A drop-in community center meant to serve Philadelphia’s most vulnerable teenagers and young adults opened Sunday inside a grand former synagogue and Jewish college.
The Cornerstone, billed as the first facility of its kind in the city, will offer an array of services, from showers to art classes, organizers said. It is housed at the former Congregation Mikveh Israel building at Broad and York Streets in North Philadelphia.
Young people in the area need a safe place to gather, said Quinzelle Bethea El, who founded the center along with Marion Campbell.
“In certain neighborhoods, spaces for young people to have an outlet and express themselves, whether they go to gymnastics, whether they do whatever — that’s why the crime is less with those populations,” Bethea El said.
“These things have to exist,” he added. “So that way, you don’t have issues that we’re seeing.”
Services at the Cornerstone will be geared toward youth who are homeless or transitioning out of the foster care system, though neither is a requirement for participation.
“Some of the youth that are living in the community are living in substandard conditions, stricken by poverty,” said Campbell, executive director of Eddie’s House, a nonprofit that runs a community center in West Philadelphia. “They’re doing just as bad as somebody who’s homeless.”
Those between the ages of 16 and 26 will be welcomed at the North Broad Street facility, which, to start off, will be open three or four days a week, Campbell said. The goal is to eventually operate seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Young people will be able to shower, eat a meal, use a computer, attend an art or music session, receive job or housing services and get counseling, organizers said.
James Kenner is planning to use the Cornerstone to launch LYTE (Learn Your True Evolution), a mentoring program for boys and men that he has been developing for years.
Kenner, who grew up with eight siblings in a single-parent home, said young men are facing pressures arising from crime, poverty, drugs and other issues.
“We’re talking about many different challenges that they’re dealing with, that they don’t fully know how to deal with, fully know how to cope with, (and) never had the full guidance,” he told Metro.
Bethea El envisions the Cornerstone and the buildings surrounding it, formerly part of Dropsie College, a Jewish university now incorporated within the University of Pennsylvania, as a youth services campus with several organizations collaborating to offer services.
Another building, at 1344 York Street, an old boarding house, is being renovated and has a commercial kitchen the drop-in center plans to use to cook meals.
The Cornerstone has been in development for about a year, Bethea El said. He previously worked at an emergency shelter for young people leaving foster care.
He made headlines several years ago when he was the victim of a police beating in Camden. The officer pleaded guilty to simple assault, and Bethea El received a $65,000 settlement from Camden County, according to a report in the Courier-Post.
A core of 15 to 20 volunteers make up the staff of the Cornerstone; however, Bethea El said organizers are attempting to get grants and other forms of funding to hire employees and provide more extensive programming.