Grays Ferry Wants Change From New Mayor

“They need to do something for the kids in this area,” Joe Finnegan said. “They don’t have anything to do. There need to be more playgrounds and after school programs. There has to be jobs for these young kids coming out of high school as well. With all this crime, parents have to be more responsible for their kids, then there wouldn’t be as many of these problems.”

The impact that the next mayor of Philadelphia will have on the city will be felt heavily by neighborhoods that are under-serviced. One such place is Grays Ferry, located in South Philadelphia. This once stable, Irish-Catholic community has been marred by racial tensions, crime and economic despair since the 1970’s.

This hardship is still felt in the present day. Lifetime resident Dave Renna remembered better times.

“This neighborhood used to be nice,” Renna said. “You had so many corner stores, a bakery right down the street, stuff like that. Everybody knew each other and watched each other’s back.”

Renna also highlighted the policies that have affected the residents economically.

“We need to get money back in the neighborhood,” Renna said. “(Mayor) Nutter’s trying to get funding in too many different ways. I’m a smoker, and he put a two-dollar tax on the cigarettes. I pay school taxes, and he’s hurting everyday people economically. Why should we suffer?”

Despite these complaints on the current city administration, there is hope from the Grays Ferry community that changes could come from a new mayor. The favorite candidate throughout the neighborhood seems to be former Philadelphia City Councilman James Kenney. Lifetime neighborhood resident Carroll McCollum weighed in on why Kenney has garnered the support.

“He has the support of the fireman, cops and teachers,” McCollum said. “I think he would be the best for the whole city, not just Grays Ferry. We need a mayor that’s going to stand up and say, ‘let’s be a city again’.”

Similar to Renna, McCollum has complaints with the current administration.

“Nutter’s more concerned about his image than anything else,” McCollum said. “He’s handcuffed in certain areas, but in some situations, like the education funding, a better job could be done. Now people around here have to send their kids to Catholic schools that cost ten thousand-dollars-per-year.”

Another prevalent issue for the residents of Grays Ferry is housing. The residents mentioned that the University of Pennsylvania, located directly across the Schuylkill River from the neighborhood has promised for years to expand. In theory, this would allow infrastructure to be improved, and have prospective homebuyers congregate to Grays Ferry.

Finnegan, a former resident of the community, commented on the importance of this issue.

“We’ve been ignored for a long time,” Finnegan said. “There’s Section 8 housing, absentee landlords all over the place. They don’t fix the properties, they all fall apart and then the tenants don’t have the money needed to fix it up themselves. If Penn follows through with what they’ve been saying for years, then hopefully that could mark an improvement.”

With the crime prevalent in the neighborhood, Finnegan also believes that it is important to keep the youth occupied in productive ways. He noted that doing
this would benefit younger people in the community. As a new father in the city, he wants it for his own family, and others in the same situation.

Ultimately, the new mayor of Philadelphia will have to make policies for the entire city, and not just the community of Grays Ferry. What these residents of the neighborhood highlighted, showed the concern that they have for the preservation of their home. Whether change will come or not, it is equally important that people like this care about where they live. That is the first step.

– Text and image by Patrick Smith.

Ludlow: Ramonita de Rodriguez Library Hopes the Next Mayor Will Fight for Education

NextMayorLogo2015Inside the Ramonita de Rodriquez Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, children can be seen reading, playing, and creating school projects in a cheerful room decorated with crafts. They come every Monday through Thursday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. for the library’s Literacy Enrichment Afterschool Program (LEAP).

Having comprehensive after-school programs like LEAP is something the next mayor of Philadelphia needs to foster in the Ludlow community, according to the library’s manager and after-school leader.

“I know the mayor did a big grant for the libraries last year,” said after-school leader Jane Ahmad. “I would like for the next mayor to contribute more money to after-school programs like this. As you see, we have a full house.”

The library, located on 600 W. Girard Ave., is helping fulfill educational responsibilities through its after-school program, while tackling an important issue within the community: literacy.

One of the goals of the program is to improve literacy through reinforcement education. Ahmad and teenage volunteers will read to the children and assign an activity based on the reading. Ahmad said this type of learning supplements the standard classroom education, because teachers may ask questions about a topic the children have more knowledge of because they learned about it in LEAP.

Ahmad says she’s proud of the young teens who volunteer their time at the library after school.

“February was Black History Month, so we had a reading about the Freedom Quilt,” Ahmad said. “The children made their own freedom quilts and reported on it and how it relates to their reading.”

Ahmad and other teenage leadership assistants work as a team to provide any assistance that the children, grades K-12, may need with their studies or extracurricular activities.

Lydia Lynes, a social work major at Temple University, has been doing her work study at the library for the past year and feels it is an important part of the community. Lynes hopes the next mayor will continue funding these types of after-school programs.

“I think Mayor Nutter did a really good job with the education system,” Lynes said. “The graduation rates have gone up and he gave more funding to the public libraries, which increases the literacy rates. Programs like these are important because instead of hanging out on the streets. Kids are staying in school.”

Daily activities at the library include educational art projects for the kids.

Lisa Chianese-Lopez, who has been library manager of the Ramonita de Rodriquez Branch since 2012, expressed she wants more funding for libraries in schools, as it relates directly to youth literacy.

“Education definitely needs to be improved,” she said. “That’s one of my hot buttons because most schools don’t have the budget to have a library. They don’t have the staffing to bring their children to the library. The ones who do have libraries don’t have staff or funding to bring in new resources or pay a librarian.”

Ahmad directly sees the impact of schools closing. She lives across from the Germantown High School, which closed in June 2013.

“It’s a very depressing area now,” she said. “It used to be full of life, with kids going to school in the morning. Now it’s just over there with a big ‘for sale’ sign.”

The library’s after-school program especially becomes important with recent public and charter school closings right in the area. Charter school, Walter D. Palmer, located adjacent to the library, closed its doors Dec. 31. Local public schools then took in the surplus of students, which created problems, according to Ahmad.

“Intended politicians need to find a way to educate these children where the environment they’re in is not overpopulated,” she said. “All those kids from Germantown had to merge in with the children from Martin Luther King High School, so now they’re dealing with extra problems like overcrowding and so forth.”

Most of the children attending LEAP come from Ludlow elementary, Kearny and St. Peter’s Apostle parochial school.

In addition to LEAP, the library connects residents to resources and help surrounding problems like poverty and homelessness.

Chianese-Lopez is passionate about helping this community with education and advocating for better resources.

Chianese-Lopez said the library plays many other roles in the community.

“We are no longer a warehouse of books,” she said. “We are part of the community. We find people help. You don’t know how many times a week somebody comes in and says they need to find shelter or ‘I’m on a fixed income and they are turning off my electricity.’”

Chianese-Lopez said she hopes for the next mayor to continue other community outreach programs that have a strong focus on education.

“One thing this mayor has been doing that I don’t think a lot of people know about it, is called Philly Rising,” she said. “It’s a program that targets some of the most violent neighborhoods and tries to lift up the residents in the area and bring them help. I hope that the next mayor either continues this or has something comparable to it because it helps a lot of people.”

– Text and images by Lauren Brown and Caitlin O’Connell.