Founded in 1905, Helping Hand Rescue Mission is a place where those in the community can come together as one. Originally created to help the homeless, it has also become a way for children to stay off the streets.
Eight years ago, Adam Bruckner came to Philadelphia looking for a way to start a church for the youth. Helping Hand Rescue Mission opened its doors to him, thus beginning his strive to create the youth program. “We just happened, through prayerful happenstance, met some of the kids in the neighborhood, and we just started playing ball with them outside,” he said.
Now working as the Youth Director at Helping Hand Rescue Mission, Bruckner has transformed a Tuesday night soccer club into a yearlong, five-days-a-week program. “We do after-school programs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday,” he said. “We do a Tuesday night vacation Bible school, and then Wednesday and Thursday night we take them to soccer. Then throughout the summer we take them to camps, or do our own camps here.”
Bruckner said he uses Starfinder, a youth organization in Manayunk, to help the kids stay active. “They aim to reach inner city kids. It’s not as much about trying to build up incredible soccer players, but just using the sport as an avenue for change and to really help these kids to see there’s a good path available,” he said.
Pastor Matthew Gallashaw II, director at Helping Hand Rescue Mission, said he appreciates the work Bruckner has done with the kids. “Being the janitor, as well as the gopher and director, my time is limited,” he said. “Adam Bruckner is a Godsend, and we’re blessed to have him.”
When Bruckner’s program began to grow, Gallashaw said he felt like he should have his own space. He decided it was time to change his “Madhouse Number One” into a room for the kids. “For a long time I collected donations. People would call and say they wanted to give us clothing and furniture,” he said. “The room was loaded wall-to-wall. You could hardly walk through here. Although we helped a lot of people with the donations that came in, time and effort was needed to spend with the youth. In result of that, Bruckner needed a place to develop his youth center.”
To fix up the room, Helping Hand Rescue Mission needed money. Bruckner decided to hold a 24-hour kickball tournament, which was hosted by one of his closest friends, former Philadelphia 76er, Kyle Korver. “Kyle loves this ministry,” Gallashaw said. “He’s a close friend to Adam, and he started an innercity nonprofit organization to help young people. He was one of the main donors of the kickball marathon, and some of the teenagers even have his personal cell phone number and chat with him at different times.”
When Bruckner first came to the area, he faced trust issues with those in the community. “I was told by a lot of the tougher guys that they thought I was an undercover cop. They didn’t know our intentions,” Bruckner said. “Kyle came and put up basketball courts, took down wooden backboards and installed state-of-the-art rims. The guys in the neighborhood knew immediately that we were here to help.”
Even though the basketball courts have since been taken down, parents still find hope in what Bruckner is doing for the youth. “Mr. Adam, he’s the best,” said Nicole Smalls, a mother of one the youth center members. “He helps the kids with homework, personal life, everything.”
“The goal for the youth is to offer every opportunity we can, to help level the playing field for the children growing up in a tough economic time, and they’re really in the social poverty,” Bruckner said. “If you gave some of these families $100,000, they would have a really good two or three years, then they would be back in the same situation. But if we can educate the children, and help the parents learn to be sustainable and healthy and raise their children in a proper way then the impact is a lot better than any money someone can give them.”
In January 2009, Bruckner received the President’s Volunteer Service Award, which was given to him by former President George W. Bush. The award honors a person who has completed a set number of volunteer service hours. Through his work with Helping Hand Rescue Mission, and throughout Philadelphia, Bruckner has made an impression on the community.
According to the 2011 PEW State of Philadelphia report, the neighborhood surrounding Helping Hand Rescue Mission was ranked number four on the list of districts with the most crimes. With 4,383 major crimes committed in that year alone, the organization has tried its best to keep kids from getting into trouble.
“It’s a fun neighborhood to be a child in. You can play kickball. There are always people out there playing,” Bruckner said. “It’s a terrible neighborhood to be a teenager in. A small part of what we’ve done is offered employment for our teenagers. We’ve probably done that for about 20 teens. They then tutor the kids and work with the children. They are the ones who are trying to help change the cycle that has been out of control.”
For more information about the organization, how to volunteer or donate, visit www.helpinghandphilly.org.