Allentown community leaders on Monday unveiled a well-funded plan to provide Center City youth with more opportunities for education, jobs, recreation and civic engagement.
The successor to the Upside Allentown project, Allentown’s Future will annually invest $650,000 worth of corporate donations through 2026 in a variety of initiatives meant to improve the neighborhood directly northwest of downtown. Among other things, the program will develop a community center that offers arts and recreational opportunities as well as comprehensive health, counseling and mentorship services. It will also hire outreach workers to connect kids with resources and enrichment activities, and provide entrepreneurship training for young adults. The Community Action Development Corp. of Allentown said the program represents Pennsylvania’s largest-ever Neighborhood Partnership Program, in which the state Department of Community and Economic Development provides 80% tax credits to the businesses offering contributions. Community organizer Jeani Garcia, who lost her son to gang violence in 2012, said the program will provide children a safe place to build character, relationships and social skills, enabling them to become civic-minded adults who “change the all-too-familiar status quo.” “Thriving, building and growing is not a privilege, it’s a human right,” she said during a virtual news conference. “Our children deserve the opportunity to shine in their community.” A map of Allentown's newest Neighborhood Partnership Program. All activities will take place in the neighborhood between Seventh and 12th streets and between Linden and Gordon streets, but are open to all city youth. The neighborhood is one of the poorest in the city. According to the American Community Survey’s most recent statistics, the corresponding census tract had a median household income of $28,371 as of 2018, with a poverty rate approaching 40% and nearly half of all residents receiving food stamp benefits. By comparison, the citywide median income is $40,490, and Lehigh County’s median income is $62,178. Additionally, the majority of the housing stock in the target neighborhood is more than 50 years old, and the neighborhood’s children are exposed to violence at a higher rate than those in other regional schools, according to a study by the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. Area elementary schools also have higher than average rates of chronic absenteeism.
The program has outlined goals related to education, vocational opportunities, health and recreation, and civic engagement.
The education component involves partnering with the Allentown School District and Community Services for Children to provide more early-childhood education programs, remediation services and guidance on college and trade school opportunities. Allentown’s Future will also provide entrepreneurial training and services in collaboration with the Rising Tide Community Investment Corp., and the Artist-Neighbor Growth and Opportunity Project. It will partner with PA CareerLink Lehigh Valley to provide a “clearinghouse” of employment opportunities, training and educational services to youth. Over the next year, the program will conduct a fundraising campaign to buy and redevelop a property for the community center.
The center will ideally house a recording studio and host dance classes, fashion design classes, a video and multimedia lab, athletic activities, and a “mural mentorship program.” In partnership with regional health networks and public safety professionals, the community center will also serve as a one-stop shop for health and counseling services, with a focus on preventing violence.
CADCA Executive Director Dan Bosket said the program has a site in mind and hopes to provide an update this year. Plans to partner with the Livin’ the Dream Foundation on a 12th Street community center fell through because of philosophical differences, said Alan Jennings, executive director of CADCA’s parent organization. Civic engagement goals include voter registration initiatives and seminars on “the rights, duties and responsibilities necessary to be healthy and productive community members.” The program is grounded in principles of anti-racism, and intends to help youth fight for racial justice and engage in other forms of political participation. A steering committee made up of neighborhood residents, service providers, funders and other local representatives will meet every month to review the initiative’s progress and prioritize community needs and projects, among other things. “The most frustrating thing about a neighborhood struggling to recover is how that struggle affects our kids. We want our kids to be hopeful for their future,” said Rebecca Ramos, co-chairperson of the committee. The program, she said, is a “comprehensive effort to ensure our kids get the same opportunities to live, grow and thrive like kids in so many other communities.”
Allentown’s Future is a temporary name; city youth are encouraged to participate in a naming contest. The winner will receive a cash prize and a chance to enroll in a marketing course.
In each of the program’s six years, Truist (formerly BB&T) will donate $150,000, and PPL Corp. will donate $100,000. Eight other businesses will contribute $50,000 annually: Butz Family of Companies, City Center Investment Corp., Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, Capital Blue, Highmark and Duggan Marcon. The Pool Health Care Trust also committed $50,000 in this first year.
Allentown youth community center