Philadelphia City Councilman-At-Large Dennis O’Brien was taught at a young age by his grandfather the inherent value of giving back to the community.
Years later, O’Brien is doing just that with the Northeast Philadelphia Youth Alliance.
The NEPYA is currently comprised of seven volunteer-based youth sports organizations in the Northeast. Before the NEPYA, these clubs individually acquired the grounds needed for baseball diamonds, soccer fields and other youth sports venues from the Department of Recreation, the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation.
“They cleared the trees and made the fields and they continue to do all that work,” O’Brien said. “This is a way of partnering with them and raising money to help find the funds to keep their organizations going and to create new opportunities and programs for the youth in Northeast Philly.”
These youth organizations – such as the Torresdale Boys Club and the Penn Academy Athletic Association – also received some funding from the state government in Harrisburg. But when guaranteed money from the state became an uncertainty, O’Brien, then a Pennsylvania State Representative, formed the NEPYA as a way to ensure more stable funding for the alliance’s member organizations.
“We wanted to find a sustainable source of revenue to supplement [funding from the state] or replace those funds that were no longer available,” O’Brien said. “So we formed the Youth Alliance. The idea was that [each organization] would be participatory and everybody would share in the revenues that come from the sponsors.”
The highlight of the year for the NEPYA is the annual two-mile walk and five-mile run that takes place at Northeast Philadelphia Airport.
“It’s a partnership with the volunteerism, it serves the community, and this just provides some of the necessary funds,” O’Brien said.
The race was first run in 2004 at Pennypack Park. After that inaugural year, the event moved to the Northeast Airport, which served as the event’s host location ever since.
One of this year’s race participants was Northeast Philadelphia native Michael Gagliardi. Braving the windy and frigid conditions, Gagliardi finished ninth overall and second among his age group of 30 to 39-year-old males.
Although this was Gagliardi’s first time participating in the race, he had already become well-acquainted with the course.
“I loved it,” Gagliardi said. “I run this track at least twice a week, so for me it was just walking out my front door and having a good time.”
In addition to being an avid runner, Gagliardi also maintains an active lifestyle by swimming, biking and doing yoga in his spare time.
“I’m always training for something,” Gagliardi said.
O’Brien’s director of constituent services, Margie Caputo, explained that money raised from the race, as well as the money received from the event’s sponsors, are divided evenly among the participating organizations.
“We pay for the race,” Caputo said. “We have to pay for our timing officials, our shirts, and all that. There are seven that benefit from [the race], so it does help them continue their athletic programs. And that’s important because funding is always difficult. Everybody tries to keep their registration within limits, so this helps every organization.”
In addition to working for O’Brien, Caputo also serves as the treasurer for the Academy Sabres (Academy Sports Association), one of the seven organizations within the NEPYA.
Caputo talked about Academy’s annual awards banquet, an event she deeply cherishes.
“It encompasses all the award winners throughout the whole year from soccer, basketball, baseball, and softball,” Caputo said. “Even if they don’t make a championship, we offer a skills program, so there’s always a gold, silver, and bronze opportunity for them. We do a whole year’s worth in one day and this year we have over 235 [participants] coming out to the banquet.”
For all the work he and the NEPYA have done for their members, O’Brien believes that the success of the area’s youth organizations plays a vital role for the surrounding area.
“It’s always been my belief that if you have a strong fabric of youth organizations with all the programs that they have, it sustains the neighborhood,” O’Brien said. “And generation after generation will continue to live here because of the proud tradition that’s been created by these youth organizations.”
– Text and photos by Stephen Pileggi and Michelle Kapusta.