Northwest Philadelphia: 6 People Paving Paths To A Better Life

Passion is an essential element in the development of communities in Northwest Philadelphia. Each of these individuals brings their own skill set in an effort to build a stronger community. They strive to improve their communities by instilling stability within families, reinforcing positive attitudes for children and providing invaluable guidance for adolescents.

Rich Drayton (pictured above)

Mt. Airy resident, Rich Drayton has been working with the youth around Philadelphia for nearly 20 years. Drayton said he got involved with mentoring and teaching kids out of pure chance.

“A friend asked me to coach football at Cardinal Dougherty – that’s where it all started,” Drayton said bluntly.

From there, the Central High School head football coach was hooked. Many kids he’s worked with want to use their athletic ability as a stepping-stone to a free college education, like Drayton has done. And now he’s there to offer advice and knowledge to make the odds of that happening more than just a dream.


Alfred Edwards coming from Sunday service.
Alfred Edwards was all smiles after coming from Sunday service.

Alfred Edwards

Alfred Edwards aspires to infuse a sense of hope in the lives of the men he sees weekly through Narcotics Anonymous. Edwards devotes his time teaching men at the Germantown Life Enrichment Center how to get a hold of life without the use of any mind altering substances. His connection with the men is very personal; he was once one of them. Edwards, a former drug abuser, said crack cocaine was once his vice. Now, with his own experiences and knowledge, he hopes to help anyone who’s willing to lend a listening ear and open heart to avoid the same fate.


Sonya Belliamy reflects on her work.
Sonya Bellamy sat on her couch, reflecting back on her work.

Sonya Bellamy

Sonya Bellamy is a Behavior Specialist for at risk children in Philadelphia. Often working with kids who are diagnosed with disorders such as ADHD and ODD, she teaches them skills to better handle stress and express themselves appropriately. Although offering support is the primary motivation, the Roxborough resident says the resiliency she sees in children keeps her going.

“Kids bounce back from things that would take an adult down,” Bellamy said. She recalled working with a troubled teen at Pepper Middle School, whose behavior she helped to curve, as one of her most rewarding cases. “A lot of our kids don’t know they can do something beyond what they see,” said Bellamy.


Kelly Rogers and Alex Bjorling help keep the Collegiate Challenge program running.
Kelly Rogers and Alex Bjorling helped keep the Collegiate Challenge program running.

Kelly Rogers and Alex Bjorling

Kelly Rogers and Alex Bjorling serve as student coordinators for the Saint Joseph’s University’s branch of Collegiate Challenge, a student led organization that works with Habit for Humanity International to help build homes and eradicate substandard housing. 

While Rogers started the program as a sophomore, Bjorling, fulfilling his passion for community outreach, began participating as a freshman after years of service as a high school student.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” said Bjorling. “The different people that you meet and the different relationships that you build, while helping someone actually build the house that they’re going to be living in really is amazing.”


Allie Koeck selling tickets during the Collegiate Challenge Day 10 year celebration.
Allie Koeck sold tickets during the Collegiate Challenge Day 10 year celebration.

Allie Koeck

Although only a college student, Allie Koeck, has already made tremendous strides in helping communities across the country. Koeck, a junior sports marketing major at Saint Joseph’s University, is a leader at Collegiate Challenge, where she is responsible for everything from designing to T-shirts for the group to coordinating the weeklong trips with their Habitat partners.

“We get in touch with the affiliates we’ll be working with to see what kind of projects, and see where we’ll be staying, and just kind of stay on top of the group and everything,” said Koeck.

This summer, Koeck will be leading a trip to Taos, New Mexico, returning to the founding site.

– Text and images by Imani Abdus-Saboor and Charles Watson

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