When most people think of bowling in Philly, their minds turn to Center City’s Lucky Strike or the hip garage-turned-lounge North Bowl. But one of the city’s smaller bowling alleys, PEP Bowl, has an incentive that extends beyond entertainment: employing people with disabilities.
In 1968, the state purchased the South Philadelphia former Sons of Italy clubhouse, which included a bowling alley, and transformed it into a support center for people with disabilities; PEP stands for Programs Employing People.
The organization provides recreational, educational and in-home services to its clients with disabilities, but its primary mission is job training and placement — pivotal services for a population whose unemployment rate is twice that of people who do not have a disability.
In 2005, the bowling alley was renovated, staffed and opened to the public. And now, according to PEP Director of Development Michael Domer, roughly 14,000 people visit PEP Bowl every year.
“The bowling alley is typically how people find out about PEP and what we do,” Domer said. “It has also strengthened our partnerships with local businesses, because they have the opportunity to advertise there.”
PEP partners with neighboring businesses through its Community Integrated Employment (CIE) program. Job coaches equip their clients with vocational skills, match their clients to employers that interest them and facilitate the transitions into the new jobs. Some of PEP’s clients also work part-time at the alley. (For this work, PEP recently received a $165,000 grant from The Pew Fund for Health and Human Services as part of its recent $7 million investment in nonprofits serving Philly’s vulnerable adults.)
According to Domer, many of PEP’s clients use their PEP Bowl work experience as a stepping stone for obtaining employment outside the facility.
Want to support PEP’s work?
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The organization’s annual fundraiser, the King of the Hill Bowling Tournament, is happening this Sunday, April 2. The tournament, which raised $12,000 last year, costs $50 to enter as a “Novice” bowler, $75 to enter in the advanced “King of the Hill Division” and various costs for different sponsorship levels.-30-
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