Juan Lopez (left) and David Chiles (right) at the Providence Center 25th anniversary event.
While it may be known as the City of Brotherly Love, poverty and high crime rates are major problems in some parts of Philadelphia. In the Fairhill section of North Philadelphia, young people are surrounded by some of the highest poverty and violent crime rates, severe unemployment, and under-funded schools. These challenges place the kids growing up in the community at a serious disadvantage for future success.
Serving the Community
Despite the challenges, Providence Center is committed to bringing joy and hope to the children in this neighborhood. Since 1993, it has provided educational programming to empower youth to strive for futures full of possibility.
“The kids in this community are exposed to a lot of negative things,” said David Chiles, Executive Director of Providence Center. “They need a place where they can be kids and experience new things. They need a safe place to go after school. They need positive role models who come from their own community to inspire them to make good choices for their future and go on to improve their communities — that’s what Providence Center provides.”
Educational Programming and Support
Providence Center offers a variety of programming for more than 80 kids (mostly Latino), including:
- An after-school program, called Power, for children in grades K-6. The program consists of snack time, homework assistance and tutoring, field trips, and social and emotional learning activities.
- A teen leaders program that pairs local high school students who are part of Providence Center with children in the after-school program. The teens tutor and mentor the younger kids.
- A teen leadership and advocacy program called ¡YÁ!, involving teens in projects to improve the life of their community, including painting murals with the Mural Arts program and planting trees with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
In addition to the educational programming, Providence Center also helps participants deal with challenges around them.
“Our staff is adept at working with the kids and getting to know them as individuals,” David said. “We provide social and emotional wellness programs and will talk things through with them one-on-one. We also teach them ways to resolve conflicts without violence or name-calling and how to manage stress in difficult environments.”
A Tradition of Success and Commitment
The programming and support at Providence Center has demonstrated success to back it up. Statistics show that nearly 37 percent of this community’s Hispanic adults ages 25 and older have not completed high school. Providence Center is proud to say that all their teens graduated high school last year. Even more impressive, over the last six years more than 90 percent of their teens have gone to college. David believes these numbers are a testament to Providence Center’s deep commitment to the community.
“Providence Center, which was founded by the Holy Child Sisters, just celebrated its 25th Anniversary on May 2, but the Sisters have been in the community for over 100 years,” said David. “Our motto is actions not words, so we are always looking for ways to show our commitment to the community and to care for each other. And that’s what we teach our students: through their actions, they can have a positive impact on their lives, their peers, and community.”
The Best Is Yet to Come
The future looks bright for the students of the Providence Center, and David is hoping to reach even more people in the community.
“Since I joined Providence Center in 2012, we doubled our youth program and moved from a small rowhome to a 6,500 square foot community center. Now that we have more space, we want to offer more community programming, including exercise classes and Spanish classes,” said David. “We want to offer opportunities for the community to come together in a safe place, so they can find the support they need.”
Support from Someone Who’s Been There
As Providence Center looks forward to expanding its reach in the community, David is excited to have the support of the new chair of the Providence Center’s Board of Directors, Juan Lopez.
“As a Latino and first-generation college student, I understand how hard it can be to succeed, but I had it easy in comparison to some of these kids,” said Juan, Senior Vice President, Finance Shared Services at Independence Blue Cross. “This neighborhood is a tough place. During a park cleanup, I recall raking leaves in the park. Not only do you have to wear gloves to protect yourself from used syringes in the garden, but you have to dodge drug dealers at the corner. Despite that, the park is still an oasis for the community, much like Providence Center.”
“Being asked to join the Board and serve was a no-brainer once I saw these kids. My favorite quote from the Sisters is that Providence Center is a ‘love full of action’, and you see it every day in the children and teens of Providence Center,” he added.
A Proud Community Partner
In addition to his passion and enthusiasm, Juan has also brought the support of Latinos con Proposito (LCP), the Latino associate resource group at Independence, to Providence Center. Juan is co-executive sponsor of the group.
“We got involved with Providence Center in 2015 through Juan,” said Yasseline Diaz, co-lead for LCP and Community Relations and Events Specialist at Independence. “Since then, we’ve done a few park clean-ups with Providence Center and offered professional development workshops for the teens.”
“This summer, we plan on hosting a discussion with the students on dealing with the challenges that come with growing up in that neighborhood. Several members of LCP grew up in that neighborhood, so we think it would be helpful for them to hear our personal stories and how we found success,” she added. “They are great kids with bright futures ahead of them.”
Blazing a Trail for Success
David is very appreciative of the support of community partners, like LCP.
“The kids in this community don’t always have strong role models, so it’s great to work with groups, like LCP,” said David. “We want the kids to be successful, so it’s important for them to hear that’s it possible from people who share their background and experience and to have a sense of how to go about it. We want them to be inspired to improve themselves and their community.”
Congratulations to the Providence Center on celebrating their 25th anniversary! We salute the staff and community partners for their dedication and commitment to improving the lives of youth in the community.