A lifelong resident of Strawberry Mansion reminisced about some of the struggles he endured as a child. Rick Ford acknowledged how his own downfall began. It was in the sixth grade when Ford began smoking cigarettes, which led to a childhood filled with drug abuse.
“By the time I got to seventh grade I was taking pills, drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana and nicotine,” Ford said. “Eighth grade was a progression of alcohol, pills and cocaine. Ninth grade was just a continuing downhill slope.”
Rick Ford, commonly known as “Mr. Rick” in the neighborhood, has since turned his life around and worked to become an active member in the community. Ford is the founder of the Strawberry Mansion Athletic Association and has helped to bring organized sports to children in the area. Ford said the idea for such a project was a calling he could not ignore.
“Little did I know that when the meeting was adjourned I would go home and for the lack of a better word, I couldn’t get any sleep,” Ford said. “Something said, ‘you know what, you go do something.’”
With the creation of the Athletic Association also came a new baseball league made for boys and girls of all ages. Ford worked to rebuild a local baseball field in Mander Park located at 33rd and Diamond Streets. Ford’s baseball league has continued to grow over the years, as it originated with 189 kids and has more than doubled in size. Ford said that his life is all about giving back to the community, as he was a “taker” during his childhood.
Ford described how the equipment used for the league had been donated from people that work with the Philadelphia Phillies. Ford explained that Jon Wakeim, who was in charge of fan development for the Phillies, helped to get the new baseball league in Strawberry Mansion on its feet.
“I went down to Citizens Bank Ballpark and they provided me with balls, bats, gloves and helmets,” Ford said. “It was just an enormous amount of equipment.”
Rick Ford even remembered how a resident donated a storage shed so they could protect the newly donated equipment.
The response from the residents of the neighborhood has been overwhelmingly positive. Ford’s work has made him a local celebrity and earned him the nickname of “Mayor” in Strawberry Mansion. One resident, Mike Nelson, agreed with the masses that Ford’s work is paying off.
“From what I see in the neighborhood someone is doing good. Mr. Rick is doing a good job in the neighborhood and I hope he keeps this work up,” Nelson said. “Improving the parks is definitely something good for the neighborhood because it gives the kids something good to do.”
Not only has Ford given the children of Strawberry Mansion the opportunity for productive extracurricular activities, but the kids have been recognized by the local media for their good behavior on and off the baseball field.
“A lot of these kids have made the front page in the local papers, not because they are gunshot victims or from violence, but because they are doing great things,” Ford said.
Another local resident of Strawberry Mansion, Andrea Riggins, said she feels Rick Ford’s accomplishments are commendable. Riggins said she also hopes more child-oriented activities will be implemented in the future.
“Any work that is done up in here is excellent. It’s a thank you very much,” Riggins said. “We could have more things going on though like arts and crafts, clay or molding. Anything hands on for the kids would also be great.”
Rick Ford has used his past as a model for his future. He has learned many life lessons that he said he wants to teach to children. Ford has established a baseball league in Strawberry Mansion and has just begun a new project to build a boxing ring in the basement of a local church. Ford said it isn’t just about getting the kids to have fun, but to teach them about respect and to breed strong character for the kids in the neighborhood.