Rec centers have helped generations of Philadelphians grow up. Though their numbers are declining and their funding is drying up, these old-school institutions remain vital to the communities they serve.
Guerin Recreation Center
Location: 16th and Jackson streets in South Philadelphia. The neighborhood around the center is uniquely South Philly, with cars double-parked along nearby streets.
Background: The center's population is mostly Italian, although a sign in Spanish posted prominently on the wall of a multipurpose room highlights the center's changing demographics. Director Peter Giannini points out the ethnic makeup of the surrounding neighborhood is shifting. Bocce, an Italian import, is a particularly big draw to the center. Most programs take place in the evening.
Facilities: There's a basketball gym, two indoor bocce courts, a kitchen, a playground, a weight room ($10 registration fee) and a large asphalt expanse used for hockey and flag football.
Programs: Men's and women's bocce leagues are free. Other offerings include day camp ($85 for two weeks), after-school camp ($10 a week), and basketball, flag football and winter soccer leagues (fees to be determined). Tae kwon do lessons are independent of the center.
Vare Recreation Center
Location: 26th and Morris streets in Southwest Philadelphia, surrounded by dilapidated housing and industrial buildings. A biscuit distributor sits across the street from the main entrance.
Background: Bright, colorful and alive, the mural arts room at Vare offers a welcome respite from the center's bleak surroundings. Two girls draw intently in large sketchbooks while three adults-led by Vare Mural Arts director Wade H. Williams-offer guidance and encouragement, and chat amiably among themselves about the curriculum. At the beginning of the summer, students learn about shapes, design their own aprons and create a collage that explores the theme of "community" in Philadelphia. By the end of the six-week summer program, they'll have completed a mural. But that's not all. As part of the program, they'll go on field trips (to places such as Bartram's Garden) and learn about local murals as well as the Great Wall of L.A.
Facilities: There's a pool, an auditorium, a mural arts room, a playground, a baseball diamond, two outdoor basketball courts, a gymnastics gym and a basketball gym. Murals by the Mural Arts Program, Philly sports team banners and a sign that reads, "Kids are special people" all add cheer. The grounds are spotless, but it's difficult to ignore the baseball field, which is mostly bare earth and weeds. Goals without nets sit on either end of the field.
Programs: Free offerings include after-school mural arts programs, acting classes, winter basketball, flag football and soccer. Paid offerings include gymnastics and tumbling camp ($35 a week), fall gymnastics ($35 a season), day camps ($110 for six weeks, trips included), an after-school program ($5 a week) and a summer basketball league ($10 a person).
Kendrick Recreation Center
Location: Ridge Avenue and Pensdale in Roxborough. It's a busy area. A hospital is located across the street, and there's a constant flow of cars down Ridge Avenue.
Background: Stand in the middle of the lobby inside the main building and you'll see people of all different ages and ethnicities hurry past. There are so many different activities and events going on that it's tough to keep pace. But one thing is clear: Race doesn't seem to be much of an issue, at least within the confines of the center. Kendrick director Mike Muszynski, who seems to know everybody's name, says, "People get along well. I haven't seen any racially motivated fights." A boy resting on the steps adds that Kendrick is "not segregated at all." The center tries to hire counselors who were once campers. Muszynski himself grew up across the street. He vividly remembers trying to figure out if it was boys' or girls' swim day at the pool, remarking that today's kids must do the same thing. Kendrick has held onto the old-fashioned practice of gender-segregated swimming (at certain times), since it seems to produce a safer environment.
Facilities: There are three tennis courts, a playground, three baseball diamonds, a pool (plus showers at the pool), a gymnastics gym, a game room, an outdoor hockey rink, a basketball gym, an outdoor basketball court and an auditorium. The building's interior is clean, and all the facilities seem to be in good condition, although one of the tennis courts is missing a net.
Programs: Free offerings include various basketball leagues and G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training) Camp. Paid offerings include aerobics ($45 for eight weeks); martial arts (teacher sets rate); day camp ($10 registration fee, $60 a week); all-star basketball camp coached by Speedy Morris' son, Brian Morris ($75 a child); karate (teacher sets rate, no more than $30 a month); National Junior Tennis League ($60 a child or $85 a family); gymnastics and tot recreation ($30 to $60 a month, depending on the level); swimming lessons ($10 a summer); dance (fee varies by class); and arts and crafts ($30 for six weeks).
Kia Gregory (firstname.lastname@example.org) last wrote about the controversy over "STOP SNITCHIN" T-shirts. She played at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center at 21st Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue as a kid.
Freelance writer Joanna Bernstein (email@example.com) played at Starr Garden at Sixth and Lombard streets as a kid.
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide