Though residents of Southwest Philadelphia deal with tough issues like urban blight, gun violence and food deserts, individuals and organizations are working to improve the neighborhoods. Dozens of community churches and daycare centers line the streets, and four recreation centers are spread throughout the area. These people – a pastor, a gardener, two recreation center volunteers and a community networker – are all trying to make a difference.
1. Bill Evans runs the computer lab at the Kingsessing Recreation Center. He helps people learn how to use computers in order to assist them in looking for jobs. He has volunteered regularly at the recreation center for the past four to five years.
2. The Rev. Kparku Sam Ndorleh runs Word of Life International, a religious-based organization that strives to help immigrants from Africa assimilate and adjust to life in America. Word of Life was born amidst the two lengthy civil wars in Liberia that lasted from 1989 until 2003, and the group regularly does charity work in its native nation.
3. Having grown up on a farm in Hawaii, Lauren Payne-Reilly said her concern for the environment was always second nature. Now in her third year as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with CityLights, she connects community and neighborhood organizations that seek to pool their resources and power in numbers. She also leads CityLights’ environmental sustainability initiatives and is responsible for making educational leaflets about the benefits of urban tree planting.
4. Mandy Katz is one of three gardeners at Bartram’s Garden, where she tends to the organization’s 46 acres. This includes pruning, weeding and cleaning out gardening beds in the off-season as well as tending and harvesting the plants during warm season.
5. Antoinette Holiday teaches a cooking class for teens at the Kingsessing Recreation Center every Tuesday. Dishes covered in the course have involved orange chicken, cheesesteaks, and fruit salad.
– Text and photos by Greg Brandon and Jacob Colon