As the year draws to a close, we at Called to Serve reflect on the vibrant tapestry of initiatives, events, and accomplishments that have marked 2023 in North Philadelphia. From the inception of the BriDDge Career Pathways Program, which opened new horizons in digital skills for many, to the heartwarming involvement with Bethune Elementary during 'Reading Across America', each step we took was a stride towards empowerment and growth. The Cleaning Ambassador Program, under Rev. Harvey Bass, not only beautified our streets but also instilled a sense of community pride.
Our advocacy for digital equity and job readiness resonated across neighborhoods, breaking down barriers and forging new opportunities. The legacy of Rev. Leon H. Sullivan continued to inspire our efforts, reminding us of the power of collective action in addressing social disparities, especially in the construction industry. The academic achievements celebrated at Bethune and Kenderton Elementary schools were a testament to the potential within every child, nurtured through community support.
Each month brought its unique challenges and triumphs, but the underlying theme remained constant: a commitment to nurturing educational, economic, and social empowerment. As we step into the new year, we carry with us the lessons learned, the friendships forged, and the unwavering spirit of service that defines our community in North Philadelphia.
At Called to Serve (CTS), we believe in nurturing the dreams and aspirations of young minds in underserved communities. Our commitment to this cause was joyously evident on November 1st, as we celebrated the outstanding achievements of the Honor Roll students at Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Philadelphia.
A Day of Recognition and Pride
The air at Bethune Elementary was filled with excitement and pride as students, teachers, and CTS volunteers gathered to honor the academic accomplishments of these young scholars. These students, through their hard work and dedication, have set a shining example for their peers, proving that with perseverance, any goal is attainable.
A Broader Commitment to Education
Our involvement with Bethune Elementary extends beyond this celebration. As part of our ongoing efforts, CTS has been actively participating in the Philadelphia School District’s Read By 4th program. Our volunteers spend valuable time reading to children from kindergarten through second grade, fostering a love for reading and learning from an early age.
Additionally, our Café Bethune initiative provides a catered luncheon for 'Students of the Month,' acknowledging and rewarding consistent efforts in academia and character development. This program not only celebrates academic achievement but also encourages a positive school culture.
A Community United for Progress
The success of these initiatives, and especially the Honor Roll celebration, highlights the importance of community involvement in education. Our efforts at Bethune Elementary are a testament to the power of collective action in bringing about meaningful change and opportunity in underserved neighborhoods.
As we continue our journey with Bethune Elementary, we remain committed to the complete renewal, restoration, and revitalization of these communities. We believe that every child deserves a quality education and the chance to reach their fullest potential. Through our continued partnership and the support of the community, we look forward to fostering more such moments of triumph and joy.
This past Monday, a significant gathering took place at Zion Baptist Church, an event that reverberated with gratitude, reverence, and hope. This wasn't just any gathering; it was a special celebration to commemorate the 101st birthday of Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, an icon of dedication, social justice, and community empowerment.
The occasion was the Economic Construction Forum, a joint venture of two esteemed organizations, Called to Serve and the National Contractors' Coalition Association. Set against the backdrop of the church, the forum was not just a remembrance of Rev. Sullivan's immense contributions but also an opportunity to drive forward the mission he believed in so passionately.
As part of Construction Inclusion Week, the forum was a testament to the ever-growing importance of diversity and inclusion in the construction industry, particularly in the Philadelphia region. The array of voices that convened for this event was a testament to its significance. Key figures from the industry, including Allen Riddick from Drexel University, Rodney Davis from Turner Construction, Lily Reynolds from the City of Philadelphia, and Ernest Davis from EDavis Electrical Training and Services, took the stage. They shared their vision and insights into what lies ahead for small and minority-owned construction firms. Their collective message emphasized the importance of fostering equal opportunities and resources for all players in the construction arena.
Rev. Sullivan’s spirit was palpable in the room. A titan in his own right, he spent his lifetime as an advocate for social justice. He not only voiced concerns about societal inequalities but actively worked to bridge those gaps. His deep-rooted belief in empowering communities and advocating for justice is what makes him such an influential figure in Philadelphia and beyond. As the community eagerly anticipates the inauguration of a community center named in his honor, it's clear that Rev. Sullivan's legacy is as alive today as it was during his lifetime.
At Called to Serve, Rev. Sullivan’s teachings are not just remembered; they are lived. His principles guide every endeavor, every outreach, every mission. As we reflect on the rich tapestry of his life and his indelible contributions, we are also looking forward to what's next. Championing diversity, promoting inclusion, and ensuring equitable opportunities in the construction industry – these are more than just goals. They are a pledge, a commitment, and a path forward.
