It’s about time I wrote more about Serenity House!
Serenity House is the community center where I live and work. The House is a ministry of Arch Street UMC, and its purpose is to maintain a presence of serenity in North Philadelphia, the region of the city where unemployment is highest and incomes are lowest, with a lack of resources and infrastructure to match. It’s also a region where most residents are People of Color, and almost all the folks in my immediate neighborhood (and the neighborhoods north, south, and west of here) are Black. I mention the race of my neighbors because the institutional racism that they experience is all wound up with the oppressive poverty, and the race and racism part can’t be ignored if we want to struggle against the mess of oppressions that my neighbors and countless others in Philly and beyond experience. (For an example of how institutional racism affects Philadelphians, check out this kind of shocking article about public school funding.)
But despite all that we’re up against, there’s a lot of hope and beauty in North Philly. I’ve mentioned in a previous post the welcome and friendliness of my neighbors, but I didn’t express the sense of community that exists here too. The retired gentleman who lives next door loves to spend many of his days sweeping up leaves and trash for the entire block to make it beautiful. A block that’s two blocks away from mine pulled together with the teamwork of some Swarthmore College students who are connected to Serenity House to enter a contest to get every house on the block weatherized, and win. Many times I’ve met neighbors who, when they hear that I’m at Serenity House, tell me that they are a member of the women’s group or the men’s group that meets there (organized by a woman named .O who lives and works with me at the House). And when it’s a kid that I meet, they excitedly reminisce about painting flower pots for Mother’s Day on the Serenity House porch. And our partnership with the previously mentioned Swarthmore students helped create our community garden, and is currently creating a project to install solar panels on the Serenity House roof, and train some of our neighbors in solar panel installation in the process, providing them with valuable job skills.
Last Saturday, .O and I organized and hosted a Serenity Harvest Celebration, a party for the community to come together talk and celebrate over snacks and music. It was in the afternoon of Halloween, so many families with little costumed kids came by before heading of to trick-or-treat. I had SO. Much. Fun. helping neighborhood kids paint mini pumpkins (with the help of some Swarthmore students, thank God, because kids + paint + excitement = quite a handful).