Joseph Manning started creating community enrichment projects when he was growing up. Now, he said he wants to be the positive adult presence that guides the youth of today, a role that he never had when he started out.
His group, United For a Better Community, was started in 2006, and they focused mainly on entrepreneurial empowerment for Philadelphia youths.
“My nephew went to Overbrook High School,” Manning said. “I’d go up there a lot and volunteer with those guys, so I started a little program.”
Manning said that he was concerned that many of the students were not interested in graduating from high school. He wanted to think of a way he could keep the students interested in their future and keep them constructive, so he used his own background in entrepreneurial ventures as a jumping off point.
The group set out to contribute to the Germantown community in a variety of ways. He then moved into the real estate aspect of community revitalization.
“I started buying up properties, blighted properties and fixing them up for the community,” Manning said. “We were acquiring houses that didn’t look so good on the block and then rehabbing them.”
This work led to creating the newly formed United for a Better Community Development Corporation, which was formally founded this year. With this project, the Manning turned his focus to cleaning up the neighborhood for the youth of the city as well as for at-risk adults of the community. Their goal was to keep property values up within the community. For the kids, he also recruited his own son and nieces and nephews to help with cleanup efforts. The cleanup efforts actually were started on Manning’s own block in Germantown.
“I have a younger son, he’s ten right now,” Manning said. “He has a couple of friends on the block, a lot of nieces and nephews. They be wanting to do things sometimes and I said if you want to do something you’ve got to do community service.”
Manning started with his own block, but spread throughout the community, taking the children out on weekends to put in a days work cleaning the streets, and then rewarded them with a fun activity like bowling or skating.
Manning said that what really prompted him to get involved in community revitalization was noticing how dirty Philadelphia is in comparison to other cities that he has been to. He said that it is something that he wanted to change. His main way to do so was to recruit neighborhood kids to take action, and this made more kids notice the problem of trash and get involved themselves.
“Other cities are dirty but, cities I’ve been visiting like Washington, D.C. Charlotte, just different areas that you don’t notice as much trash and everything,” Manning said. “Here it just seems like it’s abundant in trash.”
Another pillar that the UFBC was founded on was helping what Manning called at-risk adults, or people who fell on hard times and did not have a place to stay, but still had skills to offer the community and good intentions. These people included men who went get divorced, get released from prison, or may have been homeless. The UFBC put them up in temporary housing and helped them find a permanent place to live and work. Many of the men involved in this program helped out in the community service side of the UFBC as well. Manning said the goal was to help men get back on their feet, and if they can’t afford to pay rent, they can use skills they may have to help with projects and work until they do find themselves on their feet. At that point, they could help others who were in their position.
Cleous Young came to Manning after his relationship with his girlfriend fell apart.
“I was going through a period of my life where my relationship was about to be ended,” Young said. “I called up Joe and he said ‘hey we have a place,’ and that’s where I’m at now. The whole concept is having that vehicle to help you while you’re in transition, so this has become a vehicle that’s helping me to move forward in the things that I’m looking to do in the community.”
When these men did pay rent, the rent money went directly into new projects for the organization, as it is a nonprofit and is self-funded.
Manning and his crew have been rehabilitating a building on Pine street in Germantown to be used as their office. They built a room full of computers, as well as a large multipurpose room in the back. Manning said that he is busy, but it is part of the job.
“There are times that we worked until the sun came up fixing property,” Manning said. “We did it. We were tired, but we were happy. We were happy with getting the mission accomplished.”
– Text, video and Images by Brendan Menapace and John Moritz.