As we move ahead, it's crucial to remember stalwarts like Rev. Sullivan who paved the way, reminding us always to serve, uplift, and empower. It's upon us now to take that legacy forward, ensuring that the foundations he laid are built upon with vigor, respect, and dedication.
The Called To Serve Charity Golf Outing sponsored by Raptor Trading Systems held its fourth annual installment on September 16.
All proceeds supported Called To Serve's efforts to provide quality education opportunities for students attending Kenderton & Bethune elementary schools (located in the Tioga section of North Philadelphia) and access to living-wage jobs for adults living in Tioga.
Seventeen foursomes participated in the event, along with a number of those playing a variety of games available in addition to the golfing activities.
Thank you too all who participated in this momentous event and we look forward to seeing everyone back next year!
Special thanks to our sponsors: Raptor Trading Systems, Inc.; the Lewis Katz School of Medicine; Schultz & Williams; North10 Philadelphia; Temple University Health System; ThinkerStreet LLC; Viviani Brothers Professional Garment Care; American Overhead Door & Dock; Matty G Inc.; Muldoon & Shields LLC; Philadelphia Auto Show; Morey Nee Buck & Oswald, CPAs; Bee, Bergvall & Co CPSs; Black Taxi/Henry James Saloon; Watchdog; and the Supper Society.
Rev. Leon H. Sullivan Community Impact Center Gains Ground with New Funding for Sustainability and Historic Rehabilitation
The Rev. Leon H. Sullivan Community Impact Center, an initiative led by Called to Serve CDC and the Sullivan CDC has announced significant additional funding aimed at sustainability, climate resilience, and historic rehabilitation.
The William Penn Foundation, renowned for its dedication to fostering vibrant communities, has granted $110,000 to the project.
This new funding will allow CTS to retain sustainability experts to provide specialized energy modeling and green building accreditation services to ensure the project will be climate resilient and sustainable in the long term. “Called to Serve identified the need for this work while participating in a program designed to help WPF-funded organizations improve the resilience and long-term sustainability of their capital improvement projects
“This grant reflects our commitment to ensuring that the public and community spaces that we support are contributing to community climate resilience,” said Cara Ferrentino, Senior Program Advisor at the William Penn Foundation. “The team behind the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan Community Impact Center are leaders in recognizing the importance of embedding climate resiliency and operational and environmental sustainability into their plans-- for the benefit of the neighborhood in the long term.”
Moreover, the project has received $150,000 in Pennsylvania Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits. These funds will support the delicate and respectful transformation of the Zion Baptist Church Annex, a cherished part of North Philadelphia's architectural heritage. The tax credit funding will ensure that the renovation process preserves the historical integrity of the Annex while adapting it into a modern, functional space for community use.
"This combination of sustainability and historic preservation speaks to the soul of the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan Community Impact Center. We are not only preserving a piece of our history but doing so in a way that considers the future of our planet," said Rev. Michael Major, Sr., co-project leader, founder, and board president of Called to Serve.
The Rev. Leon H. Sullivan Community Impact Center, named after the notable civil rights leader, will continue his legacy of advocacy for human rights and economic justice. Its various initiatives, from youth career programs to health services, will significantly impact the North Philadelphia community. The project is on track to begin construction later this year with the ongoing support of donor partners and community stakeholders.
We are pleased to share a recap of an inspiring event we recently hosted – the 'Digital Equity Community Conversation'. Together with State Senator Sharif Street, Councilwoman Cindy Bass, representatives from the PA Broadband Development Authority, and the City of Philadelphia Digital Literacy Alliance (DLA), we facilitated a vibrant discussion on the future of digital equity in our communities.
A core part of our mission at Called to Serve is to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, primarily in the Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood of North Philadelphia. Digital equity - access to affordable, high-speed internet - is a crucial part of this mission, as it opens doors to education, employment, and community connection.
This Community Conversation was part of a larger initiative led by the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, gathering diverse voices from across the state to address the digital divide. The insights we gathered will directly influence action plans for improving broadband services in our underserved communities and equip everyone with the digital skills needed to succeed in today's interconnected world.
This mission aligns perfectly with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which has set aside a whopping $65 billion for investments into broadband. With a guaranteed minimum of $100 million coming to Pennsylvania, we have a unique opportunity to make a significant impact in closing the digital gap.
Our event brought together community members from across Philadelphia, with participants from zip codes 19129, 19140, 19141, 19131, 19132, 19126, 19121, 19139, 19122, 19138, and 19120. We strive to amplify voices that often go unheard in these conversations, believing that their experiences and perspectives are vital in creating an inclusive digital environment.
