Located at 47 E. Haines St., the Janes Memorial United Methodist Church sits nearby Germantown High School and across the street from Robert Fulton Elementary School, both of which will be closed by September.
Janes Memorial United Methodist Church, nicknamed Janes, serves the community more than just its congregation with youth programs like Start Smart, Stay Smart, which will be going on its eighth year this year. The program includes workshops for parents of middle school and high school students, various educational activities and free book bags. The church also holds senior luncheons, a health day and a career day geared towards “building your own brand” and much more like hosting AA meetings, organizing a dance program called the Anointed Hands and allowing different churches to use the space to meet. Additionally, Janes created an orchestra of around 20 people who play various instruments. The group meets to rehearse on Tuesdays and has attracted people as far as the suburbs of Philadelphia, led by its music director, Bill Douglas, who is also the wind instrument teacher at Roman Catholic High School.
Janes welcomes everyone and turns no one away, with dinners served on holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, even if they are uninterested in regular attendance.
Janes has been extremely influential for the residents who share its block, families that reside nearby and the community in its entirety, with members that come from nearby neighborhoods like Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill, to attend.
“Ten percent of our church attendance is within walking distance,” said Rev. Andrew L. Foster, senior pastor of Janes for the past five years. The rest, he said, are still relatively close by.
Ramona Douglas, daughter of Bill Douglas, is now Janes’ secretary in addition to teaching violin lessons at Roman Catholic High School. She wants to attract more people to Janes, whether it is in attendance or getting them involved with the programs that are run out of the church. She said she believes now that it might be the best time to personally reach out to people, on behalf of the church.
Now that Germantown High School and Fulton Elementary School are soon to be closed, youth programs especially, started by Janes, will be more important than ever. The community center feel will be more crucial in coming months to maintain the community-feel of Haines Street and its surrounding areas. However, despite that some residents living on the block are aware of certain programs that Janes has started that serve Fulton Elementary School and Germantown High School, they are unaware of just how many programs Janes has begun and is still running.
“I’ve lived here for about 14 years now. I didn’t know that Janes did any of these programs actually. I knew they did the schoolbags at the end of the year,” said Jeff Williamson, a resident that lives across from Janes.
Williamson is one of five households on the block, and since living there the residents have become good friends, but he worries about the repercussions of closing down both neighboring schools.
“The whole process isn’t a good one. I don’t think there was any forward planning,” Jeff said about Germantown High School.
“Our houses are on the historic register. My house was built in 1776 and I’ve lived here since 1987. I believe I’m the longest resident living here,” said Tom Durnell.
The few residents living on the block shared by Fulton Elementary School, Germantown High School and Janes recognize that amongst all other issues, the school closings are the most upsetting and frustrating. The people affiliated with Janes and residents of Haines Street all feel similarly, the negative impacts are anything but slight.
Jala Olds-Pearson, principal of Fulton Elementary School, is currently in the process of searching for other positions in preparation for the final closure of the elementary school in coming months. However, Olds-Pearson offered a different perspective of potential outcomes of the school closures. She agreed that the closings were not welcomed or necessarily beneficial to the community and its attending students but argued that it would inspire and motivate parents to unite and would redefine the role of churches.
“It might force parents to get involved,” Olds-Pearson claimed, “The churches and services are grounded for children. I think neighborhoods and communities will transform…I still think we will benefit. Churches will be the anchors of communities.”
Olds-Pearson described churches in Germantown to be like hubs for residents in the community. If more parents are proactive, the closings may not be the worst thing to happen to the community, but she stressed that it could widen the gap between the “have’s” and the “have-not’s.” She said she hopes that after the school closings, because parents will be unable to rely on the schools as much as they had in the past, they will go out of their way to find good education for their children. She emphasizes that it is all about the children.
Although Germantown High School and Fulton Elementary School will be closed in approximately five months from now, the programs that Janes offers are not going away. In fact, this will be the perfect opportunity for more kids and families to get involved now that they will be forced to attend schools father away. Programs such as Start Smart, Stay Smart and the approximate 50 current and retired educators who are affiliated with Janes will be more important than ever before as key resources for students.
“The church will become very important; the only place [students will] have to come is here,” said Juanita Lee who does a little bit of everything at Janes. “We reach out to the community, try to get the kids to come in and go to Sunday School. Most of the children that attend our Sunday school go to Fulton.”
Although residents are concerned with the repercussions of closing Fulton Elementary School and Germantown High School, in the meantime, the resources available at Janes, including the programs and the affiliated educators, are still thriving. Serving as a supplement for students and their families who live close-by Janes can cater to parents and students until they get acclimated to new schools.