MDC: Developing A Community

While you can’t be everything to everyone, the Manayunk Development Corporation (MDC) makes a good effort. To local businesses, MDC is a strong advocate for the development of the Main Street business district and beyond. To neighborhood residents, they’re the people who plan fun events like Stroll the Street and Arts Fest. To North Light, they are a long-term partner that is always advocating for and supporting our programs and participants.

The MDC formed in 1992 as a nonprofit corporation with a focus on the development of businesses as well as the community. MDC is responsible for the management, promotion, and positive development of the Manayunk business district. MDC works with other civic and community organizations in the Manayunk area to plan and implement programming and physical improvement projects of interest to both businesses and local residents. Right now, you’ll see their fun signs lining Main Street as the City of Philadelphia performs a full streetscape renovation (think new pedestrian lighting, crosswalks, and sidewalk bump outs). Don’t worry, your favorites are still open and a more walkable Main Street is on its way!

Have you laughed at these clever signs on Main Street? If so, you can thank MDC for that!

“We are grateful for the generous and collaborative support we received from both MDC and our Manayunk businesses. Many of our programs, particularly around the holidays, wouldn’t be successful without them. We consider it an honor to be a part of a community with a vibrant and active business corridor, thanks to MDC,” says Krista Wieder, Executive Director of North Light. For many years, MDC has been a strong partner for North Light. They offer monetary support, advertising and collaborative events and opportunities for the North Light community. Have you ever taken the Arts Fest shuttle? Chances are you were on a bus manned by North Light volunteers!

In partnership with MDC and other local organizations and businesses, NLCC distributed over 700 meals for Manayunk Meals & More!

“North Light Community Center is such a crucial asset to our community,” says Gwen McCauley, Executive Director of MDC. “We cherish and appreciate the partnership we’ve cultivated with them throughout the years, from the annual holiday meal program Manayunk Meals and More to running our shuttles during the Manayunk Arts Festival as a way for them to fundraise for their organization. We are always looking for more ways to partner with them.”

While COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in MDC’s event plans for another year, you’ll start to see a slow return to normalcy, beginning with Stroll the Street on May 6! Join your neighbors for drink specials, appetizer discounts, musicians, and local vendors along Main Street. Don’t forget to stop by the North Light table on May 13 and May 20!

As I See It: Renee Banson, NLCC Staff Member

Every time I’m out in the community and meet someone and tell them that I work at North Light, they always fondly say something such as, “I love North Light. If it wasn’t for North Light I don’t know where I’d be today. I grew up at North Light, when Mr. Willard was there.” The memories they recount are filled with mischievous but harmless deeds, funny incidents and how important North Light was to them and their family in general. And the best stories are from those young people who were taken under someone’s wing, kept on the right track and led to where they are today. Many of whom are college graduates or business owners who would never have made it there without our Teen Services having been mentored by someone…Mr. Keith, Mr. Willard or Irene to name a few. Just recently, a young woman received a full basketball scholarship to Millersville University, saying, “Mr. Keith taught me everything about basketball.”

The first time that I came to North Light, I met Irene Madrak, former Executive Director, for lunch and she showed me around as she told me about all the programs they provide for the community. She included the Childcare Programs, Teen Services, Holiday Programs, the Food Cupboard, open gym, recreational activities and the North Light Players.

I was not only impressed but it hit home hard.

I grew up in a very similar working class neighborhood that did not have anything like North Light. I realized that if we had, many of the young people in our neighborhood would not have fallen through the cracks or died young of drug related causes. I was filled with bittersweet emotions: admiration for all North Light did, but sadness for the revelation that very likely, my brother and others would still have been here if we had a neighborhood touchstone like North Light.

Now, having worked here for 6 years, I experience firsthand the direct positive effect we have on families. For example, our affordable childcare program is essential for the health and well-being of families struggling to make ends meet. I still remember clearly a few summers back when I told a woman that we offered financial aid. After I asked what her income was and told her what she would have to pay, she just started to cry, repeating, “I didn’t know how I was going to afford it, but I have to work and wasn’t sure what I was going to do.” She kept repeating the dollar amount I told her, saying “That’s for a week, for both children?” She thanked me profusely and kept saying how relieved she was.

One other day stands out when a mother came to pick up the Christmas gifts for her children from “Adopt a Family,” one of our long standing Holiday Programs. When I pointed to the gifts, she started thanking me repeatedly as she picked up a bag to take to her car. There were tears of joy as she shared that she recently was laid off and separated from her husband. Until she came to NLCC, she didn’t know how she was going to make Christmas happen for her family. This program demonstrates the generosity and caring of the families from our surrounding community who generously contributed to making a “Merry Christmas” for her and her children.