We want to express our profound thanks to everyone who attended and contributed to the Digital Equity Community Conversation. Your input is invaluable and will directly shape our strategies for enhancing broadband access and digital literacy throughout our communities.
As we continue to push for the renewal, restoration, and revitalization of underserved neighborhoods in Philadelphia, this community input serves as our compass. Together, we can build a thriving urban ecosystem with intact neighborhoods, flourishing businesses, and competent schools. The digital age should benefit all, and we are excited to play our part in making this vision a reality for the people of Nicetown-Tioga and beyond.
Keep your eyes on this space for further updates as we journey towards closing the digital divide!
This past month, Called to Serve made great strides in transforming lives right here in the heart of North Philadelphia. We joined hands with the Zion Baptist Church, Broad, Germantown & Erie Commercial Corridor, and Temple Health to offer a series of events aimed at uplifting and empowering the community, focusing on enhancing job readiness and boosting self-confidence.
Our event saw an array of offerings including engaging seminars, professional clothing giveaways, and complimentary grooming sessions. "Attendees arrive appearing distraught, but leave looking like confident professionals," shared Amelia Price, the event organizer.
Upon entering the welcoming premises of the Zion Baptist Church, attendees were first provided with critical healthcare information. They were then guided to a special area where the charitable Brennon Jones of Haircuts 4 Homeless was ready to provide free haircuts. "A simple haircut can alter one's entire perspective on life," affirmed Jones, highlighting the transformative power of personal grooming.
Next, they were introduced to Michael Robinson, the Director for Community Outreach and Hiring from the Lenfest Center for Community Workforce Partnerships. His insightful interviewing advice was essential in preparing our participants for upcoming job opportunities.
Susan Akinyi-Okumu, the Associate Vice President for Patient Experience at Temple Health, emphasized our shared mission, "We're here to support them in every possible way they aspire to succeed."
After a full day of preparation, attendees were invited to a job fair scheduled for the following Friday. Here, they were given the opportunity to showcase their newly acquired skills in front of potential employers. Temple University graciously played host to over 80 employers at the Aramark STAR Complex, a testament to the community's shared hope for everyone's success.
Margot Vargas, one of the attendees, was deeply moved by the experience. Despite her recent struggles, she found new hope through the resources offered at the event. "New clothes, a fresh makeover, and professional interview training reminded me that I am part of a caring community," she expressed.
Margot's words echoed the gratitude we witnessed in many of our participants: "To everyone who made this possible, whether you packed a bag or simply offered a warm greeting, thank you for seeing me for who I truly am."
At Called to Serve, we believe in the transformative power of community support. We thank everyone who joined us in this successful venture and we look forward to continuing our efforts in creating a more empowered and thriving community.
At Called to Serve, we have the distinct privilege of assisting remarkable individuals as they transition from a life of incarceration back into the community. Today, we want to highlight the story of one such individual, Robert White, affectionately known as 'Bear,' whose inspiring journey from prison to becoming a valued community member has left an indelible mark on us.
Robert came to us following a 20-year sentence and two years of navigating life on the streets. Like many returning citizens, he faced the challenge of reintegrating into society with little more than a bus token and the clothes on his back.
In the face of these daunting odds, we at Called to Serve, aligned with Philadelphia’s community violence intervention program, strived to provide Robert with a holistic and individualized support network. Our goal was to surround him with a familial environment, offering essential services such as therapy, employment, and most critically, housing assistance.
Our program was inspired by initiatives such as READI in Chicago, which focus on offering support to high-risk individuals, often victims of violence or formerly incarcerated. These programs have demonstrated remarkable results, significantly reducing arrests for shootings and homicides and victimization due to violence.
When Robert connected with us at Called to Serve, we saw a man in need, not a former inmate. He started working as a cleaning ambassador, an opportunity that allowed him to engage with his community while making an honest living. His hard work and dedication eventually led to a well-deserved promotion to supervisor, earning $20 an hour.
Robert's transformation is a testament to the potential within each individual we serve. He not only found a meaningful livelihood but also became a beacon of hope and inspiration for others in the community.
"Being out there cleaning the neighborhood and seeing people start cleaning their neighborhood, then getting to talk to people about the Lord; I love it," Robert shares. His journey is a powerful reminder of the transformative potential of community programs like ours.
We at Called to Serve are dedicated to recognizing and addressing the specific needs and challenges of our community. We believe in the power of involving the individuals we serve in creating an effective program that leads to real, lasting change.
Today, Robert is a proud resident of Mt. Airy, living a life he can be proud of, despite the challenges of his past. He dreams of getting his record expunged, but until then, his work at Called to Serve stands as a testament to the possibility of rebuilding a good life.
