Brittany Chokpelle felt “truly blessed” on Thursday.
As one of the first residents-to-be of Northern Children’s Services’ newly renovated Merrick Hall, Chokpelle spoke about a better living environment and support network at Thursday morning’s grand-opening celebration in Roxborough.
“The opening of Merrick is opening doors for my [three-year-old son Rashee] and I,” said Chokpelle, a young mother who recently graduated high school and currently works at a nearby ShopRite location. “It is helping us begin a new life. Where would my son and I be without NCS?”
Cause for celebration
Following a successful $4.6 million capital campaign, the oldest building on NCS’s Roxborough campus is reopening its doors to mothers and children in the Philadelphia area.
More than 100 friends, family, staffers, corporate partners and residents gathered at the Ridge Avenue site on Thursday to dedicate the building to its new purpose.
To Chokpelle, it represented a stepping stone toward a time in the not-so-distant future when she hopes to be able to afford housing of her own, for herself and Rashee.
Tracy Lavallias, president and chief executive officer of NCS, saw it in similar terms.
“We provide the women we serve and their families with an opportunity to move on and achieve things that their parents might not have had,” Lavallias said. “We want to have a positive impact on society.
“With our programs we can drive a wedge in major social issues and make a difference for the next generation.”
Lavallias also drew attention to the crucial role of residential design and construction in creating a supportive environment for the mothers and children NCS serves.
The way a residential-living environment looks and feels can directly affect a person’s perception of his or her circumstances, he said.
Thursday’s gathering kicked off with opening remarks from Elizabeth Kane, chair of the NCS Board.
State Rep. Pamela DeLissio (D-194th) and Fourth District City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. also spoke; the latter promised an additional $3,000 grant to the organization in light of the significant reopening.
Also speaking on Thursday was Mimi Box, executive director of the Jon Bon Jovi Foundation; Adam Schall, director of enterprise productivity and innovation for Wawa Inc. and Mike Ward, president and CEO of IKEA North America.
William Morsell, former chair of the NCS Board, paid tribute to the memory of Brad Reiner, a fellow past chair who died earlier this year.
The architectural firm JacobsWyper created the designs for the Merrick Hall renovation project, while the TN Ward Co. handled the construction.
Major financial support was provided by the Jon Bon Jovi Foundation, Wawa and IKEA, which also oversaw interior design and provided furnishings.
What it all means
The renovated Merrick Hall includes new construction. It will encompass 15,000 square feet and include four apartments for four mothers with up to two children.
NCS will also be able to double the total number of mothers and babies served, including service to pregnant teens.
Founded in 1853, Northern Children’s Services (formerly known as Northern Home for Children) was an orphanage that served young children described as “innocent victims of social poverty during an era of unparalleled economic luxury,” according to NCS.
NCS now offers “professional behavioral health and child welfare services to the Philadelphia community, including residential services for young women, who are either transitioning our of foster care or who are chronically homeless.”