Mantua: “You’re Never Really Alone if You Come to Work Here.”
Branon Gilmore makes enrichment for youths and adults in the Mantua area his priority every day when coming to work in the morning.
Gilmore, 44, is the Center Director for the West Philadelphia Community Center on Haverford Avenue near 35th Street. For 10 years, he has been working for Caring People Alliance, an agency partnering with the center, specializing in serving children and strengthening families in Philadelphia.
After running the after-school program at the West Philadelphia Community Center as the assistant director for six years, Gilmore moved to a new job near his alma mater, Temple University, at the R.W. Brown Community Center in North Philadelphia. After his brief stint at R.W. Brown, Gilmore went back to work at the West Philadelphia Community Center to take over as the center director. Gilmore currently runs the programming in the building, overseeing various programs such as senior programs, the early learning center and pre-kindergarten programs.
The Glassboro, New Jersey, resident, has to pay a toll when driving to work these days but his company’s mission to provide a safe haven for West Philadelphian residents makes the 25-mile commute worthwhile, according to Gilmore.
Since he is in charge of programming, Gilmore does a lot of communicating outside of the center, such as organizing meetings for the Mantua community as well as organizing meetings with state representatives in the building. Gilmore has embraced his administrative role, but said he wishes he could spend more hands-on time with the kids like he did when he ran the after-school program.
What’s your favorite part about your position?
I think my favorite part about my position is the fact that every day, it’s something different. I’m never bored to come to work.
I may be able to say, ‘Oh, I know this particular child is going to act up on Monday, Wednesday and Friday,’ or, ‘This parent is going to come in and give us a hard time on Thursday because they have something going on in their life,’ but there’s knowing that and then there’s also that unknown factor that comes in every day.
There are certain intangibles to the job that you can’t put a price on that make it a pleasure to get out of bed every day. Literally, for me to take off, I really have to have somebody else to take off with or I just get bored at home. I’d rather come to work because at work there’s always something going on.
We’re like a family here with this staff and then we also provide services to families, so you have extended families outside your home. I think that’s the best part. You’re never really alone if you come to work here.
How much time do you spend behind your desk as opposed to working with the kids or any other activities?
I would probably say if I’m behind my desk, then I’m not doing a good job in my position.
I’m usually in meetings – community meetings, meetings with politicians, meetings with people from the corporate sector, or I’m meeting with parents, meeting with other colleagues to discuss best practices in the field. And then I’m also continuing to learn. I’m taking a class at University of Pennsylvania that’s about how to be more supportive to teachers in your school.
So, if I’m behind my desk every minute of the day, I’m doing something wrong. And, of course, as the director of the building, I sometimes work as the receptionist. I have my certification to work in the kitchen, so if someone calls out I fill in where needed because kids need consistency and structure. They come every day. We can’t shut down, so the show must continue to go on.
What’s the difference between dealing with kids and dealing with adults in your position?
With kids, you expect for them to act out and misbehave because they don’t know any better and we’re here to teach them.
Adults, you get frustrated when you know they know better and they sometimes act out. I have to fight with myself to hold back my disappointment, my overall disappointment, when I see an adult and I wonder if they had a place like this when they were growing up that they could come to and learn those social skills that make you a productive member in society.
What concepts do you try to teach the kids here?
I think what I try to teach everyone that I interact with, whether it be children or parents, is just to be respectful to one another, to make sure that you know how to communicate. And by communicate, I don’t mean talking a lot. Sometimes you have to learn how to listen to truly understand what people are going through.
We deal with people from the community and people outside the community. Our community center is located in a Promise Zone, which usually is designated as an area where unemployment is high. There’s not much hope for people who live in those areas, so we’re sort of like a diamond in the rough in the community because we offer quality child care here and we are a Keystone ‘STAR 3’ facility.
With Mantua being designated as a Promise Zone, what is your goal for the community going forward?
Our main goal has been what our mission statement is, which is basically to provide services to families in the community that help the children and the adults become good decision-makers and be productive members of society. You’d be surprised at how you can do that on so many levels.
Another thing we do in this building, which I do not oversee, but they are housed in our building, is a treatment foster care program. That program provides housing for foster kids. We find the housing, we do case management with the children and their foster parents and then we also pay the foster parents for taking in the kids.”
– Text and images by Tom Reifsnyder and Joaquin Jones.