On the second floor of the old Victorian house, sunlight streamed through the window as Todd Loughton sat alone in the new computer center, the first visitor of the day. The small room inside the Frankford Community Development Corp. office had been dedicated the day before in a ceremony in which the mayor gave remarks and cut a ribbon.
Loughton, 38, a slight man, neatly dressed, is part of the gaps in his neighborhood and the city, where 10.6 percent of residents are unemployed, the fifth-highest rate among the 20 largest U.S. cities, and an estimated 41 percent do not have access to a computer, limiting their search for opportunities.
Loughton was laid off 41/2 years ago from the heating and air-conditioning industry that provided him a living for more than two decades. But he came to the center hopeful. After applying for job after job after job, perhaps hundreds of jobs, Loughton, who holds an associate's degree in mechanical engineering, finally scored an interview, scheduled for the following day. He came to print his recommendation letters and continue his search. "In case that doesn't work out," he said.
He clicked on a listing, a pizza shop in need of a manager.
The technological resource of the center's nine flat-screen computers represents the pride and promise of a partnership among the CDC, which provides the staff; Temple University, which donated the computers; and the Philly Rising Collaborative, an initiative run out of the Managing Director's Office, which coordinated the effort. The goal of Philly Rising is to pour services into high-crime areas in the hope of raising people's quality of life. Help ranges from tearing down abandoned and crumbling homes to setting up job-training centers, like the one in Frankford, to be maintained by the community.
City programs can come and go, said Assistant Managing Director John Farrell, who heads Philly Rising. "But if you as a concerned citizen are determined to take your block back, that's what's going to last," he added.
Philly Rising began two years ago as a pilot in the North Philadelphia neighborhood of Hartranft. Successes there include reopening the neighborhood pool, "a tremendous victory," said Farrell, "because it had been a symbol to the community that they had been forgotten." There is now a Police Athletic League at the local elementary school, and a computer center that offers job training.
Such a concerted effort by the city, police, and community has resulted in a 15.9 percent drop in violent crime in the Hartranft neighborhood, Farrell said, higher than that for its police district and the city.
Philly Rising has since expanded into six neighborhoods - Haddington, Market East, Frankford, Point Breeze, Swampoodle, and Strawberry Mansion - with a coordinator in each. It will come to Kensington by the end of January.
Farrell and his staff have found common themes weighing down those neighborhoods: blight, idle youths, and a desperate need for jobs, fortifying what Farrell calls a "rough space."
Some remedies are readily available to residents, Farrell said, "they just don't know it, or how to access it."
The Frankford CDC is at 4900 Griscom St., near Aria Health. For now, the computer center is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and by appointment.
"We want it to be a resource that you need to help you survive, to better your life," said Tracy O'Drain, managing director of the CDC. She envisions the lab as a place to perfect a resumé, apply for jobs, complete college applications, develop a small business, pay bills.
That Monday morning, Loughton was soon joined by a young couple, both in need of jobs.
Jamal Sanders, 28, laid off from a retail job a year and a half ago, recently accepted an offer at a furniture chain, but he fears once the background check reveals his criminal record, the job will disappear.
"This has happened to me so many times before," he said. "It's hard because you want to be up front, but then. . . ."
Until he hears something, he said, "I am keeping my fingers crossed."