ills.”
Both Webster and DePiano also do that, Witherspoon said.
Webster first started feeding the homeless out of her home after retiring in 1994. Three years later, she moved to the Victory First Presbyterian Church and now serves hundreds each week.
DePiano began the Toys for Kids program in 1988, procuring Christmas presents for underprivileged children. Now, the assistance comes year-round.
DePiano also leads tours of correctional facilities as part of the “Scare Them Straight” program and organizes fundraisers to benefit the Atlantic County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit, which runs at no cost to taxpayers.
“People are doing good things all the time,” Witherspoon said. “This is a way to point that out.”
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