Sitting on his mother's living-room floor, surrounded by a heap of dolls, basketballs, miniature cars, Power Rangers, and board games, Nehemiah Davis, 22, carefully wraps a Barbie doll in red-and-green paper.
With his 11-year-old twin sisters at his side, Davis has turned the family's two-story home into a satellite Santa's workshop. The young entrepreneur is preparing for his second annual Christmas Eve event, in which he'll hand out toys to 150 children at a recreation center in his Overbrook neighborhood.
"It's about giving toys, but it's a bigger picture," Davis says of his Gifts From Heaven Christmas Celebration, set for today at Tustin Playground. "It's about wanting to help people and families as a whole."
Davis owns Asset Cleanouts, a small cleaning company. He and a crew go into clients' homes and businesses to remove unwanted junk. His company also specializes in power washing and bubble-gum removal, because "bubble gum is everywhere," Davis says.
His first contract was with his former high school, Mathematics, Civics, and Sciences Charter School. He's now a business major at Community College of Philadelphia.
Much of what's left after paying for college, Davis pours into his community work, which next year he plans to organize and register as a nonprofit bearing his name.
Every Monday, Davis and his mother hand out warm meals to homeless men and women at 18th and Vine Streets. In the last year at Tustin, Davis has held a Christmas party; an Easter egg hunt; a back-to-school extravaganza, giving away book bags and school supplies; and a Thanksgiving feast, where he and his volunteers served more than 200 people.
"He's a young person who wants to give something back to the community," says Celestine Marks, Tustin's new recreation leader. "And he doesn't wait. He'll go out and get whatever he has to get himself."
Weeks ago, Davis placed toy bins at two West Philadelphia police stations and three ShopRite supermarkets. His former principal, Veronica Joyner, who organized a toy drive for her school, donated 50 toys.
"To do what he's doing, and for him to know that it's supported and appreciated, that's a big thing," Joyner says. "It gives him the confidence to move forward."
Davis also enlisted his cousin Troy Davis, who owns a clown company, to ensure that Santa Claus will appear at today's party. Whatever is not donated, Davis pays for out of his own pocket.
There also will be hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy, a Wii game room, a moon bounce, face painting, coat giveaways, and free haircuts for children.
"A lot of mothers are single parents," Davis says, "so a little help could probably go a long way."
Davis knows what it's like to grow up in a single-parent home. He says his father hasn't been in his life since he was 2.
"My mom and grandmom made sure I was OK," Davis says. "I never had a cold night or missed food, and I thank God for that. I don't have everything I want as far as financial, but I know I can help somebody, and that's what I want to do."
Between ages 14 and 19, Davis says, he worked in a string of dull retail jobs.
While watching celebrities and executives come and go on their private jets when he cleaned up after passengers at Atlantic Aviation, he says, he decided he wanted to start a business. He started saving everything he earned.
"I wanted to be an entrepreneur to make a way for myself and my family. To do that, I knew I had to work hard - smart and hard."
At 19, he opened a produce stand in West Philadelphia, and soon after started Asset Cleanouts.
"He just amazes me sometimes," his grandmother Pauline Grant says. "I'm really proud of him."
His mentor, lawyer Bert Elmore, is also impressed. "To be that age and have those things going on," Elmore says, "he's going to go places, there's no doubt in my mind."
The young entrepreneur has several other ventures on the horizon. Davis figures he will start small, using his savings to get him going.
Next on his business list is a thrift store. "We get a lot of stuff that's reusable," Davis says of the furniture and appliances people pay him to remove from their homes. "It's a business within a business."
For his next community project, Davis wants to take a busload of youths skiing in Spring Mount, in northern Montgomery County, something he has done a few times and enjoyed.
"Don't even mention it until Monday," his mother, Myra Grant, tells him with a chuckle, sometimes overwhelmed by his enthusiasm.
Davis explains himself as: "There are a lot of young people out here trying to make positive efforts and moves. I'm just one of them."
If You Go
Nehemiah Davis will hold his Gifts From Heaven Christmas Celebration from 3 to 7 p.m. today at Tustin Playground, 5901 Columbia Ave. For more information, call 267-439-6847 or e-mail email@example.com.EndText