North Light Weathers the Viral Storm

North Light’s Jared Poindexter helps one of his students in the community center’s after-school program, one of the many services the center provides.

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.”


A North Light volunteer restocks the center’s food pantry.

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


All We Want for Christmas

Santa visited Ridge Avenue two Saturdays ago to spread his Christmas cheer-- but what will he leave under Roxborough trees this year?

Santa visited Ridge Avenue two Saturdays ago to spread his Christmas cheer– but what will he leave under Roxborough trees this year?

With Christmas coming at week’s end, I asked a group of Roxborough leaders, community activists, nonprofit executives, and old friends what they wanted Santa to leave under their organization’s Christmas trees. As expected, they gave thoughtful, funny, and even surprising answers. Enjoy!

Michael Devigne, executive director of the Roxborough Development Corporation, told me via email, “This holiday season I would like to see Roxborough residents strolling Ridge Avenue and visiting our many shops and restaurants.” Here here. “Small businesses,” he continued, “are the backbone of our community, and there is nothing quite like seeing folks out on the Ridge spreading holiday cheer. It is great to walk down the Avenue and bump into people you know and catch up on the latest gossip. These organic community interactions make my day!”

The Manayunk Development Corporation’s Alex Cohen relayed her group’s wish. “We decided that if Santa was to leave a gift under the tree for us, it would be to have lights on the Towpath to ensure safety for the bikers and pedestrians between Shurs Lane and Ridge Avenue.”

Councilman Curtis Jones is thinking big. He’d like to see “a feasibility study for a new bridge over the Schuylkill as part of the infrastructure bill,” a project that has been discussed for decades. 

Krista Wieder directs the North Light Community Center on Green Lane. “North Light would love,” she told me, “more volunteers to help with our food pantry on Mondays and Fridays, both drivers to pick up food and people to help set up! And we need an afternoon van driver for our childcare program.” 

Rich Giordano is president of the Upper Roxborough Civic Association, and also co-leads the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve project, the extraordinary park across from the 21st ward ballfields. The reservoir has large stone walls holding it up along both the Port Royal Avenue and Lare Street sides, and a large hole has opened on the Lare side, with a smaller one on the Port Royal side too. No surprise Rich referenced this on his Santa wish list.

“I’d like to wave a wand and have that gap in the smile of my favorite park get an implant,” he wrote to me via email, “but having turned 70 recently, I have been thinking about something a lot– the need to find our replacements. Many of our events,” he continued, tongue firmly in cheek, “could be described as fifty shades of gray, although without any erotic content. This year I’d really like to meet the person who will take my place.” 

Friends of Gorgas Park’s John Boyce agrees with Rich. “I’ve been serving the community for over 30 years,” he said. “We need a youth movement. Younger generations I hope will answer the call and take the reins of leadership in the near future. The other thing I hope,” he continued, “is that 2022 will be another rebound year for Gorgas Park, as people became very active in the park again in 2021. I am going to be optimistic and predict even better days ahead.”

Tom Landsmann, Rich’s Reservoir partner in crime and president of the Roxborough Manayunk Conservancy, told me, “I’d like sustainable support for groups like the RMC. We provide upkeep and capital improvements to many of our community’s green spaces. At more than half of our sites, we’re the only form of maintenance that these public spaces receive. RMC is providing a public service,” he noted “that deserves consistent sustainable funding so we can continue stewardship on behalf of our community.”

Celeste Hardester, president of the Central Roxborough Civic Association, would like to continue the greening of Roxborough. “My Christmas wish,” she wrote, “would be that property owners with large yards, especially large front yards, plant an evergreen that will grow someday to be at least 50 feet tall. The people that built homes in Roxborough 100+ years ago planted wonderful evergreens that are now reaching the end of their lives. Many are dying or being cut down, and few are being replaced. These trees have so much impact on our visual environment and of course provide the benefits of year-round shade and sustain wildlife.” 

“Building on Celeste’s theme,” added Kay Sykora, an RMC trustee, “I would love to see trees along Ridge Avenue above Fountain Street,” from around the high school up. “While it’s a great walking and running area, it’s ungodly hot in the summer. Whatever everyone thinks of all of the apartments being built, for them to be successful over the long haul, the neighborhood has to be walkable. People are moving here because of our wonderful green amenities, but the acres of cement and paving that now make up that part of Roxborough is appalling.”

Pam DeLissio, our state representative, takes the conversation in a new direction. “It would be great,” she wrote, “if Santa gifted new and fair rules under which the PA House would conduct its business. Currently, too much power is controlled by the committee chairs, the majority leader, and the Speaker. Fairer rules would permit more legislation to be considered, and much of the legislation that never sees the light of day would serve our greater citizens well.”

We’ll give Jamie Wyper, president of Residents of the Shawmont Valley, the last word. “Days like last Saturday when it hits 68 degrees frighten me. My wish is for a winter with bite– at least 30 days of 32 degrees or less weather with plenty of snow.” Amen, brother. 

Wishing you all a merry holiday and a Happy New Year. 

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director