by Roxanne Patel Shepelavy
Queen Village is divided between those who go to Meredith Elementary School and those who go to Nebinger. But the division runs far deeper than street address. Meredith, among the best district schools in the city, is 61 percent white, with 32 percent of students considered economically disadvantaged, according to the district’s school profile. Nebinger is 96 percent minority—primarily African American and Latino—and 100 percent of students are poor. In five years, the relatively new Friends of Nebinger has raised $30,000 to help the school, an up-and-comer with a growing student body. Meredith—long full to capacity—raises twice that in one auction night a year.
In typical Philly fashion, the division extends beyond the schools, too: There is most of Queen Village, and then there is the Courtyard Apartments, a low-income complex for about 300 primarily African American families on Christian, between 3rd and 5th streets. “In the past, it has been like different communities,” says Barry Perrin, social services coordinator at the Courtyard, which has its own residents group, separate from the Queen Village Neighbors Association. (QVNA). “It has been hard to bridge the gap.”
And so it was that a seemingly simple act last Tuesday afternoon became the highlight of Perrin’s week: Five Queen Village volunteers showed up to nearby Shot Tower park to lead 35 Courtyard children in games and sports, as part of a summer enrichment program organized by Perrin and QVNA at the Courtyard. To Perrin, it was a marked change from past summers at the Courtyard. “We have a program every year, but I have always dealt with a lack of volunteers,” Perrin says. “Now they are just showing up.”
“Summer at Courtyard” is the best of Philadelphia: It’s what happens when disparate communities pull together to make a better neighborhood for everyone. The hope is that the success of the summer program will follow into the school year.
Through Better Tomorrows—the nonprofit arm of Interstate Realty Management, which owns and operates Courtyard—Perrin has run a Courtyard summer program for 12 years, taking the children to parks and on field trips around town. It was always fun, he says. But it lacked one important thing to keep the children from falling academically behind in the summer: Education. A few years ago, Pennsport residents Ed Mitinger and Janice Chorba started inviting Courtyard kids across the street to the City Harvest plot at the Southwark Community Garden for lessons on pollinators, and gardening and the natural world. Soon, the Courtyard summer program was spending every Monday—Mitinger’s day off from being produce manager at Essene—to take trips around town, to places like Bartram’s Garden and John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.
This summer, QVNA board member Eleanor Ingersoll decided to go one step further. Ingersoll, who has three kids in Meredith, is also an active member of the Friends of Nebinger, whose principal mentioned that her students could use more summer enrichment. So Ingersoll volunteered to organize “Summer at Courtyard,” three days of programming over six weeks, that incorporate partners from around the neighborhood and the development. Mondays are still spent with Mitinger. On Tuesday mornings, a Queen Villlage resident who works at GlaxoSmithKline does science experiments; Tuesday afternoons are spent doing sports at Shot Tower. And Wednesdays are educational field trips around town—to the Penn Museum, City Hall, the Franklin Institute. The program is free for all the children, who also have their breakfast and lunch supplied by the Archdiocese, which picks up where schools leave off for the summer.
“It’s the best summer we’ve had in the 12 years I’ve been here because of the enrichment that’s incorporated into the program,” says Perrin. “When they go back in September, it won’t be so hard to get back into learning. The growth and development of the children has been awesome.”
“Summer at Courtyard” is the best of Philadelphia: It’s what happens when disparate communities pull together to make a better neighborhood for everyone. In the last few years, QVNA President Jeff Hornstein and Inez Green, president of the Courtyard’s Resident Council, have made a more concerted effort to connect. When they did, it was the children on whom they concentrated much of their efforts. Now, Perrin and Ingersoll say they hope the success of the summer will follow into the school year, to the after school program Perrin runs on site, and to subsequent summers at the Courtyard.
“The community is finally coming together to improve the quality of life for people in the entire community,” says Perrin. “I’m hoping and praying that we continue the partnership and relationship that we’ve rekindled, and can bring the program to another level.”