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Get Out the Vote Collaboration (10-19-2020)

October 23, 2020

Adonis Banegas, Executive Director of Concilio (wearing grey suit with light blue shirt), Norman Bristol-Colón, President of the National Puerto Rican Agenda Pennsylvania Chapter (blue suit with red shirt and khaki pants), María González, President & CEO of HACE, and Jimmy Torres-Vélez, President of Puerto Rican Action Initiative, Nilda Ruiz, President & CEO of Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha (APM) & Dr. Roberto Lugo of APM

Help.org Names the Best Drug and Alcohol Rehab Centers in Philadelphia (10/23/2020)

October 23, 2020

Philadelphia’s Opioid Epidemic Prompts Growing Demand for Accessible and High-Quality Facilities

News Image

Help.org, a trusted online resource for individuals who struggle with addiction and their loved ones, has announced the Best Rehab Facilities in Philadelphia, PA for 2020. The informational guide recognizes the top 24 rehab facilities based on cost, treatment options, location, accompanying services, and more.

According to recent studies, drug overdose is the leading cause of death among people under age 50. In Philadelphia, deaths related to opioid abuse increased significantly from 2011 to 2015. Substance abuse among adolescents is also escalating in Philadelphia with 55 percent of high school students reported using alcohol, 38 percent reported using marijuana, 8 percent reported using prescription drugs without a valid prescription, and 2 percent reported using heroin. With the growing need for accessible and high-quality rehab programs, Help.org has developed a unique ranking process to help connect individuals with treatment providers that meet their needs.

The Help.org research team analyzed thousands of facilities across the country and then identified the most cost-effective and highest-rated programs in larger cities like Philadelphia. Each facility was evaluated based on rehabilitation services, treatment approaches, cost, special programs for unique demographics, and ancillary services. The website also provides information about drug use and side effects as well as educational articles. For a detailed listing of the Best Rehab Facilities in Philadelphia, PA please visit https://www.help.org/drug-and-alcohol-rehab-centers-in-philadelphia-pa/

2020 Best Rehab Facilities in Philadelphia, PA (in alphabetical order)

Addiction Medicine Health Advocates, Inc.
928 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
215-923-4202

Alpha and Omega Recovery Services
3319 Kensington Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19134
215-426-1992

Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha
4301 Rising Sun Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19140
267-296-7220

Banyan Treatment Center
100 N. Buckstown Drive, Suite 100e
Langhorne, PA 19047
215-385-5712

Belmont Behavioral Health
4200 Monument Road
Philadelphia, PA 10131
866-297-8169

Caron Recovery Center in Philadelphia
401 Plymouth Road
Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462
877-920-4849

Center City Recovery
1880 JFK Boulevard, Suite 1110
Philadelphia, PA 19103
877-573-0032

Fairmount Behavioral Health System
561 Farithorne Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19128
215-487-4000

Family House NOW
1020 North 48th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19131
215-878-8616

First Stop Recovery
2414 Kensington Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19125
267-600-7305

Gaudenzia
1306 Spring Garden Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
215-238-2150

Intercommunity Action – Greenridge Counseling Center
6122 Ridge Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19128
215-487-1330

Interim House, Inc.
333 West Upsal Street
Philadelphia, PA 19119
215-849-4606

Kirkbride Center
111 North 49th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19139
215-471-2600

Livengrin Foundation
9140 Academy Road
Philadelphia, PA 19020
215-638-5200

Merakey Parkside Recovery
5000 Parkside Avenue, Suite 9000
Philadelphia, PA 19131
215-879-6116

NorthEast Treatment Centers, Inc.
499 N. 5th Street, Suite A
Philadelphia, PA 19123
215-451-7000

Philadelphia Addiction Center
2200 Michener Street, Unit #12
Philadelphia, PA 19115
267-284-4143

Self Help Movement Inc.
2600 Southampton Road
Philadelphia, PA 19116
215-677-7778

SouthWest Nu-Stop Recovery and Educational Center
5616 Woodland Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19143
215-729-2014

Steps to Recovery
1400 Veterans Highway
Levittown, PA 19056
866-488-8684

The Horsham Clinic
722 E. Butler Pike
Ambler, PA 19002
800-237-4447

Wedge Medical Center
3609 North Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19140
215-276-3922

Women’s Institute for Family Health
5936 Chestnut Street, 1st Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19139
215-747-2391

