The small room inside Charles Papa Playground & Recreation Center is far from glamorous.
Its cinderblock walls, rusted windows and cracked floors prove it hasn’t been renovated for quite some time. The overcrowded closets full of supplies and jam-packed walls full of art and posters implores for an extra room or two.
But for the handful of generous people who keep the rec center up and running, the visual appearance and lack of space doesn’t matter. It’s what the rec center represents that is important to them.
“I believe that with the young kids, they feel that coming to the rec center may be a safe haven for them,” said after-school activities director Cynthia Brown. “It’s really good because we have people available to talk with students and help with homework. If they haven’t eaten, we have meals given here every day.”
Located on the corner of 68th Street and Lansdowne Avenue, a part of the Overbrook section of the city, Charles Papa Playground draws the bulk of its children from the neighborhood. A few schools scattered throughout neighboring parts of the region will also bus their students to the rec center in order to engage in after-school activities while they wait for their parents to return home from work.
“Some kids may just come in to get a meal,” Brown said. “But they may sit and play Uno, chess or with a Rubik’s Cube, or they may just want to sit down.”
But recent crime in the neighborhood has rattled the residents and attendees of the rec center. In one incident on January 24, 2014, the grandmother and primary caretaker of a set of seven-year-old twin boys who attend the center’s after-school program was robbed on the street in the early hours. The two boys were on their way to the center to attend the rec center’s before-school program. Since then, the before-school program has been temporarily shut down due to the employees feeling unsafe in the early morning. The incident remains unsolved.
“It’s a park, it’s easy access for people to get in and out,” Brown said. “The consensus is that the person or persons is from the area and they’re using the park as an escape route.”
Since then, the rec center has taken certain precautionary measures to ensure the kids’ and employees’ safety. Recently, it held a fundraiser, where nearly 300 dollars was raised in order to purchase and implement a security camera that will be placed near the front entrance so Brown and her colleagues can see whomever is coming in and out of the facility.
Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., held a meeting for the neighborhood in the beginning of March to discuss further security measures, and on April 1, he sent a representative to the playground to discuss the importance of installing security cameras. It was concluded that in roughly 15-18 months, the facility would have multiple security cameras surrounding the building. The camera being purchased with the fundraiser money will serve as a temporary camera until the city can implement what has been ordered.
“Since that meeting, you see more visible police cars,” Brown said. “You’ll see them patrolling areas. I think with more police presence now, people feel a little safer.”
– Text and images by Kim Slaven