Olde Kensington: Director Keeps LSH a Well-Oiled Machine

Inside the Lutheran Settlement House, at 1340 Frankford Ave., is an atmosphere of constant activity where people are always smiling. From bingo to GED preparation, the century-old building houses enough social services to satisfy the community’s neediest. The building must stay a well-oiled machine through funding and lots of care; a task executive director Kelly Davis takes on with optimism. 

Kelly Davis has been executive director of the Lutheran Settlement House for four years. She was transplanted to Philadelphia from Los Angeles 20 years ago to begin her career in law.  

After taking some time off to be with her children and become a board member at LSH, she became a temporary executive director which had the offer of becoming permanent; an opportunity she couldn’t refuse.

“I care about issues involving the most vulnerable of Philadelphia, so it seemed like a good opportunity,” she said.

Davis’ role is to oversee the way LSH’s programs function. She ensures there is enough backing for each program; a critical responsibility for a nonprofit.

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“I spend a lot of time connecting to the neighborhood, talking about the work that we do here and raising funds,” Davis said. “Like today, I have two meetings downtown where I’ll talk to foundations and board members and make a case for why they should be supporting LSH.”

As with any business, however, there can be difficulties with funding. Davis admitted there are two programs that have been challenging to fund: adult education and a domestic violence prison program .

“We haven’t really been able to get government funding for [adult education], but we’ve tried to say it’s a huge issue in this neighborhood,” Davis said. “Port Richmond is a literacy desert.”

In addition to struggling to fund the much needed adult education program, Davis has trouble backing the prison project.

“We’ve had a little bit of funding for that, but it’s such an enormous need,” she noted. “We haven’t had the amount money to hire a manager of that program who can take us to the next level. That is troubling to me. It hasn’t blossomed yet and there’s a huge need.”

Mark McAndrew, senior services director, works directly under Davis. He is responsible for reporting the program directly to funders and supporting senior staff in their roles.

“Kelly has put a lot of faith and confidence in me,” he said. “I’ve come a long way and she’s been so supportive and helpful.”

Ruth Zarzycki, who is president of the senior center, echoed those sentiments. Zarzycki enjoys putting together fundraisers alongside Davis and says that Kelly always makes sure she raises enough funds for the center.

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One of LSH’s important projects is to help with education and literacy.

In addition to struggling to fund the much needed adult education program, Davis has trouble backing the prison project.

“We’ve had a little bit of funding for that, but it’s such an enormous need,” she said.“We haven’t had the amount money to hire a manager of that program who can take us to the next level. That is troubling to me, it hasn’t blossomed yet and there’s a huge need.”

Davis cares about these programs and is excited when something does hit right on the money.

“I think the areas that have captured funders’ attention is medical advocacy, where we have domestic violence advocates in hospitals,” she added. “It’s grown three-fold since I’ve been here.”

Nutrition education – which promotes healthy eating, cooking and produce farming, has also been a success. 

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Green spaces and thriving plants can be found all throughout Lutheran Settlement House.

“People want to see that succeed and care about what we’re giving to our seniors and people in our shelter and giving those skills back,” Davis said. “Walmart is paying for the healthy living deck.”

The healthy living deck will be part of a $1.5 million renovation project for LSH building project starting in April. It plans to build a new parking lot on Front Street so the old lot can be turned into a green space.

The space will allow for seniors and homeless residents to receive fresh produce, while also giving neighboring La Colombe fresh ingredients for its dishes. 

Lulu Johnson, who is vice president of the senior center, said the best part of her job is getting to work with other people and see her friends. She also appreciates the support from staff, including Davis.

“Kelly’s a wonderful person,” Johnson said. “She helps you with whatever you need and she always has a smile.”

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The members of the senior center have activities throughout the day including bingo and other recreational outlets.

Since taking over the position as executive director, Davis has really worked to stabilize LSH.

“Before I came we had furloughs and we hadn’t raised salaries in a long time,” she noted. “We’ve been able to bring everybody back for full-time, raise salaries and build some programs back up.”

The mission of LSH is to build self-sufficiency for all those who seek its help.

According to Davis, it is “to take people who have been dealt not a great hand and help them build the skills for themselves so they don’t revert or need to come back to the shelter. We want to help them help themselves.”

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Lutheran Settlement House is a place where those seeking help can come and find some comfort from the staff and its members.

Davis said her favorite part of her job is when LSH can raise the funds to help its members and those who seek out its help.

“It’s seeing an adult learner or a domestic violence survivor come in and be able to receive services; to me, that’s the most touching,” she said. “I feel a burst of pride when I know that were able to do that. That’s the best part of my day.”

– Text, images, and video by Lauren Brown and Caitlin O’Connell. 

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