ABOUT HELP.ORG
Help.org is an online resource for individuals who struggle with addiction and their loved ones. The website provides the latest research through scientifically proven methods, community recovery resources as well as information about local financial assistance. Help.org’s team of researchers, activists, and writers work together with addiction counselors and other professionals to offer useful and accurate resources to help individuals seeking recovery. To learn more, visit https://www.help.org/

Easier? Not for All (10-22-2020)

October 22, 2020

Pennsylvania’s vote-by-mail law has expanded access — primarily for middle-class and affluent voters who would likely have voted anyway. A year later, poor Philadelphians are still more likely to vote in person.

by Jonathan Lai, Samantha Melamed and Michaelle Bond, Posted: October 22, 2020- 5:30 AM

 

Rem Em emigrated from Cambodia in 2002 to help take care of a grandchild with leukemia. Twelve years later, she became a U.S. citizen. It was one of the proudest moments of her life.

Ever since, she’s made sure to vote, even though the native Khmer speaker isn’t fluent in English. She talks to her family, other Cambodian immigrants in her South Philadelphia neighborhood, and community groups about the candidates and the races. Before she votes, she studies what her preferred candidate’s name looks like in English, noting as well the shapes that form the word “VOTE.”

Then she goes to the polls, where she hands her ID to a poll worker she can’t understand, signs a poll book she can’t read, and scrutinizes the shapes on the voting machine in front of her, carefully identifying the lines and curves she’s memorized.

“I want my voice to be heard,” Em, 70, said this month through an interpreter. “The reason why I became a U.S. citizen is because I want to vote.”

Em, who is retired from a factory job and lives on Social Security, could benefit from the state’s 2019 law that expanded voting by mail. It’s easier to do the high-stakes matching of patterns in the privacy of your own home than in a cramped space with people waiting on the other side of the curtain. This year, for the first time, any registered voter in Pennsylvania can apply for and receive a mail ballot without having to give a reason for being unavailable on Election Day.

But in the poorest big city in America, a law that passed with bipartisan support and was touted as providing historic access to the ballot box is doing little to boost turnout among low-income Philadelphians, according to a data analysis by The Inquirer and ProPublica. Instead, they are casting ballots in person when they do vote — even during a deadly pandemic that has disproportionately affected low-income people and people of color.

The law has enhanced access for middle-class and affluent voters who would likely have voted anyway, attracting much higher use in Philadelphia’s wealthier neighborhoods, The Inquirer/ProPublica review found. More than 392,000 Philadelphians had requested general election mail ballots by Oct. 20. In the 10 highest-income zip codes, 47% of voters have requested mail ballots. In the city’s 10 lowest-income areas, only 27% of voters have done so.

In the June 2 primary election, when Philadelphia was in a strict coronavirus lockdown, just more than half the votes were cast by mail, with the usage much higher in wealthier neighborhoods. In the 10 zip codes with the highest median household income, 73% of votes were cast by mail; in the 10 poorest, only 38% were. Low-income voters were more likely to vote in person, despite the potential risk of contracting COVID-19. (These figures exclude a small number of ballots where the method of voting isn’t included in the state voter roll.)

Overall, turnout in the 10 lowest-income zip codes fell from 35.2% in the 2016 primary to 26.8% this June. By contrast, the 10 wealthiest zip codes decreased from 43.6% in 2016 to 38.8% this year.

The disparities center on economic status and not race, our analysis found. Nearly one in four residents lives below the poverty line in Philadelphia, making it the only one of the 20 largest cities by population with a poverty rate of 20% or higher, according to the 2019 American Community Survey. While race and income are deeply intertwined, more affluent areas with high usage of mail ballots include the predominantly Black neighborhoods in Northwest Philadelphia, where turnout is consistently among the highest in the city.

Among the obstacles for poor Philadelphians: Lack of stable housing makes it difficult to depend on the mail and know which address to provide when applying for a ballot to be mailed weeks or months later. Those with limited English proficiency have difficulty navigating the vote-by-mail process, and governmental voter outreach can miss them. Lack of internet service or home computers can complicate requesting ballots or finding key information about them.

The law skipped over key elements that could have helped poor voters in the city — including easier voter registration through automatic or Election Day sign-ups and the kind of in-person early voting that is drawing long lines and record turnout in other states. It also doesn’t require drop boxes where voters can hand-deliver ballots, though Philadelphia is installing some.

