Needs in various communities always seem to change along with the times, and as a result, social organizations tend to come and go. But then there’s Lighthouse.
Currently located at 152 W. Lehigh Ave., and having first been established in 1893 as a settlement house, Lighthouse has persevered by continuing to change along with the times and meeting the needs of the Fairhill and North Philadelphia communities.
“Lighthouse serves as a beacon in the community, if a parent comes in and is looking for child care, we have an after school program, it can service the entire family,” said Cassandra Parker, chief operating officer for Lighthouse.
Over the years it has remained a beacon for the community helping people of all ages with a wide range of services and programs.
Through their economic development program, Lighthouse aids under and unemployed people attain employment by offering readiness training, resume writing, interview training, GED and ESL classes and placement services.
Through the Beacon Share Program, Lighthouse distributes free groceries to over 400 families and senior citizens year-round.
“Seniors who are in need of food assistance come to us,” said John Lavery, executive director of Lighthouse. “We receive the food from Share and then we pass out the boxes.”
The largest focus for Lighthouse though is education, especially childhood education, and with good reason.
According to city data, less than 30 percent of Fairhill residents have obtained a high school diploma or an equivalent, and less than 5 percent have received a college degree.
Lighthouse has been making efforts to fix this problem mainly through Head Start, an early childhood education program for children 3-5.
Head Start first began in 1972 but has evolved much since then. “Head Start initially began as a place where working parents could leave their children and where parents served as teachers,” Parker said. “It has grown into such a force that even the bureaucracy has made sure that it has become a program with credentialed teachers, so what was originally looked at as babysitting, now is an educational career.”
An interesting measure of the effectiveness of Head Start is that it runs through multiple generations in that some families and parents seem to continue bringing their children there.
“My son went here, my brother went here, now my daughter is going here,” said Aisha LaCourt, parent of a Lighthouse student. “I love it here. That’s why I would recommend Lighthouse to any parent.”
One of the head teachers for Head Start, Lucy Rodriguez, is Lighthouse’s longest tenured employee, having worked there for 35 years. She noted that in many cases she’s seen former students of hers bring their children as well.
While Head Start may be Lighthouse’s biggest program, it’s certainly not the end of educational and recreational services they provide for children.
L.A.M.P. is an after school program that Lighthouse provides to help children ages 5-14 with tutoring, homework assistance, as well as sports and recreational activities.
Lighthouse also provides year round sports and recreation programs. The two most prominent are baseball and soccer which have both received national recognition. However, they also have the likes of football, swimming and other such programs.
These programs are housed at two different locations: the outdoor activities at a 15-acre complex at the corner of Erie and Whitaker avenues which Lavery referred to as “the largest green space in eastern North Philadelphia,’ as well as a facility at 141 Somerset St. that has a gymnasium and an indoor pool. Within the field complex are seven baseball fields and multiple soccer and football fields.
Lavery’s claim is not unfounded, but rather supported by statistics. According to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, 58.9 percent of children in Fairhill ages 6-17 are obese, compared to the citywide average of 46.9 percent.
“I can go to any part of the city and when they ask me where I work, when I say Lighthouse they say, oh I know the Lighthouse, I love the Lighthouse, I went to the Lighthouse, my niece went to the Lighthouse, my parents went to the Lighthouse,” Parker said. “It has definitely changed many lives for the better.”