Germantown Settlement Charter space transforms into community theater for youth

On a recent asphalt-melting afternoon, a handful of kids cool off in the spray of a cracked-open fire hydrant planted near West Rockland Street.

It’s a typical summer scene in southwest Germantown, in Philadelphia, that lifelong city resident Kareem Rogers knows quite well.

He was once was one of the kids.

But inside a newly renovated church across Germantown Avenue, he wants to offer the neighborhood more, something they’ve perhaps never experienced before.

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“One of my motto’s is ‘kids can’t dream beyond what they’re exposed to’ and so, if we want kids to reach for more, we have to expose them to more,” says Rogers.

A community space

Last month, Rogers moved his longtime community theater and mentoring program to the former campus of Germantown Settlement Charter School.

Greatness is in You” offers affordable theater and art classes for the inexperienced, or “the curious,” as Rogers puts it.

Aspiring actors who want to test their skills a bit are welcome too.

During the school year, the program will offer classes in entrepreneurship and a place to come afterschool for help with academics, among other things.

At the moment, a group of elementary school students is rehearsing an adaptation of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” that Rogers wrote himself.

Down the line, the program will tackle more serious subjects such as teenage pregnancy, interracial marriage and Trayvon Martin.

No matter the topic, though, Rogers hopes to instill self-confidence, self-control and a sense that the students can achieve anything with hard work.

“It’s a message that they’re getting,” says Rogers. “I think a lot of them get it from music and television and a lot less from adults who they interact with every day.”

A long journey

The vaulted, pale-blue space is the program’s first real home.

Rogers fell in love with it almost immediately after walking through two years ago.

“We can make this work. We can make this work,” he remembers thinking.

For years, Rogers, a vice principal at a charter school, held rehearsals in the living room of his Mt. Airy home. Auditions and performances were held at rented spaces around town such as the Painted Bride and the Adrienne Theater.

The model worked, but not as well he wanted.

“You couldn’t generate the kind of momentum that you kind of need and that was just the theater part,” says Rogers. “We were really confined by just those spaces.”

With the new space, Rogers hopes to start expanding his vision while establishing a positive community hub.

The latter, he says, will take some time.

So far, very few immediate residents have enrolled, but Rogers is confident that will change once word gets out.

“We’ll just keep doing and keep plugging away,” he says.

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