Em is familiar with these barriers. She doesn’t have a computer to make it easier for her to request a ballot. The application isn’t available in Khmer. And voting by mail doesn’t work for a voter who can’t actually read her mail: Em collects hers in a plastic bag that she takes to an Asian American social services group every few weeks. A volunteer there helps her sort through it.

Plus she’s wary of voting by mail — and neither the government nor many community groups have prioritized educating low-income residents like her about the law.

“I’m just scared,” she said. “I’m not sure how that would work.”

‘Just another law on the books’

Act 77 was one of the most significant changes to Pennsylvania election law since the state’s election code was written in 1937. Its passage late last year was accompanied by much fanfare about expanded voting access.

“For too long Pennsylvania has made it too hard for the citizens to actually fully participate in our democracy,” Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said at the bill-signing ceremony. “These changes will make it easier for people to vote, participate in our democracy, actually to take care of the most fundamental responsibility of citizenship: voting.”

But implementing the law has been particularly challenging in a pandemic where voters are seeking mail ballots in far greater numbers than were expected last year. Act 77 has spurred ongoing lawsuits and legislative fighting about voting procedures and access, igniting fears of a days-long delay in counting votes that could make Pennsylvania the 2020 equivalent of Florida in 2000, where a disputed outcome left the courts to decide the winner. President Donald Trump’s months of baselessly attacking mail voting as abetting fraud have sowed distrust of the method, especially among his supporters.

Overlooked in the partisan bickering has been the law’s ineffectiveness with low-income voters. Interviews with dozens of voters, elected officials, voting advocates, and experts in the months leading up to Election Day painted a consistent picture: Poor and low-income Philadelphians generally aren’t benefiting from vote-by-mail.

“The intention was that it would be helpful,” said City Councilmember Kendra Brooks, who has advocated for poor and working-class Philadelphians. “I understand the intention. I celebrated it. … But without the work to make sure that everyone knows about this, it’s just another law on the books.”

It’s not that the law is suppressing minority and low-income Philadelphians’ votes; it’s that the barriers they face weren’t taken into account when the law was enacted. In addition, the pandemic has hampered voter education and awareness efforts that could have widened use of mail voting.

State Sen. Sharif Street of Philadelphia, the vice chair of the state Democratic Party, said that, “on balance, we’re better off” with the new law. But key provisions were left out, he said.

“The help to the poorest people in this legislation is primarily incidental,” he said. “And you could call it accidental.”

Vanessa Maria Graber works a voter-registration table in the parking lot of Cousin’s Market in North Philadelphia on Oct. 3.
HEATHER KHALIFA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Vanessa Maria Graber works a voter-registration table in the parking lot of Cousin’s Market in North Philadelphia on Oct. 3.

Systemic problems run deep

Pennsylvania began allowing online voter registration in 2015. Last year, it began allowing voters to request mail ballots online.

But tens of thousands of Philadelphia households lack broadband internet access or don’t have a computer.

“I move a lot, too, so that sort of knocks it out. I just forget all about it.”

William Johnson on the difficulties of voting

A 2019 school district survey found that only half of students said they access the internet at home, with responses tracing the city’s socioeconomic lines. In some of the lowest-income neighborhoods, it was as few as one in four students.

The digital divide makes it difficult to vote by mail because the easiest way to request a ballot is by computer. It can also undermine voter turnout by reducing access to quality information about elections and candidates, as well as exposure to get-out-the-vote messages.

For example, voters have the option of providing an email address when they register to vote or request a mail ballot. Officials can use emails to provide election information and reminders, as the Pennsylvania Department of State did multiple times before the June primary election. But the percentage of voters whose email addresses are on file with the state is far higher in Philadelphia’s wealthier neighborhoods than in poorer areas.

Voting is also not top of mind for people facing eviction, temporarily staying with friends or family, or homeless.

“I’ve been out of the loop, on the issues and all that,” said William Johnson, 59, as he stood in line recently for a box of vegetables and milk outside the Healing Center at Broad and Venango Streets in North Philadelphia. He has a history of drug addiction, he said, and hasn’t voted in years.

“I move a lot, too, so that sort of knocks it out,” Johnson said. “I just forget all about it.”

But when volunteers set up a voter registration table by the food distribution site last month, he signed up. He said he plans to vote — in person, because he doesn’t trust the mail.

