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2000 Best Practice Awards

Best of the Best Winners: Pennsylvania

Best Practice: Reading Buddies


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. More than 100 inner-city students, elderly residents and young residents with disabilities have forged intergenerational connections, exchanged oral histories, and widened academic and career horizons through participation in the “Reading Buddies” program, a volunteer mentoring initiative active in four Section 8/Section 202 facilities in the heart of Philadelphia and a southwestern section of the city.

The program grew from a small intergenerational activity at a local Presbyterian Church. When one of the

Photo of Jane Lahage & Patricia Quaig receiving award from Secretary Cuomo & Deputy Secretary Ramirez
Jane Lahage and Patricia Quaig receiving Best of the Best award from Secretary Cuomo (l) and Deputy Secretary Ramirez (r)

church members moved into a Section 202 facility, the Riverside Presbyterian Towers, she met with the facility owner, management agent, and residents and staff of PresbyHomes & Services to explore interest in duplicating the program on-site. Forming a small working group, they reached out to school district personnel, who soon signed on as partners. With additional support from three local Presbyterian congregations that donate games, books and other supplies, Reading Buddies was launched in 1982 with 15 volunteers.

“The Reading Buddies program is elegant in its natural simplicity, loving in its execution and vital to the welfare of children at risk,” says the Rev. Fergus A. Smith, former pastor of The First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia that supports the program.

Using a total budget of $300 for refreshments, Reading Buddies relies on donations of time and materials from area organizations and more than 100 resident volunteers. An unpaid director oversees the program, identifies additional partners and helps establish new sites. The social services coordinator at participating PresbyHomes sites works with teachers at the nearest elementary school to identify resident volunteers and 2 nd –6 th grade students to participate as “buddies” for the academic year.

The senior-student buddies meet once a week during the school day in a housing facility’s community room for an hour-long session. The school provides transportation for the children to the housing facilities. These informal weekly sessions are shaped by shared interests of the residents and the children, and include reading, tutoring, playing games, sharing hobbies and, most importantly, mentoring.

Each senior-student pair participates in a planned activity such as learning about important African-Americans during Black History Month. Other times, the pairs might just play Scrabble, which helps with spelling and vocabulary. At one site, the children wrote an oral history about the lives and experiences of their elderly buddies. Once a quarter, students hear presentations from guests, such as an animal shelter director, dental hygienist, musician, newspaper reporter, art museum educator and television cameraman. The talks help expand the students’ awareness of career options.

Reading Buddies reduces senior resident isolation and improves their quality of life. Perhaps more impor-tantly, seniors on limited incomes are able to give back to the community through their time and commitment to the children. Teachers with students participating in the program note their children’s improved grades, maturity, personal appearance and attendance. The program also meets dual goals of the school district of Philadelphia—increased volunteerism and the formation of community partnerships that contribute to children’s education.

Students learn “hands-on” history. During one Black History Month, a resident volunteer relived the civil rights march coordinated by Martin Luther King in Washington, DC, in the 1960s. The children expressed wonder that they could touch someone who had actually seen Martin Luther King.
An operations manual will soon be available from PresbyHomes & Services providing detailed instructions for replication.

Contact: Jane Lahage. Phone: (610) 260-1122
Tracking number: 152
Winning Category: Program (Housing - Multifamily)

Best Practice: Saint James Manor

Saint James Manor Houses and Provides Self-sufficiency Services for Homeless Victims

Pennsylvania. Saint James Manor is a transitional housing facility for homeless individuals and families with special needs that is able to provide treatment for up to 24 months. The completion of Saint James Manor’s 16 units, in a building that had previously been condemned, more than doubled the available units for the homeless with special needs in Lackawanna County.

