Organizations in Kensington offering free resources to children and families and providing summer fun after the pool and Playstreet closures

Rebecca Fabiano must strike a delicate balance between protecting her teenage workers and providing a space for Kensington’s kids to just be kids.

On Tuesday afternoon, the CEO and founder of Fab Youth Philly danced to “Wobble” with neighborhood kids in McPherson Park in front of the McPherson Square Library. While the sun was beating down, it looked like the little kids weren’t fazed as they challenged each other to tricks and the latest dance freaks.

The nonprofit programs year-round in partnership with other groups, but the most popular program is Play Captains. Teenagers, some as young as 14, apply to work at Playstreets or Playpark events. You’re paid all summer to be leaders for a neighborhood plagued by increased gun violence and crime.

To the side of the lawn stood a group of game captains in their now signature red shirts, playing with children who came to the park.

Under a tent, Play Captain Kiarah Cropper-Stukes did a drawing activity with 8-year-old Elik.

His inspiration is the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s. The pair strike up a conversation while Cropper-Stukes tries to guess which character he‘s going to draw.

“It’s like giving back to the community and the community gives back to you. I like to see the kids smile and stuff when we play with them and when I do crafts with them,” said Cropper-Stukes, 15.

Playstreets aren’t just a way to give kids a physical space, she said. They also show them that there are people in their community who genuinely care about them and want them to succeed over the summer.

» READ MORE: Playstreets are the new summer camp

“I’m very hopeful because I’m with a group of young people who have decided to do really hard, really important work in neighborhoods where the city has abandoned investment,” Fabiano said. “They have put themselves and their own time into making sure there is some fun, play and learning for children.”

She knows she has to be careful about taking the Play Captains onto some streets as the violence escalates.

“The violence in neighborhoods across the city makes people nervous,” she said.

Closures of swimming pools and other public programs mean that community organizations have to fill the gaps. In many cases, it is these organizations that get involved in creative ways to ensure families in Kensington have safe spaces.

“When we close, there’s basically nothing left, so to speak,” said Bill McKinney, executive director of New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC). “So I think we just have a different perspective on it. Even during the pandemic we have been closed for a while, but we have also recognized that we are essential workers and people still need our services.”

Casey O’Donnell, President and CEO of Impact Services, says, “Security is a primary concern.”

“Basically, moral security is about being accountable for your agreements,” O’Donnell explained. “You do what you say you will do. When people talk about safety, yes, not getting shot is one thing, but how do you create environmental safety with and for the neighborhood? How do you ensure moral security in your collaborations and agreements?”

McKinney agrees, admitting he’s afraid his decision to be on site could ever result in an employee being injured.

To this point, organization leaders agree that they have a duty to the neighborhood to provide resources and understand the great responsibility that parks and recreation have to provide fun and safe summer spaces.

It’s stressful to see your local pool or Playstreet shut down, but there are several organizations and programs trying to make Kensington a safer place for families. Among them:

The Easy Way / 215-423-3598 / 3234 Potter St

“At the end of the day, we just want to be really good neighbors” – Caz Tod-Pearson, director

The Simple Way, a grassroots organization operating in Kensington for 25 years, offers the following free services:

  • Food distribution: Monday to Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. Fridays only by appointment for seniors 65+.

  • Pantries and Community Gardens (H Street and Potter Street)

  • Back to school and Christmas sales (free shopping)

New Kensington Community Development Corporation / 215-427-0350 / 2771 Ruth St

“We work with residents to help them shape their community” – Bill McKinney, Executive Director

The people at NKCDC consider themselves essential workers in Kensington and have a strong focus on equity and community-based resources. When you connect with this organization, you can expect these services:

  • Connections with NKCDC rehabilitated affordable housing

  • Help with finding transportation, childcare, and food

  • Alternatives to 911 and community-based crime prevention

  • Assistance in choosing a school for your child

Impact Services / 215-739-1600 / 1952 E Allegheny Ave

“We are part of a collaborative effort of stakeholders trying to collectively advance this work to achieve goals set by the neighborhood.” — Casey O’Donnell, President/CEO

Impact Services is a well-known name in the community and offers a wide range of resources for Kensington residents. The organization’s services are free and include:

  • Rent reduction and utility credits

  • In-service community initiative training

  • Use of public space in collaboration with other local organizations

Mural Arts / 215-426-9422 / 2646 Kensington Ave

“Our goal has always been to respond to what the community is looking for” – Nadia Malik, Director of the Porch Light Program

Mural Arts works with community members and other organizations to provide free programs to their Kensington neighbors. The organization offers:

  • Art programming for the whole family

  • Community Garden (1825 Frankford Ave)

  • Regular newsletters with information on upcoming events (email nadia.malik@muralarts.org)

Motivos Mag / 267-283-1733 / 1340 Frankford Ave / link tree

“It’s about letting the students know that we care” – Jenee Chizick-Agüero, Founder/Editor

Motivos Magazine is a bilingual publication dedicated to helping Philly children by showing them the potential that each of them has. Children can be referred by their teachers or sign up to participate in two programs:

  • Media Mentoring Program:

    • Training in research, editing and interviewing skills

    • Partners with over 1,500 schools, libraries and prisons

    • Study preparation and career orientation

    • Publishing stories and poems in print and online

    • Exploring the culture, finding strength in your roots and confronting life issues

Kensington Soccer Club / 267-536-2717 / 307 W. Dauphin St.

“Our children should be able to do any activity that interests them or play any sport that interests them” – Jim Hardy, Director

Established in 2010, Kensington Soccer Club works with after-school programs, non-profit organizations and community organizations to give children free access to soccer. Among its services:

Esperanza Health / https://esperanzahealth.com/ / 4417 N. 6th Street

“We tried to think about the fact that not only do we need to create activities, we also need to know what’s going on in the community and then align ourselves with those initiatives” – Debra Ortiz-Vasquez, Director of Community Health and Wellness

Established over 30 years ago, Esperanza Health has expanded its services to reach community members before they even need to see a doctor.

  • Weekly delivery of fresh groceries

  • Community meeting to discuss what can be done to improve the neighborhood

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The work, produced by The Inquirer’s Communities & Engagement desk, is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Editorial content is created independently of the sponsors of the project.

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