For Kim Wilson and her 5-year-old daughter Marian, the STARS Program housed at the John M. Perzel Community Center in Philadelphia’s Mayfair section provides a much needed support system for facing the struggles of a disability.
“When you get a diagnosis for your child, there’s a whole process you go through in coming to terms with the diagnosis,” said Wilson. Her daughter has been diagnosed with mild autism, a severe articulation disorder and a sensory integration dysfunction. “But then you also find out that there is this larger community of families going through that same process,” Wilson noted. “Part of what STARS did for us was learning that we weren’t alone in what we were going through.”
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Now, STARS, a sports program for disabled children plus more than 50 other groups that call the state-of-the-art John M. Perzel Community Center home, face possible program cuts, increases in fees or even shuttering of their facility due to recent and projected state funding cuts.
Wilson also has an 11-year-old daughter, Emily, who participates in a performing arts program held at the Devon Theater, another Mayfair community building at risk for funding cuts or closure.
The Devon, a performing arts theater built on Frankford Avenue near Levick Street in 1946 and revamped to become a brand-new, 400-seat live arts theater less than five years ago, was already forced to cut short its inaugural live-performance season halfway through in January.
“With that change in the [state] budget and the delay with the budget not being signed until late fall, a lot of stuff groups had budgeted for was pulled off the table,” explained Brian Patrick King, executive director of the Mayfair Community Development Corp. (CDC).
King runs the CDC out of the John M. Perzel Community Center, which the organization built in 2006. The CDC also purchased, renovated and maintains the Devon. It runs most of the programs housed in those two buildings. In addition, the full-time CDC staff of four oversees Mayfair’s Clean Sweep project, which works to beautify business corridors in the area.
Though King said he could not disclose the CDC’s overall budget or its projected gap in funding, he said there “does not appear to be a change in forecast” from the last fiscal year’s dim funding outlook for community development organizations and arts and culture programs throughout Philadelphia.
Places like the Devon, he said, are taking a double hit.
“At this point, the CDC is meeting with local and state representatives about other possible funding sources,” King explained, adding that he works to apply for any grants available to the CDC. “We changed our business model back in November, and people lost their jobs after that.”
One plan under consideration that would keep as many programs as possible intact is to restructure the CDC so that the Devon and the John M. Perzel Community Center, as well as other CDC-run facilities like the Manor Medical and Community Services Building, are separate entities that don’t all fall under the CDC’s umbrella.
“We would structure it like that so hopefully two could stay open,” King said.
In addition to the STARS program, the John M. Perzel Community Center also offers a free place for local senior citizens to gather in the morning, with free pastries and coffee. Of Mayfair’s population of 27,000, King said 21 percent are senior citizens who would potentially be directly affected if the building were shut down.
The center is also open after school, when hundreds of high school students from the neighborhood and local schools use the multiple-court basketball gym to play pickup games.
“There are thousands of kids that would not have the facility,” King said. “This building is never empty.”
Although increasing prices for CDC-run programs and sports teams that already charge fees or establishing fees for programs like STARS, which uses the space for free, is an option, King said he is hesitant about going that route.
“It’s a conversation we’ve had,” he said. “But I can’t put the burden on them. Then you just hurt the people you’re trying to help.”
In addition to the Perzel Center’s programs, the Devon also runs programs and summer camps for children and teens. It also continues to function as a concert and comedy show venue, but does not have any official live play performances, as originally planned.
As a parent who could be directly affected by program cuts or building closures, Wilson said she feels compelled to let state and local politicians know whom the cuts would hurt, and that she plans to “fight for it.”
“This is America. You vote. Some people don’t know, so you speak up for those who are able to and you speak up for those who can’t,” Wilson said. “Regardless of whether we’re actually thinking [the cuts will happen], we have to speak up to let them know we care about it.”