The entrance door on Castor Avenue swung open and Amanda Wible looked around, smiling.
After spending her day behind a computer screen taking online classes at the Commonwealth Connections Academy, this was her chance to unwind.
The 16-year old from the Northeast has been coming to Rhawnhurst Turning Point for about a year and a half now and she couldn’t be happier.
“This is like my social life,” Wible said. “I talk to kids online all the time because of school. We’re always in the chat room at school. Then I come here and this is awesome.”
In a way, that alone is a win for Cheryl Lafferty, Turning Point’s director.
Lafferty’s mission is printed right on the front of a Turning Point pamphlet: “To provide a center for 6-12th grade youth and young adults where they can learn, grow, serve and have fun in a safe environment supported by caring volunteers and Christian Staff.”
That support and care comes in the form of Lafferty and her fellow staff members.
Lafferty noticed a trend a few years ago – there weren’t enough activities for children who fit the 6-12 grade age group to participate in after school. Sure, there were plenty of athletic programs throughout the Northeast but little else.
“If you weren’t an athlete you were kind of on your own,” Lafferty said.
Formed from two churches, Rhawnhurst Presbyterian and Redemption Lutheran, Turning Point is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) that provides a free service to children in need of help in all different aspects of their lives. They’ve been at their home at 7812 Castor Ave. for almost three years.
“We really wanted to meet the needs of the artists, the kids who were a little more creative,” Lafferty said, “as well as provide homework help – which we found really didn’t really exist for kids after fifth grade, not for free at least.”
The 6-12th grade age group was perfect because most after-school programs for children end after grade five. It’s typically expected that children in middle and high school take on more responsibility for themselves, at home and at school.
“It’s really a more vulnerable age group,” she said. “Their emotions are going crazy, they’re starting to do different types of academic things, they really need guidance at that age. We also felt it was what we were most-equipped to do as volunteers. That was the age group we felt most able to care for and to work with.”
Lafferty has been working with this specific age group for more than 10 years, serving as a youth minister for her church. She was the artsy type that found herself migrating towards art, drama and music classes when she was younger.
When some of those programs were being cut during the massive Philadelphia Public School’s budget crisis in recent years, it hit home for her.
“Seeing that those things were getting cut, and that they didn’t exist elsewhere, that was part of it for me,” Lafferty said. “And part of it is just building relationships. I was blessed to have really good relationships with adults who weren’t related to me. That’s really important that kids can come here and there are people with no earthly reason to care about them but they do. I think that makes an impression on young people, it reminds them of their value and their self-worth.”
The service that Turning Point provides children with more than just after-school homework help, which they provide three days per week. Kids can come participate in art classes during weeknights, come in to use computers or simply just hang out, relax and get away.
Lafferty recalled an instance when a young girl came in after school one day in tears after getting into a disagreement with her mother and her boyfriend.
“That to me was a huge moment, when this eighth grade girl chose to come to us and not her peers,” Lafferty said. “Because she knew that she would be accepted, that we wouldn’t judge her for what she was saying and that she would get good advice. That was really powerful for me.”
Turning Point receives funding in a variety of ways. Rhawnhurst Presbyterian and Redemption Lutheran each provide some funding. Other funding comes from grants, both secular and religious. Lafferty said that the program continues to apply for more and more grants. There are also individual donors and donations from local businesses and various community groups.
The budget cuts greatly affected Turning Point, despite it not being associated with any particular school.
“Some of the counselors that I had the best relationships with either retired, were cut or now they’re just so overloaded,” Lafferty said. “I’ve noticed less kids getting referred from certain schools and I think it’s because the counselors aren’t there to do it.”
– Text, images and video by Jeff Neiburg and Bob Stewart.