Even for those determined to vote, housing instability complicates the process. Although Philadelphia currently has a moratorium on evictions, more than 57% of renters aged 25 and up in the Philadelphia metropolitan area said in September that they were very or somewhat likely to lose their home to eviction in the next two months, according to a Census Bureau survey. Voting by mail is an unhelpful option for such voters: It doesn’t make much sense to request a ballot if you don’t know where you’ll be living when it’s sent to you, and if you do move, the U.S. Postal Service may not forward ballots to new addresses.

Since the 2016 presidential election, Lateefah Knight, 33, has lived at a Philadelphia shelter, in transitional housing, in an apartment, in a rooming house, and with family and friends.

Knight, a caregiver for the elderly and people with disabilities, made sure to vote in 2016. But she was with a friend that day and went to her friend’s polling place, so she had to cast a provisional ballot.

Lateefah Knight in the Parkside section of West Philadelphia. Knight was evicted from her home in 2018 and has struggled to find long-term housing since.
HEATHER KHALIFA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Lateefah Knight in the Parkside section of West Philadelphia. Knight was evicted from her home in 2018 and has struggled to find long-term housing since.

“Election Day, I don’t care how I have to get there, I’m going to get there. By any means necessary.”

Lateefah Knight

In 2018, she was relieved to find what she thought could be a more permanent home for herself and her now 4-year-old daughter. Initially, it seemed affordable. Not long after she moved into the three-bedroom apartment, the owner boosted the monthly rent to more than double her income, she said. She was evicted soon after.

So now Knight doesn’t have a stable home. She stays at a West Philadelphia rooming house with her daughter’s father, or with family members or friends. She’s spent at least a month’s rent in application fees for housing, she said, but no one will rent to her because of her prior eviction.

“I’m floating right now,” she said. “I’m just everywhere.”

Her daughter is autistic and needs extra care. “I’m trying to move, trying to work,” she said. “It’s exhausting.”

Knight hasn’t tried to vote by mail out of fear something would go wrong with her ballot. “Something is going to happen,” she said. “I want to make sure my vote gets in and it’s definite.”

Knight said she’s committed to carving out time to make it to the polls. She’s not sure where her polling place is, but she plans to go with a client who lives nearby so they can vote together.

“Election Day, I don’t care how I have to get there, I’m going to get there. By any means necessary,” Knight said.

‘Not consciously forgotten’

It was a lack of money that drew both sides together to reform voting in Pennsylvania. But the issue wasn’t poverty in Philadelphia — it was new voting machines that strained county budgets.

In 2018, Wolf ordered that every voting machine in the state be replaced with more secure systems with paper trails that could be manually audited or recounted — a massive financial burden that counties struggled to bear.

After earlier negotiations for state funding collapsed, Wolf and GOP leaders who control the state legislature moved the talks behind closed doors in the summer of 2019.

Wolf needed money for counties to buy and implement voting machines. Republicans wanted to end straight-party voting, which allowed voters to choose every candidate on a party’s ticket at once. Wolf also wanted to ease what were then some of the country’s tightest restrictions on absentee ballots. At a time before Trump’s baseless allegations of fraud politicized mail voting, that was also acceptable to Republicans.

Lawmakers moved quickly once a deal was struck. Almost exactly a year ago, on Oct. 22, 2019, they added the mail voting expansion to an existing piece of legislation, which passed with bipartisan support. Wolf signed it into law nine days later.

The impact on low-income voters apparently played little role in the discussions.

A “Vote” sign hangs by 52nd and Walnut Streets in West Philadelphia.
HEATHER KHALIFA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

A “Vote” sign hangs by 52nd and Walnut Streets in West Philadelphia.

“They’re not consciously forgotten,” said State Rep. Frank Dermody, who, as the state House Democratic leader, was aware of but not directly involved in legislative negotiations over the new law.

“We made it [voting] easier, we made it more accessible, but it wasn’t perfect, and it probably isn’t getting down to those folks,” he said. “Nobody consciously decided we wanted to continue to pile onto those unfortunate folks, but we may not have addressed all their needs. That’s for sure when it comes to the voting.”

“It’s not because of ill will or anything,” Dermody said. “It’s just we’re all busy, and maybe we’re not focusing on that issue at the time.”

State Rep. Bryan Cutler, a Republican from Lancaster who was majority leader at the time and is now House speaker, disagreed with the notion that low-income voters were forgotten.

