Investing in the Next Generation
This story originally appeared in our summer edition of News from HOME.
When Project HOME began working to end homelessness, we immediately confronted a deeper question: How do we prevent it? What types of supports would create a community where homelessness is no longer a possibility?
We joined hands with existing community leaders in a specific place to explore what this might look like. Although we have residences in many Philadelphia neighborhoods, we focused on an area of North Philadelphia where we had two residences. The Diamond Street and St. Elizabeth’s neighborhood is one of Philadelphia’s poorest. A 1990s study traced more admissions into the shelter system from this neighborhood than from any other Philadelphia zip code.
Project HOME connected with the leaders in the community, and we decided that preventing homelessness demanded an investment in the next generation. Over the space of 15 years, we did just that.
We rehabbed over 40 affordable houses in the neighbor- hood. We developed the St. Elizabeth’s Community Center, adding a free medical clinic (forerunner of the amazing new Stephen Klein Wellness Center), created 39 units of housing for homeless families and the Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs (HLCCTL). That facility, through some strong partnerships, hosts the Community Partnership School, a pre-K-5 independent school; vibrant after-school education and art programs; and classes in technology for all ages. It provides entrepreneurial training for teens and job training programs for community members and Project HOME residents.
We launched a program to support students who wanted to attend college. Our College Access Program (CAP), funded by the Honickman Foundation, encourages young people to believe that college is possible. We created a summer job internship program for high school and college students to give them experience in professional settings. Just a few months ago, our Stephen Klein Wellness Center opened, with affordable medical care and a beautiful fitness center.
With these kinds of assets, which are often already built into more affluent neighborhoods, our young people are soaring. Just as an example, 130 students have participated in CAP. By this fall, 82 students will have entered college, and at the end of this summer, 26 students will have graduated from some form of post-secondary education. Some graduates have come full circle, joining Project HOME as valuable staff members.
As Tomika Brown, head of CAP, observes: “Many students want to go to college, but with no history of higher education in their family, they don’t know how. They don’t know what to do, what offices to contact, or how to pay the bill. I’m grateful to be in a position to shed light on this process.”
Paul Dunnaville, a job coach and and teacher in the music program, describes the power of these young people. “Nothing is more profound than watching the growth and evolution of a human being. Student artists progress from a state of rawness to perfection. It’s a slow process. One part of their development can be attributed to the ritual of practice. The rest comes from their innate ability to be great leaders and achievers, combined with being part of a ‘village’ of people who constantly invest time and energy in their success.”
Our young people lead more complex lives than many of their peers. With support, we see the artists, leaders, musicians, poets, and entrepreneurs inside them emerge. “If I weren’t here, I don’t think any of my dreams would have come true,” reflects Asia Blackshear, a member of our music program. Bryant Blunt, also in the program, adds: “I have learned that there is a place for everything and there is a home for everything. To come here every day is like the stress coming off my back from my heavy load. It is like a second home.”
His words hang in the air, symbolic and almost prophetic, speaking aloud that dream from two decades ago. It is a dream of homecoming: bringing a whole neighborhood home.
Lead funding for our teen programming comes from the Honickman Foundation, joined with Origlio Beverage, Canada Dry, Comcast, the Richard and Audrey Brinkman Foundation, Sheila and John Connors, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Hamilton Family Foundation, Deborah Fretz, and Tracy and Shanin Specter. To hear the powerful music and voices of some of our young people, check out this five-minute video filmed by Inner Power Records.