Twenty years ago, Nueva Creacion Lutheran Church started an after school program in one of Philadelphia’s toughest neighborhoods, Fairhill, known by residents as “The Badlands” due to excessive drugs and violence. When the pastor and his wife began networking in this predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood, they asked residents what their needs were. The result: Centro Nueva Creacion, an after school program for parents who can’t afford a babysitter.
I spoke with the Director, Maribel Lozado Arzuaga, about the Centro’s purpose:
“Kids are exposed all the time to shootings. Shootings don’t often happen these days, but there is drug trafficking out there, and we have some families that are suffering where one of the parents is involved in drug trafficking. They come to the program, and this is like an escape for the children to come and do poetry, drumming, and dance and activities with the teachers.”
“I think it’s essential to find the need, just as the New Creation Lutheran Church found the need at the beginning. They found the need in the neighborhood. People said, “’We need a safer place for our kids to go after school.’ Our parents work. They don’t have funds to pay a babysitter, so they send the kids to the after school program. They come here and engage in activities that are good for them. It’s a safe space for them. The parents can trust that they can come and pick up the kids at 6 p.m. and the kids are going to be in one piece.”
“The majority of the families come from around. We had some families in the past that came from other neighborhoods because they liked the program., and because everybody is bi-lingual. So there are parents, for example, from the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Ecuador that don’t speak the language at home. With the math, parents can help the children, but not with English. So they send they kids here because they need assistance with their homework. We have concerned neighbors that work here. They are so bright, and they help children with their homework. We have parents that come to us with their public assistance papers or job related papers, so that we can fill them out.”
“We try to tie up the poetry and the music lessons with information from the countries of the children, so they learn where the parents come from, who they are as a people. That is a really positive thing that nurtures their identity and self esteem.”
“We are here because we are the people of the neighborhood. The people that work here are from the neighborhood. This is a place for them to learn, to advance and to achieve goals. I have one girl here who started working here, was not sure about going to college, and now she is in college. Right now we have two that are going to college. Hopefully we will have another one.”
“We are hope for the Fairhill neighborhood. We are hope—esperanza.”
Photo: Manny Hernandez. 9.27.2007. Flickr Creative Commons.