Reflecting on his journey, Robert concludes: "All that I've been through, it seems like it wasn't in vain. I had to go through what I had to go through to become the person I am." His story serves as a beacon of hope for returning citizens and a testament to the transformative power of programs like Called to Serve. Robert, we are proud to have been part of your journey.
On April 25, 2023, at 4:00 PM, an exciting event will take place at the corner of Broad and Venango Streets in North Philadelphia. This event, called the Celebration Campaign for the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan Community Impact Center, marks an important milestone in the neighborhood's history.
The Rev. Leon H. Sullivan Community Impact Center honors a visionary leader who made North Philadelphia the birthplace of a movement that reached across the nation and around the world. The Center's mission is to extend Rev. Sullivan's remarkable legacy into the 21st century by empowering and uplifting members of the community today.
The Center brings together a constellation of diverse programs dedicated to community well-being as determined by local residents. It honors Rev. Sullivan's legacy in a particularly appropriate manner by bringing back to Broad and Venango a thriving community center like the one he founded here in the 1960s.
The Center will occupy the same building as Zion's Educational Annex, which was founded by Rev. Sullivan, directly across Broad Street from Zion Baptist Church. This location is a fitting tribute to the man who dedicated his life to improving the lives of others.
The community has rallied around this project, and the organizers are grateful to all those who have committed. This project is personal for many of the organizers, and they invite everyone to continue to share the story of this exceptional revitalization project that they believe continues Rev. Sullivan's vision.
Rev. Sullivan was a trailblazer who dedicated his life to improving the lives of others. His legacy lives on through the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan Community Impact Center, which will continue to uplift and empower members of the North Philadelphia community for years to come.
If you are interested in attending the Celebration Campaign, be sure to register soon, as VIP space is limited. This is a historic moment in North Philadelphia's history, and you won't want to miss it.
Called to Serve (CTS) is an emerging socioeconomic community development corporation (CDC) dedicated to the complete renewal, restoration and revitalization of underserved neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
With a primary focus on the Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood of North Philadelphia, we envision a wholesome Philadelphia urban ecosystem with intact neighborhoods, thriving businesses with access to capital, and reformed schools that produce academically competent students.
Called To Serve CDC is a faith-based organization that believes that every human being is made in the image of God. Therefore, people have been given, by God, the right to earn a living, obtain an education, grow a family, and flourish economically, socially, spiritually, and psychologically. Thus we serve the “Whole Person” and we pray and create innovative and outside the box methods to achieve these goals within a system that inherently marginalizes and oppresses the people and communities that we serve. This is a “spiritual warfare” that we fight, and we stand on the shoulders of Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, who was a beacon of light in civil rights, economic development, education, and the liberation of the former ancestors of slaves in America, and their African ancestors who still face oppression through imperialism, apartheid, and marginalization. CTS stands on the shoulders of Pastor Sullivan, and we look to continue in his legacy, and prepare young people in our community to take the “baton” and continue this work into the next generations.
Therefore, CTS, in a partnership with the Black Contractors Coalition Association, held our second “Black & Brown Economic Construction Production event” on March 15, 2023. We purpose to build, maintain, and sustain an ecosystem of contractors, developers, entrepreneurs, government agencies, private foundations and industries, community organizations, and anchor institutions that will serve as an ”Economic Incubator” to take two groups: Firstly, local handyman and handywomen that are skilled at their trade but are not officially licensed, insured and bonded, financed, and have the back office support to build a successful contracting business. Secondly, we seek to serve established contractors who are unable to scale up their businesses. We include these groups in an ecosystem that provides support in every aspect for the growth and health of a successful construction business, which includes property management and building maintenance. We believe to increase black and brown hiring in construction projects that the intentional support of black and brown contractors will enable them to hire more people from our communities, and therefore lift up the economic, social, and political lives of the communities we serve.
We had 117 people registered for the event. Our mission and vision and goals were made clear when Rodney Davis, The Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Officer for Turner Construction, shared the following numbers:
In 2021 there was $26B of construction work completed in the City of Philadelphia. Of that $26B, Black & Brown Construction Contractors and Workers received 3.7%, which is about $962M. Not even $1B from $26B, in a city that has over 50% representation from Black & Brown communities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Acts describes this as a “Manifest Imbalance”, and it is this number (3.7%) that the Black & Brown Economic Construction Ecosystem seeks to address by correcting this manifest imbalance.
Our goal is to create a sustainable construction economic community that can see Black & Brown Contractors and workers see their share of the total financial resources in the City of Philadelphia increase to 10% by March 2025, and then to see the manifest imbalance corrected by 2030.
Below are some pictures from our March 15, 2023 event, which was held at Zion Baptist Church.