The second clean-up effort at Germantown’s once-neglected Waring House was not even two hours old, but the pile of discarded furniture hauled from the building already looked as if it may reach the second-story windows.
Amid the debris remaining inside — and there was much of it — was a weathered copy of “Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul” on an upstairs table, a bunch of mold in the basement air and, on the ground floor, a 2003 edition of the Philadelphia Daily News not far from a “Do Not Trash” box of former Germantown Settlement leader Emanuel Freeman’s “desk files.”
The dozens of volunteers and neighborhood-group activists working there on Wednesday were clearing the building of it all. Their mission: Let’s get the dilapidated former community hub back into working shape.
Raising money through drawing attention
They know it will take money and effort to do so, but they hope their hard work will entice donors to provide some of the latter, along with manhours.
“We haven’t raised any money yet, but that’s what today is for, to draw attention to what we’re doing,” said Anita Hamilton, president of the Wister Neighborhood Council which owns a building once under the Germantown Settlement umbrella. “We were on the radio yesterday, will have flea markets on the grounds.”
Gesturing toward the mountain of furniture, Hamilton noted that, “I’m told we can get $10 for every hundred pounds of metal. We’re old school. We’ll break it down.”
Wednesday’s effort marked the second time volunteers gathered to work at the Penn Street site. Last September, they tackled the long-neglected yard and surrounding land. By clearing out the inside, Hamilton said they could get contractors to come in and see what can be done.
Earlier in the day, some people from Kaplan Career Institute stopped by to talk about providing temporary electric as part of their site training.
No timetable for revival
WMC members would not even venture a guess as to when a viable Waring House would return. They have visions of what that would look like, though.
“The neighborhood council will operate out of here, and we’ll have some services provided since there is nowhere else in the part of Germantown doing that now,” Hamilton said. “We want to focus on youth, healthy living. Our kids are really going through it right now. There are eight fast-food restaurant within a few-block radius of six schools!”
To that end, they were scoping out an area to cultivate a community garden on site to grow and/or sell fruits and vegetables.
“The group is predominently women, black, so we have a motherly perspective to it,” Hamilton said.
“It’s become grandmotherly over time,” added WMC board member Ruth Salters, who was donning a Ready, Willing and Able windbreaker representing one of the groups helping. As for that group with which she works, Salters added, “Instead of a hand-out, a hand-in.”
The back story
Back at the initial clean-up in September, Hamilton explained how the effort came to be.
“This was a hub in the community, but it had been abandoned for about 10 years. Neighbors had petitioned us to find out what’s going on and try to fix it up,” said Hamilton, who lives within eyeshot of Waring House. “This is a community that’s vigilant in looking out for one another.”
When they investigated the property once owned by the debt-riddled, dismantled Germantown Settlement social-services agency, they found that it wasn’t tied up in bankruptcy proceedings. It had been purchased by Nova Bank, about which Hamilton said, “Good people. They listened to our story and said ‘let’s try to work with these guys.'”
That meant taking over and looking for donors and investors to help cover the estimated $200,000-$300,000 needed to renovate Waring House to the point that it could hold — like it used to — health fairs, afterschool programs and other community gatherings.
“We don’t have any money, but we’ve been able to put a lot of work in,” said WNC’s Debra White-Roberts. After today, “We will sit back, see what we have going on and go from there.”