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Residents and community leaders demand more support for Philadelphia recreation centers

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) – As black clergy leaders from Philadelphia and the surrounding area stood on the steps of Waterview Recreation Center in the Germantown section of the city, they spoke about the need to change the way the city supports its recreation centers. It didn’t take long for this press conference to attract residents.

“It’s never open,” a man shouted, referring to the recreation center which black clergy say is in disrepair.

“It was awful. It was awful,” said Philadelphia and Area Black Clergy President Reverend Robert Collier, Sr. of his visit to the Waterview Recreation Center in April. “The paint was peeling, the walls had to be repaired. The equipment had to be updated. I wouldn’t want my children or grandchildren to come here.”

Black clergy held the press conference on Wednesday to call on Philadelphia Parks & Recreation to provide more resources to recreation centers in neighborhoods affected by gun violence.

“Our young people need a place in their community where they can find refuge from crime and violence,” said Collier.

The community group says some recreation centers may present public safety concerns, citing incidents of people using drugs on the grounds of Waterview Recreation Center. Black clergy want to see more staff, more security, and more funding.

“To receive additional funds for the Waterview Recreation Center in the amount of $ 10 million,” said Reverend Jeanette Davis.

The money arrives at the recreation centers as part of the reconstruction program. It provides $ 300 million to invest in Philadelphia parks, recreation centers and libraries. The city has 159 operational recreation centers, and seven of them are closed for construction work that will include major upgrades. The reconstruction program also injected $ 50 million into a project at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park last week.

But black clergy say the money is not going to the areas that need it most.

“They are going to spend $ 50 million on a park that is not located where gun violence is most active,” said Rev. Gregory Holston.

“Especially in these high crime areas, this is where we need these recreation centers to be fully operational,” Collier said.

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation has issued a statement to 6abc which acknowledges the attention black clergy in Philadelphia and surrounding areas are paying to the issue. The statement, in its entirety, reads as follows:

The City of Philadelphia thanks the Black Clergy for their continued partnership to support stronger communities. We agree with the clergy that urban recreation centers are essential places that help communities grow stronger and provide a safe place for young people to connect with caring adult role models.

Through the Rebuild program, this jurisdiction has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to capital improvements in parks, recreation centers and libraries. In addition, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation works closely with elected officials to ensure that as many resources as possible are devoted to the physical improvement of recreation centers that need it most.

Every time a recreation center closes, even for a day, we understand the impact the community is having. We are working hand in hand with community leaders to move programs to neighboring sites and continue to support families where possible during closures.

Of the city’s 159 recreation centers, only 3 sites are currently closed due to facility needs. At the same time, 8 city recreation centers are closed for construction. 7 of them are expected to undergo transformational upgrades as part of the city’s reconstruction program, the remainder as part of Parks & Rec.

Locals like John Solomon say they have already been left behind by the city. They are skeptical about whether any real changes will be made. The Waterview Recreation Center, whose residents say its swing was removed two years ago, is not on the list of recreation centers for improvement under the rebuilding program.

“To me it’s one of the poorest recreation centers in town,” said Solomon, who lives near Waterview Recreation Center. “I went to Roxborough, they have a great boxing program. They have a gymnastics program.”

Black clergy cleaned up the Waterview Recreation Center. They are calling on other churches to take similar action and adopt recreation centers in their areas. They say they won’t let this problem subside until the city further supports recreation centers in inner city neighborhoods.

“We are going to demand that they make this place better for our young people,” Collier said.

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