South Philadelphia: Alder Street Residents More Like Family Than Neighbors

The children on Alder Street take a break from playing hockey.

[vimeo 51152586]

Neighbors of all ages on Alder Street enjoy spending time with one another.

When AJ Vagliani was diagnosed with cancer as a teen and was given only 24 hours to live, the neighbors on the 2500 block of Alder Street in South Philadelphia came together in support of his family.

“Everyone up here pulled together for me like you would not believe,” said Terry Vagliani, AJ’s  mother. “One [neighbor] cooked me home-made dinners; one collected [money] from the whole street.”

Now a seven year cancer survivor, AJ, 21, and the rest of the Vagliani family still rely on support from their neighbors.  The Vagliani family hosts an annual benefit which raises money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand.  The neighbors pitch in by spreading the word, buying tickets and making baskets for the auction.

AJ’s diagnosis is only one example of the familial support encompassing Alder Street, a block full of hardworking and friendly folks in South Philadelphia.

When a man at an Alder Street residence was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant, he arrived home from the hospital to find every single house displaying a yellow ribbon signifying the fight against cancer and a “Welcome Home” sign.

But tragedies aren’t the only things that bring Alder Street together.

“We are all about partying. It’s about having a good time,” said Holly Dignen, 27, a resident of this Alder Street block.

They clean the street up together, host benefits and block parties, celebrate birthdays and holidays and even throw serenades when a neighbor gets married.

“If there is a reason to party, we’re doing it,” said Donna LaMotta, who has been living on the 2500 block of Alder street since 1968.

They even have their own DJ, Frankie Lo Scalzo, who has lived in the neighborhood his entire life and recently brought his wife of two years, Tiffany Lo Scalzo, to the block.

Michael and Erin Longo enjoy this block for the safety it  provides for their children.

Maryann Iacobelli, 80, has lived on Alder Street since she was 12-years-old. She notes that although some people from older generations still reside on the block from when she was younger, many young families are moving in with their children.

“One of the joys of this street is that our kids have each other,” said Erin Longo.

Hockey nets, hockey pucks and hockey sticks provide an outlet for boys of all ages in the neighborhood to enjoy a little friendly competition and let the kids living on Alder Street feel a part of the neighborly camaraderie.  Street hockey, dodge ball, jump rope contests, hand ball and touch football also keep the neighbors busy, especially the kids.

Longo, who has lived on Alder Street for four years, has three children. She says there are about seven or eight boys between the ages of four and nine who get along really well.

Neighborhood feuds are a rare occurrence on Alder Street and when they do happen they are sure to end quickly, especially if a family is in need.

“There were times when you would have a couple neighbors who were feuding but if there was a death in the family, it’s like nothing ever happened. My grandmother passed away and she had some problems with my next-door neighbor. The day she died she was one of the people who picked me up from work and took me to the hospital. That’s how we do things,” said Donna LaMotta.

“The one thing I love about this street is that if one person has a problem, it becomes the whole street’s problem and everybody makes sure they fix it,” said Michael Longo, a four-year resident of the block with his wife Erin.

Though the heart of the neighborhood has interacted and been part of the community for generations, there have been many transient people coming and going in and out of the houses on Alder Street due to the increased number of rental properties.

The children on Alder Street take a break from playing hockey.

According to LaMotta, however, the people who move into the neighborhood love it and many are there to stay.

“We’re so friendly. As soon as somebody moves in, it’s like ‘Hi, I’m so and so. Welcome to the street.’ A couple moved into 2507 [Alder Street] on Memorial Day weekend. We were having a block party. ‘Come on down, have some food.’ That’s how we are,” LaMotta said.

The Alder Street residents pride themselves in living on a very safe block. They know everyone and recognize anyone who shouldn’t be walking down the street in the middle of the night. Parents can trust their neighbors to keep an eye on their children. Often, kids on the block will walk into a neighbor’s house unannounced looking for their friends to come out to play.

“Everyone is like family. We look out for each other and look out for each other’s kids. Everybody cares. Everybody is just genuinely good to each other,” said Erin Longo.

 South Philadelphia: What Makes 2500 Alder Street Special

[vimeo 51292864]

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