Remember when the pandemic hit back in March 2020, and non-profits like the Schuylkill Center and North Light Community Center shuttered our doors, assuming we’d close for a few weeks, “flatten the curve,” and reopen in April? Well, that didn’t happen.
Instead, non-profits have been battered financially and programmatically by choppy waves in the viral ocean. Some of us have swum these pandemic seas– not always gracefully– but many non-profits have sunk, disappearing under the pressure and stress, their revenues flattening more than that curve ever did.
But not North Light, the community center on Green Lane in Manayunk, with Roxborough just across the street. Happily, they’ve weathered the storm.
“It’s been a wild and wacky ride, I’ll say.” That’s Krista Weider, the now-battle-hardened executive director of the center, who joined the organization in the fall of 2019 only months before the pandemic turned the world upside down. “I’m into my third year already, but it still feels new a lot of days.”
With a staff of 14 people and a budget of $1.2 million, North Light “acts as a social services agency as well as a traditional community center,” Krista told me, serving around 800 people annually. It offers emergency services like a food pantry for struggling families, a child-care program for before- and after school students, teen services, plus enrichment classes, special events, and even facility rentals for birthday parties and the like. “We’re a polling place too, so people are always asking us about that, and we provide information on how to register to vote.”
And they are a site for that very precious commodity nowadays: COVID tests. They are offering free onsite drop-in testing on Thursday, February 12 and Saturday, February 21, both days from 11:00-3:00. Talk about vital services.
The food pantry distributes around 150,00 pounds of food annually, and was a huge challenge in the pandemic, especially its early days. “When COVID first hit,” she continued, “we instituted a lot of safety measures, like putting out only pre-packaged foods so no one was touching anything. We still have lots of protocols in place, of course, but we’re back to a choice model. It’s set up almost like a grocery store so people come through and choose what they want. About 300 people participate in the food pantry, with lots of seniors and disabled people on fixed income utilizing this resource.”
In addition, she said “North Light has drastically increased our housing and utility assistance, as the need for this went up during the pandemic,” as one could imagine when so many workplaces shut their doors and sent staff home. “Since COVID, we’ve given out $120,000 in housing and utility assistance, and it’s looking like we can sustain between $50,000 and $70,000 per year from our donor commitments.”
Fortunately for the community, “our childcare program and emergency services programs have been consistent through the pandemic,” Krista said. “Last year we had a virtual childcare program. We hope we never have to do that again!” she exclaimed and laughed.
They currently have 48 children enrolled in the after-school program from four schools, including Dobson School just down the street, plus Shawmont, Cook-Wissahickon, and the Green Woods Charter School. But this is still challenging in these pandemic times. “Schools have staggered start and end times, so kids are coming in from 2:30 all the way to 4:00. It’s a little crazy and chaotic, as kids are always coming and going. There’s a lot of moving parts. But we’re making it work and still offering good enrichment, like CHOP experts coming in to offer nutritional work.”
Looking ahead, she offered that “we’re finalizing our strategic plan, and will put that out publicly in June, so we can share where North Light is heading in the next three years. We’re hiring a teen coordinator and will soon be re-launching our teen services program. We’re expanding our recreational options for children, too, and have a gymnastics program starting up soon, which is really exciting, and we’re looking at children’s indoor soccer and basketball programs. We’re planning on a lot more enrichment for the community. Adult tai chi is starting up soon, and I’m trying to get my kiln room back up and running to restart our pottery program; I’d love to do pottery with kids at summer camp.”
Board Treasurer Christopher McGill noted that “while only having four executive directors over 86 years” (it was founded in the Depression as a boy’s club), “Krista took the lead in 2019 and has not looked back. She and her wonderful team have stepped up to the challenge and continued to be there for the community.” Roxborough resident Joanne Dahme chairs the group’s board, and offers that “many of us had the luxury of working remotely during the height of the pandemic, but Krista and her dedicated team never did as they strived to continue their essential services. Passionate service to North Light’s community is their calling!”
Agreed! Thank you, Krista and everyone at North Light, for serving as a community polestar, our north light, in this pandemic– we wish you smooth sailing across the pandemic ocean.
By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director