Bethany Welch called across Fairhill Square Park to a little boy running through the grass. “Jose!” she yelled. “Jose! Can I have a hug?” Without hesitation, the smiling boy ran over and welcomed her warm embrace. Welch, the executive director of the Providence Center, located at 2635 N. Fourth St., elicited many smiling faces at Providence’s Halloween Festival and Park Cleanup this past Saturday. The festival offered a face painting station, games, crafts, hula hooping and raffles to win Halloween treats and a pair of Eagles tickets. Children relished the various activities. “I like the hula hoops the best,” said three-year-old attendee Brandon Fisher.
The Providence Center, a Catholic community organization that offers secular services, had local high school students help out at the festival by painting kids’ faces and making spooky Halloween masks. Their involvement counted as part of Providence’s program to help students complete mandatory community service hours.
Shaneara Johnson, Providence’s youth service coordinator, explained Providence’s relationship with the teen helpers. “We help them with community service hours, but we also help them keep up on their post-secondary journey,” Johnson said. “We do weekly and monthly workshops to help build life skills, self-sufficiency and code-switching, or knowing how to verbally switch out of slang to separate personal and professional time.”
As children pasted feathers on paper plate masks, Johnson reminded that the activities kept with Providence’s educational message. “With each station, we like to highlight literacy. At one station, they [kids] can go up and get a book,” Johnson said. “Even though this a fun time, this is a fun, educational time.”
Earlier in the day, members of the Providence Center and men from Men in Motion in the Community, or MIMIC, helped clean up the park by picking up trash and raking leaves. MIMIC is a community service organization comprised of ex-offenders who volunteer in low-income areas and mentor high-risk young men. Rashid Waddy, an ex-offender who was incarcerated for 21 years, has been involved with MIMIC for four years. “What we try to do is predicated on what we went through when we were kids,” Waddy said. “We go to schools and we tell them, ‘give us your worst.’ I see a person who was like me, and we can help them turn out to be a positive person.”
MIMIC and Providence’s park cleanup helped make the square safer for members of the Fairhill community. “This park used to be a drug den,” Waddy said. “But if we find drugs, we turn them in. And if kids see us doing good things, that’s what they’ll try to do too.”