“The bill was crafted in a way that the opportunity was there for everyone in terms of the ability to vote by mail,” said Cutler, who participated in the negotiations. “I would offer they are being considered, because we tried to draft the bill in a way that would be open to everyone.”

Wolf’s office declined to make him available for an interview. State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, a Republican from Centre County in central Pennsylvania, and Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, from Jefferson County south of Pittsburgh, also declined interview requests.

Revelle Mast, right, a volunteer with the West/SouthWest Philly Votes program, speaks with James Davenport, 30, and gives him information on how to register.
HEATHER KHALIFA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Revelle Mast, right, a volunteer with the West/SouthWest Philly Votes program, speaks with James Davenport, 30, and gives him information on how to register.

What actually helps people vote

Unlike 26 other states and Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania doesn’t have traditional early voting. (It does have early mail voting: People can go to the county office, request a mail ballot, and fill it out there.)

Besides an early voting system using voting machines, several other policies would be helpful in boosting turnout for low-income voters, said Chris Warshaw, a political science professor at George Washington University who studies political representation.

One is same-day voter registration, which allows people to register on Election Day, and another is automatic voter registration, in which people are registered by default when they interact with government services such as getting a driver’s license. Twenty states have same-day voter registration, and 19 have automatic voter registration — plus Washington, D.C., in both cases. Automatically mailing ballots to voters and giving people paid time off to vote on Election Day could also make turnout more economically equitable, Warshaw said.

“While it doesn’t suppress the vote of any particular group, and that’s not the intent of it, does the access to it widen the disparities in the vote?”

State Rep. Donna Bullock, on mail voting in Pa.

Lower-income voters tend to become more engaged as elections draw near, meaning voting before Election Day — and the accompanying deadlines — doesn’t work well for them. It’s one reason why poorer people tend to vote on Election Day, and why mail voting tends to be used by people who would have voted anyway, rather than helping bring out new voters, Warshaw said.

Al Schmidt, a Philadelphia city commissioner and the lone Republican on the elections board, noted that vote-by-mail patterns have generally tracked historical differences in voter turnout between rich and poor neighborhoods.

“Areas with the lowest turnout, which were largely poor and frequently not always English proficient … also have extremely low rates of mail-in ballot applications,” Schmidt said. Based on these early indications, State Rep. Donna Bullock, a Democrat from Philadelphia, expressed concern that Pennsylvania’s mail voting system could exacerbate inequalities in ballot access because any increased turnout would come primarily from wealthier voters.

“While it doesn’t suppress the vote of any particular group, and that’s not the intent of it, does the access to it widen the disparities in the vote?” she asked.

Over the last three decades, low-income eligible voters have consistently been more than 20% less likely to vote than those making at least twice the federal poverty line, according to a recent analysis of Census Bureau voter surveys by Robert Paul Hartley, an assistant professor of social work at Columbia University.

This disengagement is perpetuated because policymakers generally ignore or forget nonvoters, giving them little reason to vote in the future, he said.

“There’s this trick question,” Hartley said. “Are campaigns not talking to their issues because they don’t vote? Or are they not voting because people are just not speaking to their issues?”

“This is a population that could and might vote,” Hartley said, pointing to some past elections, including the 2018 midterms, when they did turn out in greater numbers. “When motivated, they can show up.”

People register and vote at the satellite election office at Julia De Burgos Elementary in North Philadelphia on Oct. 19, 2020.
HEATHER KHALIFA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

People register and vote at the satellite election office at Julia De Burgos Elementary in North Philadelphia on Oct. 19, 2020.

Building on the current system

Some community groups are trying to boost the impact of the new law. Broad Street Ministry, a church in the heart of the city known for its social service work, serves as the mailing address for about 3,000 people who are homeless or housing insecure. So the ministry’s pilot civic engagement project is handling an unprecedented challenge this year with its bustling mail room: helping all of those potential voters register and giving them the option to vote by mail for the first time.

“Most of them really want a mail-in ballot,” said Zhane DeShields, who was registering voters there last month. “That’s the first thing they ask.”

At the same time, some elections officials are going beyond the law’s requirements to help voters who might not otherwise benefit from Act 77.

From Pennsylvania’s smallest counties of about 3,000 voters, to its largest in Philadelphia with more than 1.1 million, the law requires only one “early voting” location — the main elections office — and zero drop boxes. So local officials who want to provide more options are left largely on their own, with whatever funding they can scrounge up.

