Hot dogs sizzled on the grill, classic cookout music filled the air and paint covered children’s faces at the Wister Neighborhood Council (WNC) picnic Saturday.
Coupled with a flea market, popcorn station and dodgeball game, the Germantown community gathering was held at the storied E. Penn St. site to celebrate the rehabilitation progress of the Waring House.
Melika Roberts, leader of WNC’s teen program, facilitated the childrens’ games throughout the day-long event.
“I just like helping out with the kids,” said the daughter of WNC board member Debra White Roberts. “I always think of ways to entertain them and always try to have prizes for them or arts and crafts.”
Roberts noted that once the site that once held regular community gatherings was restored — an ongoing, challenging volunteer effort — it would provide area children with much-needed resources.
“For the community, it will mean a lot,” she said. “It will mean that they have somewhere for the kids to go after school. We want to make a healthy kitchen area because around here there’s nothing but corner stores so there’s really no healthy food.”
A mother-daughter event
Working at the flea market was Maria Johnson, the civically engaged daughter of board member Serita Johnson.
“I grew up with my mother always working for the community and trying to make it better,” Maria Johnson said. “What I learned is that to give back, it makes you feel good. To know that you’re helping out your fellow man, that’s what you really get. That good feeling when you go to sleep at night [knowing] you’ve helped somebody, you can look towards the future as something brighter.”
Debra White Roberts explained that generational ties to community efforts like this follow a trend.
“My mother was active in the community. I think she instilled that in us. And sometimes it’s really wonderful to see and you don’t realize it,” she said. “There is a bunch of mothers with daughters and sons. If they learn from this point how important the community is to them, to us, to the future, I think we’ll always have them involved.”
Reclaiming what was lost
For years, the Germantown Settlement ran senior citizen and teen programs on the site. After its collapse, there was no place in the community for people to go who were in need of resources.
For 12 years, the three-story Waring House was abandoned, and there was no plumbing, heating system and electricity. Now, under the control of the Wister Council, the building is being renovated.
Within the past month, electricity was restored in the house with help from Kaplan Career Institute students.
“To meet people like Earl Larue from Kaplan and other community folks that have skills and make these donations has helped us a lot,” Debra White Roberts said Saturday. “We do realize at some point we do need money, and the bulk of this will get done with money, but our motto has always been where we can get volunteers first, then what we have to spend money on later.'”
Another group of volunteers came from Ready, Willing and Able. Among them were Dante Jenson, Joe Chapman, Robert Williams and Keith Jackson.
“We’ve come here numerous of times to help clean it out,” said Tulsa Wills, manager of the transitional housing facility for men involved with the program. “There was a group of guys that were in the house today and I said, ‘Come on y’all. We’re going to get out the house. Get out of South Philly. We’re going to do something that we don’t normally do on Saturday. We’re going to go and support another organization.'”
Board member Ruth Salters gave a tour of the building. She also spoke about a vision for Waring House’s future.
“We’re looking at it as being an incubator for a lot of youth projects because the youth really don’t have anything in lower Germantown,” she said. “At least this allows opportunity.”