NLCC is full of examples that prove “It takes a village,” which is precisely why I love working here. It makes me happy to be among the wonderful people who help make our village not just work, but flourish.

 I truly believe that if every neighborhood had a North Light, many families would have a guiding light when it seems like there’s no place else to turn.

NLCC & Unity Recovery: Partners in Support

North Light Community Center focuses on the wholistic health of our community, but we know that we can’t make a difference alone.

In addition to the 40 million Americans living with mental health disorders, 22 million live with a substance use disorder. In Philadelphia alone, we lost 1150 lives to overdoses in 2019. North Light knows that having support for recovery is crucial to supporting our families. 

We are fortunate to only have to look down the street to find a partner in support: Unity Recovery.

Unity Recovery began as an idea after board member and co-founder Arielle Ashford participated in a recovery yoga class in 2016. In just four short years, it has grown to a dual location facility (their new location is opening at 106 Gay Street next month) that has served over 460,000 people since opening their doors.

“Unity knows that recovery happens in the community; and Manayunk is a great community for recovery,” says Adam Sledd, Recovery Support Director. “We can’t wait until we are able to welcome everyone into our new space!”

Unity, like North Light, believes that costs should not be a barrier to quality services. They operate on grant funding and all services are free of charge.  There is no need for insurance or even identification, as Unity is a low-barrier recovery community organization (RCO).

Offering comprehensive recovery support through individual peer support, group meetings, social events, outreach, and advocacy, Unity understands that recovery is driven by the individual. Unity’s digital recovery program, RecoveryLink, allows participants to create their own path in recovery, focusing on the social determinants of recovery, such as housing, education, finances, and life skills. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Unity was able to serve thousands of individuals through RecoveryLink, making sure that not even a global pandemic would get in the way of necessary recovery support. Included in that is employment, which can often be challenging for those in recovery or returning from incarceration. Unity also partners with Unity Yoga and Unity Taqueria to offer community recovery yoga and job opportunities to individuals who might have difficulty finding employment.

Even with their extensive reach, Unity is always looking to serve populations in need. In December 2020, Unity launched a Pregnancy and Postpartum Recovery (PPR) Program. Funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, the program is aimed to serve pregnant and postpartum mothers in their recovery from substance use. and mental health.  Programming, including workshops, all-recovery meetings, and one-to-one recovery support is delivered by peer recovery specialists who have lived experiences during the transformational time of becoming a mother while also focused on their recovery journey.

Beginning this Spring, representatives from Unity Recovery can be found at select Food Pantry dates. For immediate assistance, contact Unity Recovery directly at 267-748-2454.

For more information about how Unity Recovery can help you or a loved one, check out Unity Recovery or contact our Emergency Services Coordinator at 215-483-4800.

Alumni Spotlight: Renee Deas

My name is Renee Deas. Currently, I am a mental health therapist, a school clinician and and an Adjunct Professor. I attended North Light’s Summer Camp program when I was 11 years old. 

I participated in the co-ed basketball program  and any other program that resulted in me dedicating my time for community service. I became a Counselor-in-Training after I aged out of the Summer Camp program. While at Central High School, I used North Light as a resource to assist me with SAT prep and help with my homework.

I was intrigued by the Summer Career Exploration Program (SCEP) because of the career building skills I was taught, such as constructing a resume with very little work experience, interview readiness, and creating a cover letter. These are valuable skills that I did not receive from the high school I attended. 

I became a volunteer during my freshman year at college going into my sophomore year. North Light created the foundation for me to be successful in my careers. The skills I acquired earlier than my peers while being an active member of North Light’s programs have made me successful. 

My advice for young adults is to not take their time at North Light for granted. It is OK to have fun and interact with their peers. However, remember to be optimistic because when you focus on preparing yourself for the future, whatever skills you learn while at North Light you can use them later on in life. 

As I See It: Joe Gidjunis, NLCC Board Member

When is a community center more than just a building? When it’s full of soul, goodness and play.

North Light is special to me, both for personal and community reasons.

My wife, Rebecca, and I purchased the house across the street from North Light before we really knew what it stood for.

We didn’t know about its 80-plus years of history caring for the Manayunk, Roxborough and East Falls communities. We didn’t know it provided thousands and thousands of pounds of food each year (162,000 pounds last year). We didn’t know it provided utility and rent assistance. We didn’t know it was the spot for indoor volleyball, basketball and a world of other indoor sports (pre-pandemic). We didn’t know how many kids called North Light their safe place while their parents worked.

We didn’t know how much soul, care and love could come from within this building across the street.

