Germantown church, residents prepare for life without soon-to-close educational neighbors [video]

Located at 47 E. Haines St., the Janes Memorial United Methodist Church will soon see neighboring Germantown High and Robert Fulton Elementary schools close their doors for good.

Nicknamed Janes, the church serves more than just its congregation. It has also offered youth programs like Start Smart, Stay Smart.

In its eighth year, the program offers workshops for parents of middle-school and high-school students, various educational activities and free book bags.

Community ties

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Janes has been an appreciated neighbor for block residents, families living nearby and the community as a whole, with members coming from Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill to attend.

“Ten percent of our church attendance is within walking distance,” said Rev. Andrew L. Foster, senior pastor of Janes for the past five years.

Ramona Douglas, Janes’ secretary, said that with the looming changes, now might be the best time to personally reach out to people, on behalf of the church, to increase membership and interest in its varied offerings.

What the closings mean

With the schools slated for closure in June, Janes’ youth programs will taken on added importance. So too will be retaining a sense of community on Haines Street especially since some residents were unaware of the youth programs there.

“I didn’t know that Janes did any of these programs actually,” said Jeff Williamson, who has lived near Janes for 14 years. “I knew they did the schoolbags at the end of the year.”

Williamson’s is one of five households on the block of Haines between Germantown Avenue and Baynton Street. That includes Tom Durnell, whose house was built in 1776; having been there since 1987, he is believed to be the longest tenured resident.

The neighbors have become good friends, Williamson said, but they’re worried about the repercussions of closing down both neighboring schools.

“The whole process isn’t a good one,” he said. “I don’t think there was any forward planning.”

Seeking positives

Jala Olds-Pearson, principal of Fulton Elementary School, offered a different perspective.

She agreed that the closings were not welcomed, or necessarily beneficial to the community and its attending students, but hoped it would inspire and motivate parents to unite and redefine the role of churches.

“It might force parents to get involved,” Olds-Pearson said. “The churches and services are grounded for children. I think neighborhoods and communities will transform. … I still think we will benefit. Churches will be the anchors of communities.”

Olds-Pearson described churches in Germantown to be like hubs for residents in the community.

If more parents are proactive, the closings may not be the worst thing to happen to the community, but she stressed that it could widen the gap between “haves and have-nots.”

She said she hopes that, after the closings which will render parents unable to rely on the schools as much as they had in the past, they will go out of their way to find good education and programs for their children.

What’s next?

The programs that Janes offers are not going away. In fact, they’re hoping more kids and families get involved now that they will be forced to attend schools farther away.

Programs like Start Smart, Stay Smart and the estimated 50 current and retired educators affiliated with Janes will be more important as they serve as supplements for students and families who live nearby. Janes can cater to parents and students until they get acclimated to new schools, church officials said.

“The church will become very important. The only place [students will] have to come is here,” said Juanita Lee, a Janes utilityperson. “We reach out to the community, try to get the kids to come in and go to Sunday School.”

Parissa M. Zecher and Thomas E. Zamonski are students at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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