The Northeast Community Center, which has faced challenges much of the last two years, is making strides, according to the brother and sister team that founded and operates the non-profit facility.
Executive director Stan Cohen and Mindy Lange, director of programs and administration, attended a recent meeting of the Rotary Club of Frankford-Northeast and handed out two-week, free trial memberships.
Cohen recounted how the heavy snow of late 2009 and early 2010, combined with a termite infestation, helped crack three wood eams, which led to a partial collapse of the roof above the swimming pool. The pool was closed for about a year.
“The pool is the mainstay of our family,” said Cohen, noting that the temperature is usually 86 or 87 degrees and the pool certified by the Arthritis Foundation.
Membership dropped from more than 2,300 to about 700.
For 2011, neither Cohen nor Lange took a salary.
In May of this year, the community center, at 2840 Holme Ave., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allows it to reorganize financially. As part of the process, some staff was trimmed.
While the center has been hit by regular acts of vandalism, there has been recent good news. Enrollment in the center’s after-school program and summer camp was higher than the previous year. Membership is up to 1,100.
“We see signs we’re turning the corner,” Cohen said.
Lange was acting director of the Northeast YWCA when it closed in 1994 and went on to work at the New Frankford Community Y. At that time, Cohen had been working as a criminal defense investigator. One day, a 12-year-old boy put a gun to his head while he was conducting an investigation in a North Philadelphia project. Cohen escaped danger that day, then placed a call to Lange.
“Mindy, let’s go drink our lunch,” he said after his harrowing experience.
Cohen and Lange put up $50 for the initial paperwork to start the new community center. They also secured money that was in a YWCA kitty. State Rep. John Perzel helped them secure a grant. City Controller Jonathan Saidel, state Sen. Hank Salvatore and building trades unions supported their effort.
Vandals had destroyed the interior of the property, and a homeless guy was sleeping on a cot. A crew, including non-violent prisoners on the verge of release, pitched in to get the place ready for business, with their only compensation being lunch from the old Tony Luke’s on Welsh Road.
On Nov. 30, 1997, the center opened. Cohen, Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce president Al Taubenberger and others jumped in the pool in their suits.
Over the years, the budget has been met with membership dues, dances, bingo games and beef-and-beer benefits.
In 2003, an addition was built.
The center won only a partial court settlement following the roof collapse, but Cohen said Phoenix Horizons Inc., which does business as the Northeast Community Center, will continue to grow.
“We intend to rise from the ashes again,” he said.
Cohen and Lange invited the community to a beef and beer on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 7 to 11 p.m. There will be music, dancing and a Chinese auction. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 at the door.
For more information on the center, call 215-335-0870 or visit www.neccphilly.com
The Rotary Club of Frankford-Northeast meets every Tuesday from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. at Cannstatter’s, at 9130 Academy Road.
The group is collecting coats for children up to 14 years of age. Also, adult men’s coats are being collected through Nov. 13 for the St. Francis Inn Ministries in Kensington.
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org