Mantua: Challenges Remain for Group’s Move Into Mantua Church

I Am Focused Director, Tim Hagins, stands in front of New Hope Primitive Baptist Church.]

I Am Focused Director, Tim Hagins, stands in front of New Hope Primitive Baptist Church.

Although Officer Tim Hagins now works in the narcotics unit of the Philadelphia Police Department, he hasn’t forgotten the cases of missing and abducted children he’s dealt with during his career. Hagins is dedicated to helping missing and abducted children, a mission he shares with colleagues Mike Richmond and Joe Richmond.

This shared mission led the trio to co-found the I Am Focused organization. The trio said they hope their acquisition of the New Hope Primitive Baptist Church, located at 34th and Brandywine streets, can provide their organization a base to do even more.

I Am Focused, a nonprofit, was founded in 2002. That year the U.S. Department of Justice released a report stating 797,500 children had been reported missing, a startling average of 2,185 children reported missing per day.

Hagins once used his position as general manager of The Destroyers, a minor league basketball team in the Eastern Basketball Alliance, to fingerprint and photograph children in case of abduction.

“We would set up an all-star team to play against neighborhood teams and team leaders, and during the event we would do the Kidcare photo/fingerprinting kits,” Hagins said.

I Am Focused came together when Mike Richmond returned from 13 years of playing professional basketball abroad. Richmond sought to put together a program to help children.

Players in the Gospel Basketball League played as Mike Richmond(right) officiated.

“I just got caught up in it, becoming a retired athlete,” Richmond said. “With the clubs I played with in Europe, [they were] always doing outreach for the community.”

As Richmond talked about the founding of the group, one of the organization’s successes–the Gospel Basketball League–was playing a game.

This league features teams from around the city and is open to all faiths. The league represents an expansion of the organization’s activities beyond fingerprinting and exhibition matches. The mission of this league isn’t to document children but to bring together different centers of worship.

“We have done a lot so far, [such as] teaming-up with Gerard Lawson with the Philadelphia Eagles,” said Jarvis Mckinney, the organization’s director of community program development. “[We] did a football clinic for him over the summer.”

Now in its 10th year, I Am Focused may have found a home in an unlikely location: the shuttered family church of Hagins.

The water damage to the building was clearly visible.

“As the congregation started to get older and dwindle down, my father was left in charge of the property,” Tim Hagins said.

Last October, the church shut its doors after 37 years. The actual building is far older, dating back to the 1800s.

“Instead of just letting the church just fall down or letting the city come take it, we’ll move the nonprofit to the church and work it all as one,” Hagins said.

Getting the property proved to be the easy part because the structure needs substantial repairs.

“Over the past 10 years, the roof of the church started deteriorating,” he said. “From that the water has been running through the building [causing] some weak spots.”

Inside the building plaster has fallen from the ceiling onto the empty pews, and has pealed from the walls. Richmond warned against going into certain rooms because of weak floors, but he’s optimistic about the opportunities the building could offer.

“God just had a bigger vision, seeing what I was doing with the kids,” Richmond said, crediting his faith. “Hey, instead of getting an office [God said] I’m going to give you a church.”

The trio behind the organization said they envision opening the church and their nonprofit to the public. They would reopen the parish as well as construct computer labs and lounge space for area residents. Computer classes would be offered as well as standard church operations, such as Bible study.

Some parts of the church appeared frozen in time.

“We don’t have to just save kids. We can save adults, we can save teenagers, we can save them all,” Richmond said.

Much of their optimism will have to wait because little can be done inside the church until the roof is repaired. The repairs to the roof alone are estimated to cost as much as $30,000 to complete. That figure is much more than Richmond is likely to get from his fundraising activity of selling grilled foods outside the church three days a week.

“The funding is coming from different areas,” Jarvis McKinney said. “We are a nonprofit, so we have some coming in from athletes and other organizations.”

Tim Hagins was realistic about the time table for opening the re-branded church. While he’d like to finish in a year, he admitted it could take as many as five.

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