At Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center, they lovingly call LeShadae Godfrey the "
For six months, Godfrey, who runs the crumbling North Philadelphia rec center's theater arts programming on a bare-bones budget, has been raising money to take a dozen kids to see the Broadway musical in New York City this month.
Godfrey needed to raise $5,000. Cecil B. Moore, like all city rec centers, gets no money from the city for arts programming, besides budgeting for staffing and necessities. Everything else they do on their own.
She and the kids have been selling doughnuts and hot dogs. They've been stuffing dimes they'd normally spend on snacks into empty two-liter soda bottles.
Meanwhile, Verland Wayns, the center's longtime maintenance man, made his rounds. His job, he said, is to find the hazards. There are so many hazards.
Shaky railings. Crumbling ceilings. Buckling floors. What should be a treasure, the beautiful old building on 22nd off Lehigh, blocks from where Connie Mack Stadium once stood, sits in disrepair.
Many rooms are unsafe and unusable. The building's ancient steam heating system needs to be replaced. With no funding to do it, the department sends workers to patch up the leaky ceilings, and then sends them again when the leaks return.
The fitness room was shuttered a few years back when the ceiling started crumbling. The tae kwon do room was closed when mold spread across the ceiling.
Summer camp starts soon. There are no swings on the swing set, an eerie echo of other centers I visited.
Wayns, 50, who has worked for the department for 15 years, keeps the ruins as safe as he can for the kids.
"This is my world," said Wayns, father of former 76er Maalik Wayns. "I take pride in the center. If they build it up, I will maintain it."
I documented the deplorable state of many of the city's rec centers in an earlier column. With City Council set to vote as early as Wednesday on the sugary beverage tax, designed to fund universal prekindergarten programs and the desperately needed rebuild of the city's rec centers that Wayns hopes for, I went back to see more centers on Monday.
You visit these places, and the only thing that strikes you more than the shameful state of the buildings is the steadfast commitment of the people working inside them.
People like Wayns and Godfrey, who have done so much with so little for so long - and can do so much more for our children and our city if we'd only give them the support they deserve. People who are not looking for a handout, but a leg up. People who are working their hearts out to maintain buildings the city has allowed to decay. People who somehow find ways to do more.
People who, as Council argues over soda profits, are literally filling soda bottles with loose change to make city children's lives a little richer.
Universal pre-K is a vital investment that will make the future of so many children brighter and filled with more possibility. It needs to be fully funded now.
Rebuilding the rec centers will make an immediate impact on the lives of children already trapped in failing schools and dangerous neighborhoods. It will help remake neighborhoods.
"I feel like these kids need to have a constant in their lives," Godfrey, who has a master's degree in theater arts, told me when I asked why she was so determined to take the kids to Broadway. "If they can't get the exposure and the help they need at home, then I can be that for them."
With their dimes and soda bottles, Godfrey and her kids reached their goal.
"We paid for the bus, we paid for the tickets," Godfrey said Monday with a smile.
Imagine how far she could take them with some help.
The time is now for Council to be there for Godfrey and Wayns and the countless other rec center workers who have been doing it on their own for so long. The time is now for Council to take action that will make a real, impactful change in the lives of city kids who need it.
Shame on them if they don't have the courage to do it.