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These Kensington organizations offer safe spaces for the neighborhood’s children

How to find programs in Kensington offering free resources.

Sterlen Barr, DJ with Rapping About Prevention, plays music, activities, and educate kids about health at McPherson Square Play Park, in Philadelphia, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug., 2, 2022.
Sterlen Barr, DJ with Rapping About Prevention, plays music, activities, and educate kids about health at McPherson Square Play Park, in Philadelphia, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug., 2, 2022.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

Rebecca Fabiano has to strike a delicate balance between protecting her teen workers and providing a space for Kensington’s children to just be kids.

On Tuesday afternoon the executive director and founder of Fab Youth Philly danced to “Wobble” with neighborhood kids at McPherson park outside of the McPherson Square Library. While the sun was sweltering, it looked like it barely fazed the young kids as they challenged each other to do tricks and the latest dance crazes.

The nonprofit organization does programming throughout the year in partnership with other groups but the most popular program is the Play Captains. Teens, some as young as 14, apply to work Playstreets or Playpark events. They’re paid throughout the summer to be leaders for a neighborhood going through heightened gun violence and crime.

Off to the side of the grassed area stood a group of Play Captains in their now signature red shirts playing with children who came out to the park.

Under a tent, Play Captain Kiarah Cropper-Stukes conducted a drawing activity with 8-year-old Elik.

His inspiration is video game Five Nights at Freddy’s. The pair get to talking as Cropper-Stukes tries to guess what character he will be drawing.

“It’s like rewarding giving back to the community and the community is giving back to you. I like seeing the kids smile and stuff when we get to play with them and when I do arts and crafts with them,” 15-year-old Cropper-Stukes said.

Playstreets aren’t just a way to give kids a physical space to be, she said. They also show them that there are people out in their community who truly care about them and want them to succeed over the summer.

» READ MORE: Playstreets are the new summer camp

“I feel extremely hopeful because I’m with a group of young people who have made a decision to do really hard, really important work in neighborhoods that the city has disinvested in,” Fabiano said. “They have invested themselves and their own time to make sure that there’s some joy and play and learning happening for children.”

She knows that with violence on the rise, she has to be careful bringing the Play Captains to some streets.

“The violence in the neighborhoods across the city have people on edge,” she said.

‘Community organizers are essential workers’

Closures of pools and other public programs lead to community organizations having to fill in the gaps. In many cases, these organizations are the ones getting involved in creative ways to ensure that families in Kensington have safe spaces.

“If we shut down, there is sort of nothing left,” said Bill McKinney, Executive Director of New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC). “So I think we just have a different perspective of it. Even during the pandemic, we shut down for a while, but also recognized that we were essential employees and people still needed our services.”

Casey O’Donnell, President and CEO of Impact Services, says, “safety is a primary concern.”

“Moral safety is essentially being accountable to your agreements,” O’Donnell explained. “You’re following through on what you say you’re going to follow through on. When people talk about safety, yes, not getting shot is one thing, but how do you create environmental safety with and for the neighborhood? How do you ensure moral safety in your collaboratives and in your agreements?”

McKinney agrees, admitting that he is terrified that his decision to be on site could ever lead to a staff member getting hurt.

To that point, organization leaders agree they have an obligation to the neighborhood to provide resources and that they understand the heavy responsibility Parks and Recreation has to provide fun and safe summertime spaces.

‘Your neighbors have your back’

It’s stressful to see your local pool or Playstreet shut down, but there are several organizations and programs trying to make Kensington a safer place for families. Among them:

The Simple Way / 215-423-3598 / 3234 Potter St

“At the end of the day we just want to be really good neighbors” — Caz Tod-Pearson, director

The Simple Way, grassroots organization that has been in Kensington for 25 years, offers the following free services:

  1. Food distribution: Monday through Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.-noon. Fridays are by appointment only for seniors 65+.

  2. Food pantries and community gardens (H and Potter Streets)

  3. Back to school and Christmas stores (free shopping)

New Kensington Community Development Corporation / 215-427-0350 / 2771 Ruth St

“We work with residents to support them in shaping their community” — Bill McKinney, executive director

The folks at NKCDC consider themselves to be essential workers in Kensington and are heavily focused on equity and community-driven resources. Connecting with this organization, you can expect these services:

  1. Connections with NKCDC rehabilitated affordable housing

  2. Help finding transportation, child care, and food

  3. Alternatives to calling 911, and community-based crime reduction

  4. Assistance in choosing a school for your child

Impact Services / 215-739-1600 / 1952 E Allegheny Ave

“We are part of a collaborative of stakeholders that are trying to advance this work together toward achieving goals set by the neighborhood.” — Casey O’Donnell, president/CEO

Impact Services is a well-known name in the community, and it offers a wide range of resources for Kensington residents. The organization’s services are free and include:

  1. Rent relief and utilities credits

  2. Part-time community initiative training

  3. Public space utilization in collaboration with other local organizations

  4. Block cleanups

Mural Arts / 215-426-9422 / 2646 Kensington Ave

“Our goal has always been to respond to what the community is looking for” — Nadia Malik, director of Porch Light Program

Mural Arts collaborates with community members and other organizations to provide free programming to their neighbors in Kensington. The organization offers:

  1. Art programming for the whole family

  2. Summer camp

  3. Community garden (1825 Frankford Ave)

  4. Regular newsletters with information about upcoming events (email

Motivos Mag / 267-283-1733 / 1340 Frankford Ave / Linktree

“It’s about letting students know that we care” — Jenee Chizick-Agüero, founder/publisher

Motivos Magazine is a bilingual publication that serves kids in Philly by showing them the potential each one of them has. Kids can be referred by their teachers or sign up to participate in two programs:

  1. Media mentorship program:

    1. Trainings in research, editing, and interview skills

    2. Partnerships with over 1,500 schools, libraries, and prisons

    3. College prep and career guidance

  2. Magazine:

    1. Story and poetry publishing in print and online

    2. Exploration of culture, finding strength in your roots, and navigating life issues

Kensington Soccer Club / 267-536-2717 / 307 W. Dauphin St.

“Our children should have the opportunity to do any activity they’re interested in or play any sport they’re interested in” — Jim Hardy, director

Kensington Soccer Club, founded in 2010, partners with afterschool programs, nonprofits, and community organizations to give kids free access to soccer. Among its services:

  1. Community coaching

  2. After-school programming

  3. Community festivals

Esperanza Health / / 4417 N. 6th Street

“What we’ve been trying to do is think about not only do we need to create activity, but we need to know what’s going on in the community and then align ourselves with those initiatives” — Debra Ortiz-Vasquez, director of Community Health and Wellness

Established over 30 years ago, Esperanza Health has expanded services to reach communities members before they even have to see a doctor.

  1. Weekly fresh food distribution

  2. Pop up park

  3. Community meetings to discuss what can be done to improve the neighborhood

The work produced by the Communities & Engagement desk at The Inquirer is supported by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Editorial content is created independently of the project's donors.