Irene Bailey woke up last Saturday morning to find that vandals had carved racist graffiti into the finishes of both family cars and slashed one of the tires, amounting to $4,000 worth of damage.

She reported the incident to the police in the Delaware County town of Collingdale, contacted her insurance company - and told her family to forgive the vandals.

"We are not going to let anybody chase us out of our house, and we are not moving, so don't be afraid," Bailey, who is African American, said she told her three youngest children.

The incident was one in a string of hate crimes in eastern Delaware County this year.

In May, a Harrisburg-based white supremacist group papered an Upper Darby neighborhood with more than 250 racist posters.

The same month in Lansdowne, a swastika was painted on the door of a black resident's newly purchased home. Similar graffiti were discovered behind the bleachers at the borough's Penn Wood High School, where the student population is more than 95 percent minority.

Earlier this year, the sidewalk in front of a black-owned business on Baltimore Avenue in Clifton Heights was marred with racist graffiti.

The Pennsylvania State Police reported that, statewide, 129 people were victims of ethnic-intimidation crimes in 2006, the latest available data.

But anecdotally, "it truly does appear that we are seeing an increase in hate-motivated incidents across Pennsylvania and across [Delaware] County," said Ann Van Dyke, an investigator with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. "They appear to be greatly connected to areas of the county where the demographics are changing rapidly."

According to Census figures, the number of minority residents in Delaware County increased 5 percent from 2000 to 2006. In 2000, whites made up 80 percent of the population, non-whites 20 percent. In 2006, whites made up 75 percent of the population and non-whites 25 percent.

Bailey, a bank teller, said she might have seen the vandals, possibly teenagers, running near her home on the previous night as she returned from a church activity.

White teenage boys with no criminal records are the demographic group most often responsible for hate crimes, said Van Dyke. She added, "This is also the group we have learned is best able to turn around when there is a large outcry from the community."

Their motivation for the crimes tends to be "bragging rights" with their peers, said Van Dyke. "We need to tend to alienated young people, because if we don't someone else, with an anti-social agenda, will."

A national educational program, No Place For Hate, guides more than 140 schools in the state in discussing prejudice and diversity, said Nancy Baron-Baer, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Philadelphia.

Baron-Baer cautioned that hate-crime statistics may not be a true measure of the number of incidents that occur in the state. There are many reasons that people do not report the crime, she said, citing fear of reprisals and language barriers.

"It takes a brave person to come forward," Baron-Baer said.

Bailey considered not contacting police, but quickly changed her mind. She wanted to save others from having the same thing happen to them.

In the morning when the damage was discovered, Bailey and her husband, Willie James Bailey, grabbed hands and prayed.

"We were glad we are still here, and they didn't violate our home," Bailey said. "It could have been worse."

Bailey said she was overwhelmed by the support she has gotten from neighbors, community members and coworkers. Strangers have come up to her on the trolley to ask how she is doing.

"I didn't realize," she said, "there were so many people who genuinely care."

Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149 or mschaefer@phillynews.com.