Oct. 30, 2018 12:30 pm

4 unheralded Philadelphia nonprofits doing the tough, on-the-ground work

Four experienced nonprofit execs picked four local orgs they think more people should know about. Meet Up and Running Healthcare Solutions, Tree House Books, Urban Creators and Preventing HIV Project.

Tree House Books.

(Photo via twitter.com/TreeHouse_Books)

Editor's note: A disclosure clarifying David Fair's relation to Preventing HIV Project's founder, Rudy Robinson, has been added. (10/30, 6:38 p.m.)
At Generocity, we strive to cover both the big guys — the William Penn Foundations, the United Ways, the University of Pennsylvanias — and the little guys — the Hopeworks N’ Camdens, the Philadelphia Photo Arts Centers, the Nancy’s Houses.

But for the latter category, we can always do better in highlighting the nonprofits without PR budgets or big-name partners. And who knows better about orgs doing great work but the people who have been working in the sector for years?

That’s why we asked four experienced nonprofit executives to shoutout the unheralded organizations that deserve the attention necessary to thrive in a tough environment. Here’s what they picked.

Up and Running Healthcare Solutions

According to a national study from 2010, almost three out of every four people experiencing homelessness has at least one unmet health need. That creates a cascading series of healthcare problems including an over-dependence on emergency room care and exacerbated chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and hypertension.

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Ian McCurry and Marcus Henderson, both 2017 graduates from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing, spent their undergrad years determined to do something about the lack of healthcare for the homeless. Their idea won Penn’s 2017 Engagement and Innovation Prize, a $100,000 grant available to graduating seniors to launch a social innovation to engage with the community on a local, national or global level. They used the proceeds as startup funding for Up and Running Healthcare Solutions, which now operates out of Bethesda Project’s Our Brother’s Place in Callowhill.

The backbone of Up and Running’s workforce is community health workers who help vulnerable populations navigate the health system and manage their illnesses.

Shirley Moy, the newly named executive director of Temple University’s North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative, which focuses on getting North Philadelphia residents high quality jobs, previously helmed the Center for Social Policy and Community Development in Temple’s College of Public Health. There, she provided free training to North Philadelphia residents interested in becoming community health workers.

That’s how she crossed paths with Up and Running and came to admire its mission — so much that she now sits on its board as the upstart transitions to becoming a full-fledged nonprofit.

Henderson, now the executive director, and McCurry, the board chair, have ambitious goals for Up and Running, according to Moy: They want at least 90 percent of shelter’s residents to have health insurance and for a minimum of 80 percent to be connected with a primary care and mental health care provider.

Tree House Books

This tiny nonprofit at 15th Street and Susquehanna Avenue encourages literacy through a giving library, a learning center and events such as Philadelphia Literacy Day.

Tree House Books was founded in 2005 to help children develop a passionate love of reading without needing to worry about grades. In 2017, its budget was $336,000, and an average of 58 active volunteers per month helped maintain a ratio of one volunteer for every two children, grow its library and expand its hours.

“Tree House Books is a treasure in and for North Philadelphia and having roots in the area, I am proud to see another organization supporting the community and enriching the next generation,” said Marianne A. Fray, CEO of Maternity Care Coalition, a 38-year-old organization focused on improving maternal and child health in Southeast Pennsylvania.

According to Public School Review, only 9 percent of students who attend the nearby Dr. Tanner G. Duckrey Elementary School scored proficient on the state English and language arts exam for the 2015-2016 school year, and Fray said 65 percent of the 7- to 24-year-old gunshot victims in the city live in this community.

June Betz, the current executive director, has called literacy the foundation of a happy and successful life as well as a strong community.

Urban Creators

This grassroots nonprofit was founded in 2010 by a diverse group of young people — both from the North Philadelphia neighborhood where it was founded, and recent Temple grads — with a goal to engage the community in transforming a two-acre garbage dump near 11th and Dauphin streets into an urban farm.

It took three years, but Life Do Grow is not only a working farm, but also a creative hub.

Alex Epstein, Devon Bailey and Jeaninne Kayembe are cofounders and co-CEOs. According to Greg Goldman, VP of the National Audubon Society and ED of Audubon Pennsylvania, they have raised over $600,000 for the organization, led over 5,000 volunteers in direct service projects, co-facilitated social justice education and skills training workshops for more than 500 students ages 6 to 25.

“What stands out to me about Urban Creators is how it’s impact has grown by how adaptive and responsive it is to the its neighbors and the community,” Goldman said. “Urban Creators doesn’t provide services in any traditional sense. Rather, it has evolved into a vibrant oasis that people want to come to for all kinds of reasons — to make art and music, to grow food, to build friendships, and more.”

Philly Urban Creators' Life Do Grow farm.

Urban Creators’ Life Do Grow farm. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)

Preventing HIV Project

“I’ve always had a special place in my heart for people who dedicate their lives to small but mighty groups that do their work on the ground, rejecting the temptation to be recognized, be entrepreneurial, grow bigger, compete with others,” said David Fair, deputy CEO for Turning Points for Children, a 175-year-old social and health agency.

“One such agency has been around for about 20 years,” Fair said, “on a tiny budget — for many years there were only two staff; now there are four — and attracting no fanfare as it works every day to prevent HIV disease among Kensington’s drug addicts and homeless people, and find those who are HIV-positive so they can be linked to medical care.”

Fair is describing Preventing HIV Project, which is better known in its Kensington neighborhood as GETUP (Get Tested, Educate Yourself, Think First, Use Protection and Plan Ahead). The org is led by Rudy Robinson, who  has a 25-year history of dedication to combatting the AIDS epidemic. (Full disclosure, Robinson is also Fair’s husband.)

GETUP, which doesn’t even have a website, operates a drop-in center at Kensington and Allegheny avenues that provides basic supports such as free HIV testing for people who use opioids and other drugs, sex workers and other marginalized people.

Frustrated with the bureaucracy and politics of AIDS in the ’90s, Robinson went out on his own to work with the most disenfranchised people impacted by the AIDS epidemic and has saved thousands of lives, without fanfare, staying close to his mission and to the people most others have already written off, according to Fair.

Robinson “doesn’t have a big salary and is not one for awards or recognition,” said Fair, who is on GETUP’s board. “He just does the job, every day, one life at a time.” He also noted that the city’s AIDS Activities Coordinating Office says GETUP has the distinction of finding more people with HIV who didn’t even know they were infected than any other state-funded HIV testing program in the city.


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