Family, home, work and recreation are the building blocks of a strong community. A functional, healthy community needs dedicated leaders. Some leaders foster new businesses and encourage homeowners, while others provide a safe haven for youth and new immigrants. Meet the men and women working block-by-block to make Point Breeze and Grays Ferry better places to call home.
Director, Aquinas Center
Point Breeze’s diverse immigrant communities often live “parallel lives,” said Bethany Welch (above), director of the faith-based Aquinas Center. Since opening up shop next door to the historic Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church early last year, she’s sought to bring those lives together through a myriad of recent-immigrant integration and empowerment programs aimed primarily at Latino and Southeast Asian families.
JoAnn McClean, Assistant Secretary
Joseph Wilson, Secretary
Joan Garrett, Treasurer
Board Members of the Greater Grays Ferry Estates Home Owners Association
The Philadelphia Housing Authority built Grays Ferry Estates in 2004 on the site of Tasker Homes, a massive, high-density, low-income housing project. The new GFE homes are tidy brick twins with driveways and yards. The Greater Grays Ferry Estates Home Owners Association is a volunteer organization that monitors the appearance of the homes in Grays Ferry Estates. The board members believe that lawn care and exterior home maintenance are vital to establishing a community filled with peace and order.
Joe Wilson said, “I volunteer to be on the board because I felt that was the only way I could know and understand what was going on in the neighborhood.”
Treasurer Joan Garret said, “I love the neighborhood and I like my neighbors. But the challenges of being on the board can be overwhelming.”
Executive Director, South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S.
South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S has been in the business of connecting the neighborhood’s needy with affordable housing, education and employment for nearly 50 years. Executive Director Claudia Sherrod has been at the helm of the organization for more than two decades.
“We don’t just want this place to be livable,” she said. “We want it to be a pleasant place to live.”
Assistant Recreation Leader, Vare Recreation Center
The Vare Recreation Center covers an entire city block at 26th and Morris Streets in Grays Ferry. The center runs an after-school program that is the cornerstone of its community outreach activities.
“We have a lot of violence in the community and that is what I see on the news,” said Lisa Summers, Assistant Recreation Leader. “But there are good things going on in Grays Ferry. The kids come here every day. They are trying to stay positive, learn new skills and participate in our many programs.”
In addition to a full calendar of cultural and educational programs, the Vare Recreation Center is home to one of the few functioning city pools in the area, which opens earlier and closes later than any other in the city.
President, Point Breeze Avenue Business Association
As head of the Point Breeze Avenue Business Association, Ella Butcher works to promote and draw new business into the neighborhood. She also runs the Peaches and Cream Foundation, which teaches young at-risk girls the skills they’ll need to one day run businesses of their own.
“If we bring the restaurants, the shops here, that’s what’s going to bring people back in,” said Butcher.
She’s set her sights on the 1200 block of The Breeze, which she hopes to use as a starting point to improve the whole business corridor.
Director, PhillyMex Soccer League
Emilio Alcaide founded the PhillyMex soccer league in 2004. Today, the South Philadelphia soccer league consists of sixteen teams that play eight matches every Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Alcaide played recreational soccer in his twenties and now he organizes games and tournaments for the community.
“The players enjoy the soccer, the food and hanging out with their friends,” says Alcaide. “My wife helps me, my daughter helps me. Game days are family friendly events.”
– Text and images by Jessica Griffin and Jad Sleiman.
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