Donald J. L. Coppedge a Person of Influence and Impact
Don Coppedge, a community activist and advocate for affordable housing, left an indelible mark on Petra Community Housing. His tireless efforts and forward-thinking leadership transformed the lives of low-income families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities in the greater Phoenixville area.
In 1994, Don Coppedge played a pivotal role in establishing Phoenixville Homes, now Petra Community Housing. This organization was dedicated to developing and managing safe, quality, and affordable housing for those who needed it most. His vision extended beyond mere shelter; he believed that everyone deserved a place they could call home, regardless of their financial circumstances.
Don grew up in downtown Phoenixville and graduated from Phoenixville High School. Growing up poor, he helped his parents financially by shining shoes to make extra money at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station. He also delivered newspapers for the Daily Republican, earning one penny per paper delivered, and set pins at the local bowling alley.
At the beginning of his career Don had a Christian mentor who guided him to take a position in the Youth Program of the YMCA in Phoenixville. His first position was as the Aquatic and Physical Director. With only two children in the program, he realized he had to build up the program and recruit participants. Don’s natural charm and sincerity enabled him to convince parents to observe and support his program. It was not long before the program grew to include swimming lessons, sports events, dances, etc. He was amazed how the parents entrusted him with their children, in spite of the negative racial climate of those days. However, while he was building his program, misfortune struck as he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was a miracle that he survived the operation. Because he could not work, he could not earn a salary and his wife was pregnant with their second child. A defining moment in his life occurred when the families and members of the YMCA had a “Dollars for Don Dance” and raised $1,000 to help his family and to pay the medical bills. This generous gesture taught Don the meaning of community, humanity, and self-sacrifice. It started him on the path of charitable giving.
Don worked at the Phoenixville YMCA from 1957 to 1976. His work at the YMCA enabled him to bring people together and to show how to treat others as you want to be treated. Beginning in 1960, he spearheaded a building campaign and served as the main fundraiser for a new pool at Baker Park, the current location of the YMCA on Pothouse Road. Following this success, he served as the first African-American President and Chief Executive Officer of an independent YMCA. After he retired in 1988, Don stayed active with the YMCA as a member of their Corporate Board of Directors. Because of his dedication, the YMCA commemorated Don by naming the gymnasium the “Coppedge Gym.”
Following his retirement Don was instrumental in impacting the expansion of affordable housing for low-income families, seniors, and persons with disabilities as a founding member of Phoenixville Homes. Now known as Petra Community Housing, the organization was created by the Phoenixville Area Council of Churches in 1994 to provide solutions to the lack of affordable housing in the region. Don served as President of Phoenixville Homes from 1994 to 2008 and helped to establish an endowment to ensure continued success for Petra Community Housing.
Don continued to be an ever-present force in Phoenixville. To achieve his goals of inclusion and equity, he became a member of many boards and community organizations, including but not limited to the Chester County Housing Authority (Chairman) and the Phoenixville Social Concerns (Chairman).
As a result of his efforts, Don was the recipient of numerous awards, including but not limited to the Phoenixville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year and the Chester County Community Foundation’s Thanks for Caring Award.
Don Coppedge’s passion for affordable housing lives on through Petra Community Housing. His legacy reminds us that housing isn’t just about bricks and mortar; it’s about dignity, security, and the promise of a better tomorrow. As we continue the conversation for more affordable housing options, we honor Don’s vision—one that uplifts our neighbors and strengthens our community.
Petra Community Housing continues to expand and maintain affordable rental units in the greater Phoenixville area. Our commitment to quality housing ensures that all individuals, regardless of race, economic status, or ability, can enjoy a well-maintained, affordable residence.