North Light Community Center is often referred to as the “little engine that could.”
This nickname reflects the operations of this nonprofit facility at 175 Green Lane in Manayunk where staff stretch limited resources to provide a lot of services for its surrounding community.
“Usually what happens is a kid comes in for summer camp then we find out maybe their parent lost their job, so they may use to food cupboard. So once you come in the doors we are a holistic approach. We don’t just treat one thing,” Lila Bricklin, director of development for North Light, said.
North Light’s main focus is on children and teenagers but the community center also helps families who are struggling by providing services like a food cupboard which is held once a week.
“In addition to our food cupboard, we have a program that helps families pay their utilities, and we also have a holiday program where we deliver meals on Christmas and Thanksgiving that can’t afford it,” Bricklin added.
The earliest age a child can come to North Light is 3 when the child can be enrolled in the Bright New Lights program that serves children from ages 3 to 5. An after-school care program called KidZone is for kids ages 3 to 11 and is provided during the school year.
“Every day we go and pick up the kids from the different public schools [and] bring them back here. We have free time, we have a snack and we have homework,” John Jacobs, director of childcare programs, said.
During the months of July and August North Light has a summer camp program where kids can come for the day while their parents are at work.
These childcare programs at North Light are designed to be fun for the kids but also maintain educational value.
“During summer camp we have literacy and arts. We focus on language and arts and just sort of reinforcing those concepts they learned through the school year and providing support,” Jacobs said.
North Light partners with local colleges, such as Villanova University, where nursing students from that Mainline school will come in for six week periods and implement educational classes for the kids such as lessons on nutrition and diets.
Emilee Smith is one of the nursing students who spent time working with the children at North Light.
“The North Light experience has taught me that there are support services that are available for children. The children at the center are very bright and the staff is awesome. They make sure that the children follow the rules, which is particularly great because it teaches the children structure and this behavior can roll over into school and at home,” Smith said.
“It was great working with the children and staff. It was truly a rewarding experience for me and my group members.”
North Light, in another area of emphasis, works with local teens to try to provide a bright future and present career opportunities for teens who attend the struggling Philadelphia school system. Billy Eisenberg, director of education and teen services, explained the many programs set in place to help the teenagers succeed, often when they have a lot of things working against them.
The Workready Summer Internships Program is designed to provide a select group of teenagers with jobs that meet their possible career interests. The teens are placed in their jobs and are able to work 20 hours per week and get paid. “There were 43 youth that enrolled in the program this spring and competed for limited slots, so only 25 got placed after a rigorous process,” Eisenberg said.
In relation to the Workready program is a year-round work-readiness program called the Urban Sustainability Leadership Academy. This program is held at Roxborough High School, and along with career preparation, this program also has a strong emphasis in environmental sustainability.
“We have an urban farm at the Schuylkill Center in Roxborough. We have about a half-acre farm up there and we grow seasonal produce. We have youth during the school year that help manage the farm,” Eisenberg said.
One program North Light operates beyond its walls is a small garden located in Gorgas Park right beside Roxborough High School. The students help run this garden and the produce collected from both the farm and the garden are then sold at farm stands, to local restaurants and at farmer’s markets. Additionally, North Light works with the high school students to develop recipes in which they will create a cookbook.
North Light regularly provides one-on-one tutoring sessions for the high school students in subjects they are struggling with. SAT prep classes are held around the times that the SATs are administered to aid students.
Another service North Light provides is a parenting class for people of all ages that teach techniques and skills needed for successful parenting.
“I think that in many cases it’s a very challenging job, but it’s very rewarding job as well. You not only help a kid get a job but you help them look towards a possible career in a certain field. They will many times thank you for that and tell you later how much they really appreciate your help. You really see it when they get excited about a certain opportunity,” Eisenberg said.