“We knew not to go to Eighth Street because of the shootings. We knew not to go to 12th Street because of the drug war.”
This was how Sharif Street, lawyer and son of former Philadelphia Mayor John Street, described his childhood to the children of Tree House Books.
The children are from the same Diamond Street neighborhood in North Central Philadelphia where Street grew up. The children interviewed him as part of a podcast they created.
Tree House Books offers after-school tutoring, a magazine project and other activities, including the podcast workshop, for students living near their location at 1430 W. Susquehanna Ave.
The students interviewed friends, family and businesses in their neighborhood in effort to capture “The Voice of Philadelphia.”
The Tree House Books Playhouse was bustling with laughter and chitchat as more than a dozen of the workshop participants began taking their seats for the podcast and photography slideshow.
At the start of the podcast presentation, Program Coordinator Michael Reid announced that this year — 2010 — marks Tree House’s fifth anniversary.
“So you are experiencing part of the magic, that is part of the five year anniversary,” Reid said to the crowd. “Our mission at Tree House Books is to grow and sustain a community of readers, writers and thinkers.”
There is a consistent group of more than 20 children at Tree House Books everyday. However, Treehouse Executive Director Darcy Sebright predicts it will soon be “the end of an era.”
“If we get five more kids we actually can’t fit them in the space with all the volunteers that we need to support it. So we’re getting to a point of how are we going to do this?”
The Tree House afternoon programs are free, and the Tree Shade Summer Camp costs about $5 per week. Children who participate throughout the school year only need a parent to complete a consent form for them. The summer camp has a more formal registration and may be that is something regular attendees will see for the school year programming.
“I think we will have to go to more of a registration process and that kind of stinks but I think it’s going to be responsible for our growth going forward,” said Sebright.
Dante Wright is a tenth-grader and junior staff member with Tree House. As a volunteer, Dante is responsible for helping younger kids with their homework during the tutoring hours.
The JSM program is a leadership training program for kids between ages 11 and 15. After they successfully complete an application and interview process, the Junior Staff Members are mentored and trained as leaders.
“I work at Tree House every day and we have snack and do homework and we help you if you need help with it. I like doing the projects. I love helping a lot,” Dante said.
Instead of being paid in a monetary form, the Junior Staff Members are able to trade in every hour that they work for rewards. Past rewards have included a trip to the Eastern State Penitentiary and trips to various restaurants with their families.
“Kids work on their homework, working together, communicating with each other, that’s part of how we service our mission,” said Reid. “Another part of how we do it is through our magazine workshop and some of the podcasts.”
The first podcast was made in spring 2009 and was so successful it was followed up with another podcast workshop during the Tree Shade Summer Camp. The third is a work in progress and focuses on Don’s Doo Shop. The barber shop/hair salon is a fabled establishment, having done ‘hair’ for famed musical groups like the Jackson Five and the Temptations, among many others.
Tree House Books not only helpa children with homework and their reading skills. It also provides them with an opportunity to explore the history of their neighborhood through the creation of podcasts.