In Philadelphia, the city commissioners are opening more than a dozen satellite locations, thanks in large part to $2.3 million from a Chicago-based nonprofit. The commissioners deliberately included locations in low-turnout areas where few voters are requesting mail ballots, though they acknowledged those sites have much lighter traffic than others.

“They’re tough decisions to make,” said Lisa Deeley, chair of the commissioners. “I mean, honestly, you’re in a position where you want to make sure that everyone who can vote is voting, and everybody has equal access.”

“Nobody consciously decided we wanted to continue to pile onto those unfortunate folks, but we may not have addressed all their needs.”

State Rep. Frank Dermody

The Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections, has encouraged counties to go beyond the legal minimum and temporarily open satellite offices where they can provide and accept ballots on demand, creating a type of one-stop early-voting site.

In deciding where to locate those offices, the department encourages counties to consider factors such as transportation accessibility and past turnout and to open them on weekends and outside of business hours. In a statement, the department listed several other steps it has taken beyond the minimum required by law to increase access, including providing prepaid postage for returning mail ballots.

Because they aren’t required by law, such efforts can be fragile, depending on the goodwill and priorities of whoever’s in charge at a given moment. Will Philadelphia keep opening satellite offices if it doesn’t receive nonprofit funding in the future? Will the state pay for postage in lower-profile elections?

Cutler, the House speaker, said he’s open to further reform but wants data to guide future changes.

“We have to keep continuing to watch it, but ultimately, whether or not people choose to vote or not vote, driven by any number of things — their own life situations, or their desire to be involved or not involved — is ultimately a choice that they make,” Cutler said. “And this is just about making sure there are some options that are safe and secure.”

Looking ahead

Rem Em plans to vote in person on Election Day.
HEATHER KHALIFA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Rem Em plans to vote in person on Election Day.

In the meantime, Rem Em is getting ready to vote in South Philadelphia. Not by mail, but in person. She’s scared of the coronavirus, but her mask is ready and her face shield sits on a table by the door.

Soon, she’ll once again memorize the shapes that spell her candidate’s name — though she politely demurs when asked whom she’s voting for. And on Nov. 3, she’ll take the five-minute walk to the recreation center around the corner.

She’ll show her ID to the poll worker. She’ll be directed to a machine.

And there, painstakingly matching the shapes in front of her, she’ll exercise her cherished right to vote.

Joshua Eaton, Lauren Rosenthal, and Thy Anh Vo with ProPublica contributed to this article.

This story is part of the Electionland project, of which The Inquirer is a partner. Have you encountered problems voting? Tell us your story.

APM Pivots to Virtual Early Education in Response to COVID-19 (10-20-2020)

October 21, 2020

APM pivots to virtual early education in response to COVID-19

In its October 14 program, APM focused on the importance of early education in a virtual space, but the organization has been focused on that important first step of community building IRL for nearly 50 years.

The “Early Childhood Education in the Age of Covid-19” panel.

(Screencapture)

Nilda Ruiz, the president and CEO of Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM), knows that firsts matter — in a city, an organization, or an educational experience.

“As a Philadelphian, I’m proud of our city’s many ‘firsts.’ Because so many good things happen in Philadelphia. The constitution was constructed here; we are the first in the country to have a public library. The first to have a hospital, a medical school, a zoo,” Ruiz said.

The organization which she heads — marking its 50th anniversary this year — also has a number of “firsts” to celebrate, Ruiz said.

“We were first to implement many Latino focused programming in human services and behavioral health, and most recently we are the first TOD [transit oriented development] Community Development Corporation to develop the first LEED Platinum Neighborhood Development project in the U.S., and second in the world (China being number one),” Ruiz said.

Nilda Ruiz, president and CEO of APM, during last week’s virtual program focused on early childhood education. (Screencapture)

Ruiz was raised in Philly by a single mother. “My mother knew that education provided options,” Ruiz said. “Her insistence that I pay attention — ¡presta atención! — to my studies is why I stand here now. The childhood that I experienced encompasses many of the same experiences that children in our low-income communities are facing today, even more so with the pandemic that has affected so many of our lives.”

APM has four centers that serve 600 early learners, and during the school year, the organization has had to find a way to reconnect with those children. Margarita Hernandez, senior director of APM’s early childhood education department,  said APM has witnessed low-enrollment for preschool providers across the city for both face-to-face or remote-learning instruction.

