Every Saturday morning, the doors of the Lenfest PAL Center are opened to the kids of Hunting Park for City Year’s Young Heroes program.
The middle school students who participate in this weekend day of service come to the gym complex for workshops and community outreach.
They also come to play basketball, run around and chat with friends in the gym during the lunch hour.
The 50,000-square-foot structure, which opened in 2007, was built with funds from the H. Chase Lenfest Foundation. President H. Chase Lenfest is a member of the board of directors of the Police Athletic League and set up the foundation to fund programs that work with kids in economically challenged neighborhoods.
The center is used by the PAL as well as SquashSmarts, a program that combines the physical exercise of Squash with academic tutoring and mentoring.
City Year, a full-time youth service corps for ages 17 to 24, has been using the Lenfest Center as the headquarters for Young Heroes North since last year.
Since City Year started the program in 1997, enrollment rose to such numbers that the students were split into two groups, Young Heroes South and Young Heroes North. Each section has 150 middle school students from around the city.
After completion of one year with the program, students have logged at least 100 hours of community service and are presented with the Presidential Volunteer Service Award, signed by President Barack Obama, at a Young Heroes graduation ceremony.
Many students choose to continue the weekend service routine once they begin high school by joining the City Heroes Alumni program, where they plan a service day, create press releases and publish a parent newsletter.
Ragina Arrington, the Young Heroes program manager, has seen a lot of positive feedback from students.
“They really love it, they’re here voluntarily so they’re pretty invested,” she said. “It’s a good social outlet. A lot of the alumni come back. We have a huge following.”
Another reason Arrington thinks the students become so involved in Young Heroes is because their projects are focused on the neighborhoods they live in.
To learn more about homelessness in Philadelphia, the students visited the Nicetown Community Development Corporation and participated in workshops with community members.
“This project is at home for them. It really connects with them to be in this space,” said Arrington.