With long hours at work, parents today struggle to find productive ways to occupy their children after school. Fortunately in neighborhoods like Fairhill there stands the Lighthouse. In its safe environment, the youth can improve not just their academic abilities, but athletic ones as well.
The mission of Lighthouse is to provide educational, recreational and economic improvement programs for those in the community. For over a century families in North Philadelphia have come to rely on Lighthouse to provide the services that they cannot find elsewhere.
“A lot of parents send their kids to playgrounds where there’s no structure whatsoever and the kids run amuck,” said Seth Small, a father of three. “But putting them in a structured environment like the Lighthouse is much better.”
With pent-up energy from their school day, young students look forward to playing games and getting outside on a warm day. Despite many of the neighborhood streets being an unsafe place, Lighthouse has evolved their sports and recreation program to meet the children’s needs.
The organization offers over 1,000 children annually with a full range of sports and recreational programming. Serving children from ages 4 to 21, the Lighthouse holds programs year-round in their two gymnasiums. Along with the gymnasiums, an indoor swimming pool and the Lighthouse Field (a space with seven baseball fields, soccer and football fields) are available to the community. They have come to be recognized nationally for many of their sports programs including soccer and baseball.
The Lighthouse Soccer Club is a non-profit youth soccer organization that sponsors programs for over 300 children between 5 and 18 years old. The program includes soccer clinics and camps and an in-house training program. The travel team program includes boys and girls soccer teams to compete in multiple tournaments.
Along with soccer, baseball is made available to players from ages 12 to 21. Thanks to the newly formed Urban Sports Zone, advanced players now have a chance to compete in tournaments and be seen by college scouts.
Although the sports teams make up a big part of both middle and high school students’ schedules, younger students look forward to simply taking advantage of Lighthouse’s gymnasium.
With basketballs dribbling and footballs in the air, young students from neighboring schools look forward to getting together and playing sports that they enjoy. Whether its kickball or tag, volunteers and teachers at Lighthouse partake in the games alongside the children.
“The sports programs here definitely keep them entertained. We do give them the physical activity they require and teach them leadership and teamwork, so it benefit them,” said Jose Cuevas, an after-school teacher at Lighthouse.
“They’re kids and they are going to have fun regardless,” said Ismael Cruz, a new teacher at Lighthouse. “So while they’re playing sports and are together, they will develop social skills.”
Sports and physical activities are invaluable for youth growth and development, not only from a health perspective, but also as a means of teaching and learning life skills. The Lighthouse mentors understand the health risks for children who do not involve themselves in physical activity.
According to a 2009 Philadelphia youth risk behavior survey, 53 percent of those surveyed watched television three or more hours per day on an average school day. Also, 35 percent of those used computers three or more hours on an average day, and surprisingly 75 percent of those students did not attend physical education classes daily when in school.
With those numbers and more, organizations like Lighthouse make it their mission to keep children not just off the streets but off the couch as well.
“If I didn’t come to The Lighthouse after school, I would probably be at my house doing nothing and watching TV,” said Ricardo Valentin, a middle school student who often attends Lighthouse’s after-school programs.
To keep this valuable program growing, funding is a key part to run Lighthouse and its many athletics offered.
“For the sports and recreation there is no funding, we depend a lot on donations. A few mom and pop organizations donate to our sports,” said Ruby Rivera-Perez, the director of children and youth at Lighthouse. “We need this program to function. The kids look forward to it and it’s something that is needed in this neighborhood.”
Lighthouse offers several sports including: baseball, soccer, flag football and are currently in the process of adding lacrosse and cheerleading. There are required fees for students to join the programs, however they do waive the fees or offer scholarships depending on certain families’ situations.
The Lighthouse has served as a guiding light to Fairhill by bringing in generation after generation to partake in their services. Now with the advantage to grow up with Lighthouse, children in the area can make the right choices without hesitation.
“We want them to keep growing. Though they come from this type of neighborhood, it doesn’t stop. We want them to continue to grow and be somebody,” Perez said.