This article originally appeared in The Inquirer on Sept. 1, 1987.
After living in the city’s Lawndale section for more than 50 years, Tony Biello thought he had seen it all — until the day in the fall of 1985 when he saw a woman picking up litter around the Lawncrest Recreation Center.
Biello learned that she was Cathy Maloney-Carchidi, the new director of the recreation facility that had become more bane than boon for the close-knit community in the Northeast.
Seeing Maloney-Carchidi involved in the nitty-grittiest aspect of center operations impressed Biello so much that he immediately offered to work at Lawncrest.
Volunteers like the 75-year-old Biello, president of the center’s Community Advisory Board, and his buddy, Stanley Zienkewscz, are part of the renaissance at the Lawncrest Recreation Center on Rising Sun Avenue near Comly Street. The facility has been transformed into a hub of vibrant community activity.
“You can be proud of this place,” Zienkewscz said, showing a visitor the center’s spotless restrooms that he helps clean.
Referring to those who use the center, he said, “From 6 months to 99 years old, they are taken care of here with some type of program or activity.”
When Lawndale residents talk about the center, they refer to B.C. and A.C.: Before Cathy and After Cathy.
“I worked here in the summer five years ago, and you didn’t have these many programs and these many people participating,” said one woman, speaking over the noise of the Women’s Volleyball League and a coed basketball game.
Maloney-Carchidi deflects the accolades that come her way by crediting volunteers and the longstanding Lawncrest Athletic Association for the wide-ranging improvements.
“If it wasn’t for the athletic association and the volunteers, I couldn’t run all these other programs like ballet and exercise classes. They take the pressure off,” said Maloney-Carchidi, an energetic, affable 18-year veteran of the Recreation Department.
She was one of six people selected for the city’s Employee of the Month award in June. A recommendation letter from Recreation Commissioner Harold Comfort noted that Maloney-Carchidi had so mobilized the entire community that 600 people now crowd the center every day.
Volunteers help answer the telephones, maintain the playing fields and operate programs like the play group for infants to 3-year-olds.
“This is a center that has a lot of people who care about it,” Maloney- Carchidi said. “We have a tremendous amount of community support, and that’s what it’s all about.”
It was not always smooth sailing at Lawncrest for Maloney-Carchidi. She recalls the initial resistance she met from some teenagers when she introduced her theme for the center, PEACE: People Enjoying a Comfortable Experience.
“They called me a hippie for the PEACE theme, so I said what acronym do you want? We Adore Recreation? The acronym for that is WAR,” Maloney-Carchidi said.