On a walk through Hunting Park, it’s not unusual to see corner stores, abandoned homes and unuse swing sets. However, turn the corner on 10th Street and the grand structure of the Lenfest Center jumps right out.
Neighboring the Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls, the Lenfest Center, located at 3890 N. 10th St., is open for recreational use by community organizations and local students from Hunting Park schools. According to the center’s website, the staff at Lenfest aims to enrich children’s lives, ages 6 to 18, physically, emotionally and mentally.
The Lenfest Center was constructed approximately five years ago. Owner and founder Chase Lenfest wanted to bring a variety of programs to the Hunting Park area of North Philadelphia, the executive director of the Lenfest Center Amos Huron said.
Lenfest’s goal, Huron said, was to place this building in an underserved community to improve the overall wellbeing of the neighborhood’s youth. However, this kind of project does not come cheap.
Annual operational expenses for the Lenfest Center are approximately $380,000, which is generally divided among the programs, staff and building upkeep, Huron said. Programs and staff total nearly $200,000 while the building maintenance can cost up to $180,000.
Huron said Lenfest wanted to embed the center into a neighborhood that had a need for it and could become a local center that the neighborhood could claim ownership of.
“He supported and funded a lot of programs throughout Philadelphia and wanted to build a center in a diverse, easily accessible location,” Huron said. “He [also] wanted to bridge the gap between different cultures in North Philly.”
According to a 2009 survey by the After School Alliance – which monitors the effects of after-school programs across the country – only 9 percent of children in grades K-12 participate in after-school programs for an average of seven hours per week.
The Lenfest Center’s goal is to provide a welcoming environment so that children are not left to fend for themselves after school.
Huron and his small, close-knit team – consisting of three full-time staffers and four part-time positions – are trying to keep statistics about the center’s effects on the children that participate in their after-school programs.
Last year, the Lenfest Center began its own programming which is overseen by Huron. Originally, the Police Athletic League used the space for its programming.
To determine the facility’s success, Huron stated that he looks at children’s attendance and school grades as each child progresses through the school year. However, Huron said, not enough time has passed to collect data and make evaluations.
But the effects of supervised, after-school programs on education have previously been studied. The Promising Afterschool Program study from 2007 studied about 3,000 low-income students in elementary and middle schools who regularly attended high-quality programs over two years.
That study discovered that math test scores increased up to the 20 percentile for the elementary school students and the 12 percentile in the middle school ones.
Huron said he has considered having children at the center take literacy tests at the beginning and ending of the academic years to gauge the center’s effectiveness.
While Huron handles all of the administrative duties that keep the center structurally afloat, he leaves the majority of the other daily duties to Leana Cabral, the education director and one of the full-time staff members.
According to the Out of School Time Resource Center, the hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. are vulnerable times when children are tempted to partake in delinquent activity. For children in Hunting Park, the Lenfest Center starts hosting its activities for children around 3 p.m. when schools are released.
Education Director Cabral is in charge of supervising the center’s homework help period throughout the week, which is one of the first things the children work on when they arrive at the center.
After an hour of healthy snack time, provided by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the children are then separated into different homework groups depending on their age. If students finish their homework early, Cabral said that she’ll give them some sort of enrichment activity or worksheet to continue exercising the children’s minds.
Nysier Jones, 13, said his favorite thing to do at the Lenfest Center is homework. Luckily for Jones, he says his grades have improved since coming to the Lenfest Center.
“I like doing homework because if I get good grades, my mom buys me stuff,” Jones said.
With the help of Kenzo Nakawatase, the Lenfest Center’s program director and third full-time staffer, Cabral tries to keep students engaged and excited by bringing a variety of activities. A problem everyone at the Lenfest Center repeatedly sees is that attracting young girls to become interested in the center is not easy.
But if sports like basketball and soccer don’t peak their interests, Cabral has found other artistic and creative ways to interest these girls.
“I asked them what they were interested in and what they wanted to do and a few of them said fashion design and thinking about clothes,” Cabral said. “I found this really great program called Breakfree Design [Group]. They teach how to sew, use sewing machines and come up with patterns and designs.”
Other creative clubs students can take include photography, comic book sketching and poetry, which has been one of the center’s more popular clubs. Every Wednesday, approximately 15 students come together and express their feelings through slam poetry.
With many Philadelphia schools closing and/or cutting back on a significant number of programs including after-school activities, the Lenfest Center brings these things back into their students’ lives so that they can play freely.
“Schools don’t have as many recesses as they used to,” Huron said. “There’s a lot of cutbacks in a lot of areas. We give them that opportunity to get some of that energy out.”
The process for getting these programs up and running isn’t too difficult. Nakawatase said he’ll reach out to local schools and hand out fliers to see what’s out there and what might interest the center’s students. If someone has an idea that might appeal to the center’s audience, the staff will give it a trial run.
“We’re open to partnering with anyone,” Huron said. “We’ll give you one shot, and if it goes well, we’ll keep doing it. Basically, all it takes is a phone call.
“We’re willing to try anything one time.”
Because using the center is free, neighborhood organizations can come rent out available space.
Heather Haywood from Blessings Inc., which holds Saturday activities every week, moved her program from the Hunting Park Recreational facility to the Lenfest Center. To make her job easier, the center allows Haywood to leave her group’s supplies at the location so that she doesn’t have to cart everything back and forth.
“They’re very helpful,” Haywood said. “They don’t charge us to use the space, so that’s awesome. The staff is really good – it’s great.”
Other people like Michelle Grant, the executive director of the Diamonds of Double Dutch Cultural Society, use the center as a starting place to bring almost forgotten activities back into the community.
“I love the Lenfest Center because it’s in the city for underprivileged kids who don’t get the experience to be exposed to crafts and arts,” Grant said.
“Double Dutch is a natural urban sport that kind of lost its way into professionalism,” Grant said. “The Lenfest Center has provided us an opportunity for me to restore what’s culturally from the community in the first place.”
All persons involved with providing services at the center voiced the common goal of wanting to better the lives for the Hunting Park children. Huron said, “The opportunity to see the same group of kids every day, see kids grow, see them really develop as young people on a day-to-day basis is a lot of fun and inspiring.”