We just saw its awesome playgrounds and thought, “that might be fun one day!” Little did we know it would become a place where my 4-year-old would learn how to climb a jungle gym and propel himself on swings.

As I started to see the happy faces walking out its doors, I got curious. I would hear excited kids running through the water-spray turtle in the summer, and I got more curious. I would hear the whistle from the indoor volleyball league in the winter, and I got even more curious. And when I noticed the trucks delivering what looked like so much food every week to its doors, I knew I had to find out more.

Food insecurity is an issue dear to my heart because nobody should go hungry in the richest country in the world. As a second-generation Italian, too much food was always the norm growing up. I didn’t understand the struggle of an empty kitchen table. I also love to feed people because eating a meal with someone often brings joy and bridges any divide. A good meal can make anyone forget about their problems.

When I learned how much work North Light would do to eliminate food insecurity with the very people, I call my neighbors, I asked to get involved and donate my time. As a local business owner of JPG Photo & Video, I made sure we documented every fundraiser and we stayed on to capture other important moments. As we spent more time with North Light, I knew I wanted to get more involved. It was then I decided to join the board.

Now, one of my favorite holiday activities is delivering quality holiday meals to those who could use an extra meal to make it through the holidays. In 2019, my son and wife joined me delivering food to a senior facility in Germantown. Seeing so many faces light up when he would hand them a delicious meal to their door absolutely brightened my day. Sharing the holiday spirit with food is truly a way to show love and demonstrate one’s soul.

The pandemic has made North Light’s food mission even more important. This year’s holiday food delivery wasn’t quite the same, as contactless delivery doesn’t allow for the same intimate sharing. Nevertheless, when our recipients heard a North Light delivery was at their door, you could hear the joy in their voices. Together, with our neighbors, we were able to provide joy through those meals to over 700 members of our community.

Through all of North Light’s activities, I love that I get to help deliver joy with this amazing organization. But I know we can do a better job. Despite all of the amazing work North Light does, they are still relatively unknown, even in our little corner of Philadelphia. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and these service opportunities with me as I push to make North Light, and our community, even better in 2021.

Joe Gidjunis is the President of JPG Photo & Video and a Board Member at North Light Community Center. He lives in Manayunk with his wife, Rebecca, and their young son.

North Light Needs Your Input!

North Light Needs Your Input!

This past year threw many curveballs. We twisted, we turned, and we have made it out the other side. While many of the situations we encountered couldn’t have been anticipated, we know that a solid plan is the best way to ensure the success of North Light and our community. That is why we are embarking on a strategic planning process that will shape the future of our center.

“We are entering into a new 5-year strategic plan,” says Krista Wieder, Executive Director of North Light. “The feedback from the community is vital to our process.”

In addition to speaking with current students, clients, and partners, North Light is seeking input from the community at large. By participating in a short survey, you will help steer the direction of North Light for the next 5 years, plus many years to come.

By sharing more information about your relationship with us, you will help us determine where we excel and where we fall short. With this information, we can focus our programming to better fulfill the needs of our community.

“We will develop a vision for how we want our organization to adapt and evolve,” says Adele Struble, co-chair of the Strategic Planning Committee. “By participating in our survey, you provide an external perspective on what we can be doing better and how we can grow.”

To participate in our survey, please click here. All answers will be completely confidential and will only be used to inform our strategic planning efforts.

We are thankful for you!

“Giving is not just about making a donation. It is about making a difference.” – Kathy Calvin, CEO & President, United Nations Foundation

North Light is fortunate to have an abundance of difference makers in our community and we are so thankful for each and every one of you.

We were able to hold a modified version of Pints for North Light, creating a fully outdoor and social distant event. With a large team of corporate and vendor sponsors behind us, we were able to raise over $7,000 for our facility.

Shaina Hitchens of Jim Roache Real Estate talks with Twisted Gingers Brewing Company.

Our Thanksgiving Basket program allowed North Light to provide 200 full Thanksgiving meals to the local community. Villanova University, Roxborough Memorial Hospital, and individual donors provided all of the non-perishable fixings for our boxes. Through generous grants, North Light was able to purchase turkeys and pies to complete these meals. We were able to provide over 200 holiday dinners to local families in our community.

Roxborough Memorial Hospital donated over 50 boxes to our Thanksgiving program.

We are looking forward to our Manayunk Meals & More program, which will provide hot meals to seniors and those in need on the Sunday before Christmas. Programs like this require the support of our local restaurants and even during this challenging time for them, they are ready and willing to help others who need it this holiday season.

As we embark on Giving Tuesday, we know that our community will remain generous in their support of North Light in all of the ways they are able. If you are interested in financially supporting us, please check out the giving options that are available or make a donation online.