Philly awards 2nd round of grants to Kensington community groups tackling opioid crisis

An aerial view of Kensington

Kensington, Philadelphia. (Max Marin/Billy Penn)

The Kensington Community Resilience Fund announced its second round of grantees on Thursday, directing a total of $200,000 to 20 grassroots organizations and community groups in the Kensington, Harrowgate, and Fairhill neighborhoods.

The fund, a public-private partnership, was established in April 2021 to help improve the quality of life in some of the neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by Philadelphia’s opioid crisis.

Philadelphia has not yet released the official number of fatal overdoses for 2021, but the city is on track to outpace 2020, when more than 1,200 people died from opioid overdoses. Overdose rates increased dramatically for Black Philadelphians that year, and also rose for Hispanics, while dropping for white Philadelphians.

A key component of the resilience fund is its participatory grantmaking process. Neighborhood residents serve on a Community Grantmaking Committee and recommend the grantees.

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“The grants were evaluated by the neighbors,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “The power to make funding decisions was placed in their hands, because they are the most connected to the needs of this vibrant but challenged community.”

Ramon Cruz, who has lived in Kensington “since the day I was born” and has seen it “at its best, at its worst, and now through its struggle,” said serving on the committee has been a gratifying experience.

“This grant is giving hope and opportunity to the many lifelong residents of Kensington,” he said. “The fund is a great start in the process to revitalize Kensington. We need to understand that recovery is a process, not an event, and we will recover one day at a time.”

The grants target six priorities: public safety and gun violence, youth development, workforce development and training, beautification and blight removal, connecting residents to resources, and community trauma.

The latest round of grantees includes By Faith, Health and Healing, which helps community members heal from the trauma of losing loved ones “to gun violence, addiction, and incarceration,” said founder Brenda Mosley.

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The funding will enable her program to continue providing everything from music therapy workshops and nutrition classes to peer specialists focused on mental health and addiction, Mosley said. Her group also plans to open a re-entry program for youth returning from prison this spring.

“I am truly overwhelmed with joy,” she said.

In July, the city awarded its first round of $10,000 grants to 20 grassroots organizations, including the arts-focused nonprofit Taller Puertorriqueño and Kensington Soccer Club, an afterschool sports program focused on youth empowerment.

“These groups provided critical after-school programs for neighborhood children, connected community members with their neighbors, transformed vacant lots into community gardens, helped immigrants become citizens, helped families put food on their tables, enriched residents through the arts, and much more,” said Damaris Feliciano, Director of Community Relations and Strategic Initiatives for the City of Philadelphia.

Jim Hardy, who started the Kensington Soccer Club club in 2010 and teaches at Kensington Health Sciences Academy High School, said the funding allowed him to expand the program, and praised the participatory grantmaking process.

Listening to the voices of neighborhood residents and allowing them to steer the process helps ensure that “the organizations that receive the funds are those that are having an impact on the ground and have proven themselves in the community,” Hardy said. “And lots of times those are grassroots groups that have really been scraping by, doing everything they can with volunteer efforts, and taking every resource and putting it into their programming.”

Anthony Acevedo joined the soccer club as a little kid, and is now a 10th grader. He wanted to be an advocate for young people in Kensington, and saw soccer as an outlet.

“It’s the best way for me to communicate and meet other people of other backgrounds or ethnicities,” Acevedo said. “It teaches me this is the situation we must tackle, this is how we can do it.”

Eva Gladstein, the city’s Deputy Managing Director for Health and Human Services, acknowledged that the fund alone has not “combated all of the really serious issues and quality of life concerns that Kensington experiences.”

But, she said, “if you look at the transformation of spaces like vacant lots into gardens, if you look at the transformation of individuals like the youth who are participating in the programs, I think it has made a difference.”

The program’s funders include Scattergood Foundation, the Douty Foundation, JP Morgan Chase Foundation, Patricia Kind Family Foundation, the Nelson Foundation and the City of Philadelphia.

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