The program at Saint James Manor features structured levels or tiers of assistance that help residents, including homeless veterans, chronic mentally ill individuals and homeless individuals who completed substance abuse treatment programs, to transition between

Photo of Stephen Nocilla receiving award from Secretary Cuomo & Deputy Secretary Ramirez
Stephen Nocilla (c) receiving Best of the Best award from Secretary Cuomo (l) and Deputy Secretary Ramirez (r)

program levels while remaining in one facility. The program ultimately eases participants toward self-sufficiency in permanent housing, providing intensive case management services using a primary care approach. Among the services available at the facility are life skills training, vocational training, employment assistance, mental health counseling, and substance abuse treatment.

During the first year of operation, Saint James Manor housed 27 individuals. Sixty-two percent of the participants remained in the program through the first year, 81 percent maintained employment, 85 percent contributed to rental and utility payments, and 79 percent received medical services such as treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, mental health services, or treatment for HIV/AIDS.

The need for additional housing for the homeless in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania was great since existing programs could only provide temporary housing and services. A long-vacant building in Scranton was conveniently located near many facilities involved in transitional housing, such as a day shelter, a soup kitchen and emergency shelter.

A partnership of several county and state agencies and nonprofit organizations contributed resources to undertake the renovation of the vacant building and turn it into 16 units of housing. Resources included tax exempt financing from the local Redevelopment Authority and through a large banking institution, financial assistance from local government agencies, and financial and furniture donations from organizations such as local veteran and senior citizens groups and faith-based organizations. By involving so many community groups in the renovation process, Saint James Manor raised community awareness of the needs of the local homeless population.

Contact: Stephen Nocilla, Phone: (570) 207-2283
Tracking Number: 218
Winning Category: Program (Community Planning and Development)

Best Practice: Universal Companies

Myriad of Non-Profit Organizations Revitalize South Central Philadelphia

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Universal Companies is a community development corporation in South Central Philadelphia that takes a holistic approach to community revitalization, addressing the need for improved housing, education, and economic development. By building the organizational and economic capacity needed to challenge many of the underlying causes, as well as the effects, of poverty, Universal Companies promotes opportunities for positive community change through real estate development, workforce development and education. Its efforts to improve the physical landscape of the community are anchored

Photo of Abdur-Rahim Islam receiving award from Secretary Cuomo & Deputy Secretary Ramirez
Abdur-Rahim Islam (c) receiving Best of the Best award from Secretary Cuomo (l) and Deputy Secretary Ramirez (r)

by a commitment to rebuild the hope, confidence and spirit of the people who live there.

Universal Companies is a group of nonprofit organizations that have emerged from Universal Community Homes, started in 1993 as a developer of affordable housing. Universal Companies has expanded to provide quality affordable housing, education for children and adults, employment opportunities, and economic development, with projects that include new and rehabilitated townhouses, a charter school, a new small business support center and a six-story workforce development center.

Since its inception, Universal Companies has developed 120 units of rental and homeownership housing, more than 75,000 square feet of commercial space, and operates four programs at a cost of more than $22 million.

The consortium of Universal Companies is formed by Universal Community Homes and includes entities such as a construction company, a business support center, a center for employment training, retail operations, a charter school, and a resource center. This consortium also works in partnership with external companies and organizations that operate as one of two teams: either development or finance. The teams include companies that focus on development and property management, construction, law, architecture, and financial institutions. The Universal Companies also work in partnership with city, state, and federal agencies.

The areas targeted by Universal Companies are located near other areas of Philadelphia that are undergoing redevelopment, such as downtown and the Avenue of the Arts, but the living conditions for residents in the target area are marked by low median incomes and high unemployment. In addition, more than 4,000 vacant houses and more than 1,000 vacant lots exist in the target area.

Universal Companies is involved in more than $300 million in real estate development projects that will result in developing additional housing, a community center, a performing arts training center, a workforce development center, commercial and retail space, and a charter school.

Contact: Abdur-Rahim Islam, Phone: (215) 732-6518
Tracking number: 2960
Winning Category: Geographic and Program (Community Builder)

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Content Archived: April 20, 2011

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