ECS has been tackling Philly’s social issues for nearly 150 years. Now, its new focus is intergenerational poverty - Generocity Philly


Oct. 31, 2019 1:45 pm

ECS has been tackling Philly’s social issues for nearly 150 years. Now, its new focus is intergenerational poverty

The organization has been a resource leader from the Great Depression to the AIDS crisis through today.

The front stairs at Episcopal Community Services.

(Photo courtesy of Episcopal Community Services)

In 1870, Episcopal Community Services (ECS) was founded to be the outreach arm of the Episcopal Diocese.

Over the last century and a half, ECS has evolved to meet ever-changing needs: tuberculosis treatment during the turn-of-the-century crisis; providing long-term assistance for families of soldiers fighting in the Spanish-American War; organizing foster care for children during the Great Depression; and leading support for AIDS victims in the 1980s.

“We run to the fire,” said Executive Director David Griffith.

Nearly in its 150th year, ECS is focused on guiding Philadelphians out of the cycle of poverty and into economic mobility, a mission Griffith says is the city’s biggest challenge.

ECS is doing this by attacking poverty at all levels. The organization runs MindSet, a coaching program for individuals looking to improve their employment, education, financial status and health and wellness. ECS also provides workforce development, an after-school STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) program which doubles as affordable childcare, emergency housing and health and wellness initiatives..

“Our job is not to patch them up and send them out into the world,” said Arley Styer, ECS’s chief of programs. “Our job is to really support them in reaching whatever their goals are and meet their needs by looking at their lives in a holistic context.”

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ECS does not leave its history behind. Instead, the agency collects data on the effectiveness of its programs, which allows it to grow in a way that best serves Philadelphians.

When the government pulled out funding for the AIDS crisis in the late 1990s, ECS adapted to continue providing resources. From that, it created a group of youth who provided input on new programs that were needed, which eventually led to a behavioral therapy program and their workforce development program.

Throughout its history, Episcopal Community Services has been the agency in Philadelphia adopting progressive views and leading-edge solutions to combat injustices, Griffith said.

“We would not be where we are today without the support of past generations that chose to reach their hands out to their neighbors, too.”  Griffith said. Fast-approaching its sesquicentennial, Episcopal Community Services is strongly positioned for 150 more years.

“We have an obligation to be innovative and invest in things that may not be possible for other agencies,” Griffith added.

Griffith said ECS has continued to be a staple in Philadelphia’s nonprofit sector because of its ability to evolve.

“Doing the same old same old is not going to move the needle,” Griffith said. “Nearly 25 percent of our neighbors are living in poverty. A stat said so often, it can lose its meaning. Our challenge against poverty is not merely to get these numbers down. It is to help our neighbors lift themselves up.”


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