Every December, PW’s editors highlight several charitable organizations whose good work serves the Philadelphia community across a diverse range of needs.
Here’s a fun question: When Philly public schools—or, really, any public schools—make budget cuts, what do always they get rid of first? If you said “the arts,” congratulations: You’re well aware of the desperation and sadness that is the reality of education in the United States!
Where our school system has often fallen short, though, local charities have fought hard to try and pick up the pieces. Take Musicopia, a music-based nonprofit in Center City; it’s partnered with numerous schools across the city to put together workshops, assemblies, residencies and in-school concerts for students from pre-K though 12th grade.
Musicopia gets into kids’ lives with the premise that life and music are one and the same—inseparable, as they put it. So the group works to build communities in which any local student has the opportunity to learn any instrument s/he wants. Many of its programs, like the Musicopia String Orchestra and the Musicopia Drumline, have been designed specifically for Philadelphia’s under-served communities; Musicopia accepts donated instruments as well as money, and has collected more than 1,500 instruments for poor students over the last decade.
The nonprofit says they’re not currently accepting pianos or organs, but most other instruments are kosher for the season. And if you’re a sympathetic music lover who’s never played it yourself, don’t worry: Money is helpful, too.
To donate an instrument, give money or offer other help:
2001 Market St., Suite 3100, Philadelphia, PA 19103-7080
The Food Trust
As we’ve discussed in recent weeks, this year’s cuts to government assistance and food programs at both the federal and state levels have left Philadelphia’s poor communities feeling somewhat empty this holiday season. And with even more cuts planned when the federal government’s farm bill goes through in 2014, the hungry in America are becoming more reliant on private donations than ever.
Luckily, there’s the Food Trust. If you only know the group through its popular Night Market series of neighborhood food-truck festivals, here’s the bigger picture: The Trust is a neighborhood nonprofit created 20 years ago with the idea that Philadelphians shouldn’t just be able to get their hands on food, but that the food should be healthy. (Because obviously.) From its origins in a single farmers’ market at a housing development in South Philly, the Food Trust has grown into a network of operations at 25 farmers’ markets across the city.
Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of its Healthy Corner Store Initiative, undertaken in partnership with the city to bring more fresh food to corner stores in communities that don’t have their own supermarket—as well as linking those corner stores directly with local farmers and offering in-store nutrition education lessons.
The Food Trust also created Philly Food Bucks, a healthy-food program encouraging SNAP (food stamp) recipients to buy fresh produce rather than processed factory food. How? Simple—Philly Food Bucks gives participants $2 for every $5 they spend at farmers’ markets. And it’s working: Since the program launched in 2010, SNAP sales at Philly farmers’ markets have increased by more than 375 percent.
To help by volunteering or giving money:
One Penn Center, Suite 900
1617 John F. Kennedy Blvd., Philadelphia, PA 19103
Mighty Writers is a South Philly-based nonprofit on a powerfully simple mission: Teach kids how to write well so they can succeed at whatever they do. Because if you can’t communicate, good luck with that whole life thing.
Offering a daily, free after-school program for grade-schoolers through teenagers, Mighty Writers—headed by former PW editor Tim Whitaker—is well designed to fight Philadelphia’s literacy crisis amongst young people. And it is a real crisis: As of 2009, an entire 20 percent of adults in Philadelphia lacked basic reading and writing skills. More than 200,000 Philadelphians lack a high school diploma, and 8,200 kids drop out of high school each year.
Mighty Writers has brought together more than 300 volunteers to help teach writing at its Christian Street facility, and the group recently launched a second academy in West Philadelphia—plus a radio program, Mighty Radio—in support of its teen scholars program, mentorships, SAT prep and college essay courses.
“All the kids from our first graduating class are now in college,” Whitaker notes, “and we are currently working with more than a hundred kids on their college essays and applications.” The group is currently fundraising to reach more kids in West Philly, he says, and to open a center for Mexican-American kids in the Italian Market. “It takes $111 to add a kid to our program, and we want to add 700 kids in 2014.”
Mighty Writers also accepts book donations—lightly used young-adult novels and comic books are extremely welcome—at the following drop-off times and locations: 15th and Christian streets: Wednesdays, 2-7pm; Sundays, 12-6pm. 1537 South St.: Saturdays, 2-4pm. 39th and Lancaster streets: Mondays, 2-6pm.
For more info on volunteering as a tutor, donating books or giving money:
1501 Christian St., Philadelphia, PA 19146
Neighborhood Bike Works
“Bicycles promote self-reliance and self-confidence.” That’s part of Neighborhood Bike Works’ mission statement, and it’s true: Bikes offer young and older people alike the independence of going where you want, when you want, while neither having to spend a fortune on gas, parking and car payments nor being chained to a standardized public transit schedule. Neighborhood Bike Works, a city nonprofit that offers transportation opportunities for both work and play to underserved Philadelphians, takes that concept a step farther, noting that not only does the practice of biking itself foster personal self-reliance that can build good lifelong habits, so does “giving youth the ability to maintain and repair their own bicycles.”
Since its founding in 1996, NBW has counted 4,500 Philadelphians as inductees into the cycling life. The group’s two-month program introduces kids to bicycle maintenance, safe riding and nutrition—and it enables kids to earn ownership of the bike they spend those eight weeks working on, assuming they make it successfully through the education program and activities.
Operating out of locations in West Philly and North Philly, NBW also partners with numerous city institutions including the Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Tree House Books, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Environment Council. All monetary donations to NBW go directly to specific physical equipment purchases and program items: $30 buys three helmets; $60 buys five bike locks for program grads; $100 sponsors one monthly group ride; $500 sponsors one Earn-a-Bike student; etc.
To help by volunteering, donating bicycle equipment or giving money:
3916 Locust Walk. Philadelphia, PA 19104
The First Twenty
Firefighters in Philadelphia have bigger problems than just those notorious contract disputes with city government—and more risks than just the flames they battle. According to a 2009 Federal Emergency Management Agency study, firefighters face a 300 percent higher risk of having a heart attack than any other population. Nationwide, over 1,000 firefighters have died of heart attacks over the last quarter-century—and, in the same time period, firefighters’ overall state of health hasn’t shown any improvement, studies show. Why? Well, firefighters aren’t just subject to crazy hours, extreme heat and exertion; they’re also likely to lack any rigorous physical fitness regimen—a recipe for disaster.
It’s with that in mind that the Narberth-based nonprofit The First Twenty created a wellness and fitness program developed specifically for firefighters. The program, which can be accessed through a phone or digital application, is designed to meet the needs of those on-the-go professionals who might be called to save lives at a burning building on a moment’s notice.
“We have a foundational approach to a firefighter’s health, giving them a few simple health basics they can make habits,” says David Wurtzel, founder and executive director of the nonprofit. “You change your habits, you will change your health.”
Physical workouts are designed in six-week cycles; mental fitness exercises are split into simple behavioral modules; and the nutrition part of the program highlights hydration needs as well as food education to cultivate better decisions in the grocery store—all so, ultimately, firefighters will be at less risk while they’re putting out flames.
To buy T-shirts or make donations:
109 Conway Ave., Narberth, PA 19072
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide