The Providence Center, located at 2635 N. Fourth St., offers educational and enrichment opportunities to the Fairhill community.
The Sisters of the Holy Child opened the center as a place for hospitality and respect in 1993 when the St. Edward’s Parish and School closed down. They wanted to continue the work that was being done at the church.
Bethany Welch, the executive director, said, “We’re a faith-based neighborhood center.”
Mary Beth Schluckebeir, the center’s resource development coordinator, said, “[The sisters] wanted to maintain their ministry so they opened the Providence Center.”
Schluckebeir is primarily in charge of writing grants and managing the volunteers. She handles many issues that arise within the organization on a daily basis.
Community members that use the center’s programs range from children to adults. English as a Second Language and computer literacy classes are offered for adults. Most recently, there have been eight sections of the ESL classes.
Additionally, Schluckebeir holds Conversation Café, where non-native speakers attend and practice their English.
“They bring food from each of the native cultures,” Schluckebeir said about the participants that attend the informal setting.
The Providence Center serves a large Latino population but Schluckebeir said she would instead classify the community served as an immigrant community. In the ESL classes, she said there have been some participants from Vietnam and the Middle East.
The Providence Center also offers spirituality groups for women, and provides an opportunity for a retreat with Sister Peggy Doherty, who is the director of the ESL Program and Women’s Prayer and Retreat Programs.
For children, there is an after-school bilingual program. Approximately 20 students attend every weekday. Many attend school at Julia de Burgos School, located at Fourth and Lehigh streets.
“A lot of the kids’ parents are not English speakers. We focus a lot on homework completion,” Schluckebeir said. The program also provides a healthy snack and other activities to help keep children off of the streets.
When there wasn’t sufficient funding for afterschool snacks, Schluckebeir said the center held a brain food snack drive. Enough snacks were provided by local religious organizations to feed the kids for the rest of the year.
“I think we’re pretty creative when financial resources fall short,” Schluckebeir said.
Schluckebeir noted non-profit organizations have been hit hard due to the recent economy but that a lot of the money to fund the Providence Center comes from private family foundations.
Schluckebeir said: “Funding is a consistent challenge. We are constantly applying for grants.”
With a small staff, the Providence Center uses a volunteer base to help run the programs it offers.
Schluckebeir said, “We do a lot of recruiting in the high school and the students need to fulfill community service hours.”
These students generally provide consistent help to the center because of these requirements. Other students voluntarily choose to continue to help the center. Schluckebeir said one male student finished his hours but has stayed an active volunteer.
However, not all of the volunteers at the center are students.
Schluckebeir said: “The weekend projects are a lot of adults. I think it’s a scheduling thing.”
Many of the adults are working jobs that do not permit them to assist with the after-school homework program throughout the week. This is another reason that the Providence Center relies on older students. A group of students from Saint Joseph’s University help the after-school program three days every week.
Another program at the center, the Youth Service Corps, encourages community service. Made up of high school students, the teenagers tutor in the after-school program but also receiving mentoring from the staff at the center. There, for example, they can get help with applications to jobs or to college.
“Also for teens, we have our Teen Leadership Program,” Schluckebeir said.
Presently the leadership program has four teenage girls that work part-time in the after-school program. These girls work 15 hours each week and receive career and leadership development workshops from the Providence Center.
Schluckebeir said, “Each of the services meets a very specific need. I think overall where it meets the greatest need of the community is it provides a safe space.”
During the summer, the Green and Growing summer camp gives children the opportunity to work on environmental projects. Schluckebeir said violence escalates during summer months and providing structured programs like the camp keeps children in a safe place.
The center also works to improve the community’s appearance and build friendships.
On April 14, a group of community members and Providence Center volunteers worked to create a community garden.
Welch said: “We have our Youth Service Corps here. We have our homework club and then a lot of neighborhood folks. This was an opportunity to create a space that the neighbors wanted.”
Alexa Diaz, a high school student, said: “I want to have the experience [volunteering]. It’s going to be beneficial to me in the future.”
Carmen Vasquez, who lives near the garden, said trash occupied the lot before the project began. The new garden will allow neighbors to get to know each other and clean up the neighborhood, creating a better community to live in. She said she is happy that there will now be a clean place for the neighbors to spend their time.
The community garden is a prime example of the unity that the Providence Center encourages.
Schluckebeir said: “It brings all different people from the block and from the area out. It brings a lot of positive energy. I see the community garden as an opportunity for unity and pride.”