Neighborhood advocate a 'great loss' for York City

Jason Addy

York City lost a shining light and one of its biggest champions Saturday when Chrystal Sexton-McEachin lost her four-year battle with cancer.

Sexton-McEachin was 58.

With her “contagious” laugh and “infectious” smile, she was known as the matriarch of the city’s northeast neighborhood for the tireless work she did for her neighbors.

Northeast Neighborhood Association director Chrystal Sexton-McEachin is shown posing for a photo in October 2016. Courtesy of the NENA Facebook page.

For more than 20 years, Sexton-McEachin served as the director of the Northeast Neighborhood Association, organizing food and clothing drives for her neighbors in need of a helping hand and connecting them with vital resources and programs.

Despite being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer years ago, Sexton-McEachin continued to put her heart and energy into helping others up until a few weeks ago, said Cecilia Keesey, a volunteer on NENA’s board of directors.

Sexton-McEachin’s death is a “great loss” for her family, friends and the York City community, Keesey said, but NENA and its members will continue to provide services and help neighbors the way she would have wanted.

“Chrystal always … shared with me that the best thing that we can do in our lives is to serve others,” Keesey said. “That was her mission. That’s what she reinforced to all of us.”

Barbara Beattie worked alongside Sexton-McEachin at NENA, and though she knew her for more than 20 years, she never heard a complaint from Sexton-McEachin, even during the worst times of her illness.

In the last few years of their two decades together, Beattie said their relationship grew from that of neighbors and co-workers to that of sisters.

Beattie said she recalls sitting with Sexton-McEachin outside her home, looking up and down the street, thinking about “how good everything was starting to shape up” in the northeast neighborhood.

Sexton-McEachin was instrumental in that recovery by caring for everyone without asking for anything in return, Beattie said.

“She didn’t have to know you. She would always help,” Beattie said. “If she could help, she would help.”

And if she couldn’t help, she’d find somebody who could, Beattie said.

Though her death will leave a hole in the northeast neighborhood, many of those who knew her well said Sexton-McEachin’s spirit of selflessness will inspire other residents to carry on her message of always putting others first.

“She spread so much positivity and so much good. That good will be spread to others,” Keesey said.

“I’m certain of it. People will step up,” Beattie said.

Champion of the city: Sexton-McEachin “loved people unconditionally” and could see through people’s circumstances to get to know who they really were, said Bill Ferrell, who met Sexton-McEachin more than a decade ago.

Ferrell moved to Manchester Township in 2006 to work with the Asbury United Methodist Church, where he met Sexton-McEachin.

Over the next three years, she took Ferrell “under her wing” and helped give him a “great appreciation” for York City, he said.

“She taught me to be able to see the neighborhood and the people who live there with different eyes, to appreciate them,” Ferrell said, alluding to York City’s reputation in other parts of the county. “She treated everyone with the utmost respect. That will be forever impactful for me.”

Sexton-McEachin greeted everyone with a smile and a hug and treated everyone with respect and dignity, Ferrell said, and because of that, people felt comfortable asking her for help.

“People just really respected her and valued her presence,” Ferrell said. “They knew that she was there to make a difference.”

Public memorial: Family, friends, neighbors and city officials will take to the 100 block of North Pine Street from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday for a memorial service and celebration of Sexton-McEachin’s life.

At the service, York City Council President Michael Helfrich said he will read a proclamation in honor of Sexton-McEachin for her service to her neighborhood and to the city.

Helfrich said the proclamation will serve as a final “thank you” to Sexton-McEachin and call to action for others to fill the void she leaves behind.

Though there are various organizations around the city providing similar services, Helfrich said the relationship Sexton-McEachin had with her neighbors “is deeper than any I’ve seen in the city.”

York City Mayor Kim Bracey called Sexton-McEachin a “gentle soldier” who worked in the best interests of everyone in her community.

Since meeting Sexton-McEachin more than two decades ago, Bracey said, she always knew her to be fully committed to the city’s northeast neighborhood.

“She was resilient, persistent and always wanted to see change and positive things happening in her neighborhood,” Bracey said.

All those in York City government will miss Sexton-McEachin’s presence and “infectious smile” at community meetings and gatherings.

“Her smile will be missed,” Bracey said. “We think about her smiling down on us — smiling because of (her) accomplishments and the work that’s carrying on.”