Located on Cobbs Creek Parkway in West Philadelphia, the Life Center of Eastern Delaware County serves as a temporary residence and rehabilitation center for people in need.
Affectionately known as the “Miracle on 63rd Street,” the Life Center provides housing, counseling, rehabilitation and job opportunities for Pennsylvania residents who are going through tough times.
James Shelton, the program director at the Life Center, understands the hardships faced by individuals seeking basic needs such as money, shelter, food and clothing.
“Before I came here, I went on the streets to become homeless for a month,” Shelton said. “I put my oldest clothes on, got rid of my money and I lasted six days. It’s humiliating.”
Before working with the Life Center, Shelton served as a Lutheran minister for the majority of his life. The need for hands-on assistance led him to leave the clergy and work directly with those who are affected by such unfortunate realities.
The Life Center serves individuals from across the state who come from an array of backgrounds and special needs. Most people who come through the program are victims of domestic violence, drugs and alcohol, mental and physical illness/disabilities, and there are some who simply do not have the resources to live comfortably.
A key component of the Life Center program requires each person who receives assistance to contribute some housekeeping. Most importantly, they must be actively pursuing a job and/or an education to better their own circumstance.
“This is not a homeless shelter, it is a rehabilitation center,” Shelton said. The program and its resources are available for those actively seeking a better life for themselves. If residents do not utilize the counseling resources given to them, they will be asked to leave.
Fortunately, individuals who come through the Life Center’s program benefit from the resources and expectations set by the staff.
April Wilson was a “welfare-to-work” mother who came to the Life Center in April 2013 for community service. “After being here for two months straight, I received a call from Mr. Jim Shelton and he told me I was hired,” Wilson said. “I have been here for seven months straight.”
Today, Wilson works as one of the house monitors for the Life Center, where she is responsible for greeting guests and reporting any and all activities going on in the house.
Like Wilson, there are other beneficiaries of the resources provided by the Life Center. Antoinette Barnes and Janice Jones are roommates at the center.
Barnes plans to utilize her resources to secure an education and improve her current situation. “I’m presently in school right now for my GED,” Barnes said. “I’m mostly working on my educational goals which is going to hopefully not have me in a situation I am currently in.”
Jones also has high hopes for a brighter future where she is more independent. “Hopefully I can find a job and can move into my own place with the good respects of help I’ve been getting,” said Jones.
The Life Center not only encourages its clients but it inspires others to volunteer their time for a purpose greater than themselves.
Micheal Wilson was introduced to the Life Center through his cousin, who was on the receiving end of the center’s services. “I asked my cousin, ‘What do they do down there?'” Wilson recalled. “He said, ‘It’s best you come find out for yourself.'”
Wilson has been volunteering at the Life Center for two years and has found every moment to be fulfilling. “I volunteer seven days a week doing kitchen prep and table set up for clients,” he said.
With the exception of the center’s caseworkers and secretarial staff, all the behind-the-scenes work is facilitated by volunteers who are passionate about giving back to the community.
“There are different ways to give back,” Wilson said. “It’s something I enjoy.”
The center serves as a beacon of hope for its residents. It strives to take all of its clients off the streets permanently with the help of its staff.
– Text and images by Chelsea Koerbler and Joie’ M. Johnson-Walker