“Families are afraid to send their children to our centers because they have family members with underlying conditions,” she said. “Many of our families have multi-generations in one household. Some of our families still need access to technology. And due to multiple users in a household, the internet signal is often unstable.”

Thanks to a community partner, TruMark, which made the funding available, APM marked another first — the organization purchased 600 tablets for the children its early education program serves.

“Our IT department programmed each tablet with kids’ games, educational apps, and a link to Zoom meetings,” Ruiz said. “Knowing many homes in our community are not equipped with internet, we gave every tablet direct access to the internet with a SIM Card. This also offered each family access to the internet.”

“Our loving and caring teachers volunteered to go to door to door delivering the tablets,” Ruiz added. “The teacher would leave the package on the student’s porch, knock on the door, then quickly pull back as the family came out to find the package. The children were ecstatic, shouting to their teachers, ‘We miss you! We want to go back to school.’ And they did. Virtually. The teachers were able to communicate with their students in a virtual classroom at least three times a week.”

Ruiz’s and APM’s focus on the importance of early learning is one of the reasons that the organization presented “Early Childhood Education in the Age of COVID-19” last week. It is the second program in a four-part anniversary speaker series that was reimagined virtually after COVID.

The October 14 brought Boricua actor and educator, Sonia Manzano — who for many years played María on Sesame Street — into people’s homes in a new way. Avi Wolfman-Arent, education reporter for WHYY, served as the moderator for the program.

Avi Wolfman-Arent, education reporter for WHYY (left), and actor-author-educator Sonia Manzano, during APM’s virtual speaker series presentation October 14. (Screencapture)

“For over fifty years the most popular and successful educational tool focused on early childhood education has been a children’s program that first aired on public television, Sesame Street,” said Hernandez in her introduction to the program. “In our city, Big Bird, Elmo, and Rosita all came into our homes from right here, at WHYY.”

Born to a working-class family in New York City’s Bronx barrio, Manzano experienced traumas rooted in her family’s and neighborhood’s socioeconomic struggles, experiences she’s shared in her recent memoir, “Becoming Maria, Love and Chaos In the South Bronx.”

“I named [the memoir] ‘Becoming María’ because I remembered everything that happened to me as a kid, [which] is why I was a success as María,” Manzano said. “I didn’t overcome a hard childhood, I actually embraced it.”

“Kids are resilient; you don’t have to give them all the answers,” she said. “They bring stuff to the table. You do have to guide them, point them in the right direction and watch them fly.”

In addition to Manzano, the panel included Dr. Pedro Rivera, the former secretary of education at the Pennsylvania Department of Education, who noted that as children are growing up in the midst of the global pandemic “they are observing what is going on, they are analyzing what they see and hear, they are gathering data and forming conclusions and then they are reflecting on those pieces of information.”

Rivera, who grew up in the Hunting Park section of Philadelphia, was still serving as secretary of education on March 13 — a day, he said, that he will remember that day for the rest of his life.

“We had to make a decision to shut schools down as a result of the number of increased positive COVID-19 testing in communities across PA,” he said. “Nothing like this has ever existed before contextually, scientifically, process-wise.”

Rivera said they worked to “try to find ways get food into the houses of some of our most vulnerable students and our most vulnerable communities. Families were lining up a mile away from food banks and other institutions to try to have access to those meals.

“These systemic issues have always existed,” he said, “but now COVID-19 exacerbated the fact we have these inequities in many of our communities across the country.”

Dr. Robert Stechuk, director of early childhood education programs for UnidosUS — the nation’s largest Latinx civil rights and advocacy organization — was also part of the conversation. He stressed the importance of early childhood education, particularly language learning.

“When we look at who are the successful readers in high school, the skill sets that children brought on their first day of kindergarten, the learning they did between birth and 5 are essential to their long-term reading and academic success,” he added. “One of the key pieces of the Sesame Street design was trying to boost children’s vocabulary knowledge.”

He also made the case for early childhood education that includes bilingual learning, noting that when children are exposed to two languages prenatally, they recognize those languages, and they recognize that they are separate.

“Being able to learn skills later on in life,” he said, “is absolutely improved the earlier you learn a second, third or multiple languages.”

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Upcoming in APM’s 50th Anniversary Speaker Series:“Inequality, Race, and Gentrification” on November 10, featuring John Quiñones, and “Childhood Trauma” on December 9, featuring Elizabeth Smart. For more information go to www.apmphila.org or call 267-296-7363.

Discovering Germantown Avenue: Historic Walking Tour – 10-9-2020

October 21, 2020

by Misha Rodriguez of APM

Misha & Melinda of APM

Need a new idea for how to stay active while practicing social distancing?

In September, Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, APM, launched the Discover Germantown Avenue self-guided walking tour in the Eastern North Philadelphia neighborhood. A 1.6 mile round-trip route with 10 historic posters, the Discover Germantown Avenue self-guided tour will allow you to time travel, contextualizing the current community in its history, present and future.

Map of Historic Walking Route and site locations along Germantown Ave.

For the past two years, APM has collaborated with Temple’s Community Development department to create a series of events situated along historic Germantown Avenue. The first event, held in Spring 2019, was called “Remembering and Envisioning Germantown Ave.” The intention of the project was to build community capacity and community identity in relation to the future redevelopment of Germantown Avenue, the main commercial corridor in the area.

From the late 1870’s to the early 1960’s, factories and retail establishments lined Germantown Avenue, providing stable employment to local residents. The loss of commercial establishments in the 1970’s and 80’s that coincided with nationwide downturn in industry affected area businesses like the Breyers Ice Cream Factory, the Quaker City Chocolate Factory, and the Stetson Hat Company — sapping the majority of local employment and commercial opportunities in the neighborhood and resulting in widespread vacancy and job loss. The resulting slump in the local economy, and compounding factors caused by intentional divestment and structural racism, has yet to be amended. At the same time, the neighborhood is now facing development pressure and the threat of displacement, having crept in over the years from development booms in Fishtown and Temple University.  Residents are hopeful about their community and its propensity to change, grow and develop. However, as it develops they desire to be at the table and for their voices to be heard.

APM learned that residents felt it was important to share the rich history of the neighborhood, particularly, in the midst of new development, to connect old and new community residents with the history of the neighborhood; and serve as a reminder of the community’s past in its present and future. The Discover Germantown Avenue historic tour arose out of this feedback–an opportunity to combine the power of movement with history and storytelling.

A neighbor along Germantown Ave shares his ideas for the corridor at the Spring 2019 Remembering and Envisioning Germantown Ave event. 

Temple students researched the sites, designed the route and posters, and collected oral histories. Originally, there was a kick-off event planned but it had to be canceled due to Covid-19 concerns. However, APM believes that this can still be an informative and safe activity for people to participate in so went ahead with installing the posters on site along Germantown Avenue and promoting the walk.

The historic walking route begins at APM’s Community and Economic Development office at 600 W Diamond Street. Here you can pick up a map of the route from the office. Heading north along Germantown Ave the first stops include the old site of Dawn’s Donuts as well as Diamond Theater. The route features both historic commercial sites and cultural sites such as the Ile Ife Museum.  Each post contains historical facts as well as a QR code that you can scan on your phone to hear oral histories and learn more about each site.

You can find other diagrams like this one of Dawn Donuts along the walking route.

We believe this walking tour combines the power of movement to highlight, celebrate and situate Germantown Avenue and its surrounding community. We invite you to come out and safely participate on the walk.

A few tips if you decide to go on the historic walk:

  • Wear a mask and maintain social distancing
  • If it’s available to you, a cell phone with a QR reader will allow you to can scan the posters for additional information
  • If you can’t participate in person you can also “go” on the tour on the tour website at : http://bit.ly/DGA-home
  • Let us know if you go on the tour! Tag us @apmforeveryone with the hashtag #DiscoverGermantownAve

Neighborhood Preservation Initiative Press Conference 10-15-2020

October 15, 2020

October 15, 2020

Written by: Felix Moulier, External Affairs Coordinator

 

We had the honor of participating in a press conference with Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilwoman Maria D. Quinones Sanchez, Councilwoman Cherelle Parker, Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson and Councilman Mark Squilla to announce the investment of $400 Million to build affordable housing, revitalize commercial corridors and create mixed-income neighborhoods.

 

 

Beloved Star of Children’s Television Helps Phillly Rican Nonprofit Celebrate 50 Years (10-12-2020)

October 15, 2020

“Sesame Street” actress Sonia Monzano, who plays Maria, reads to about 1,000 fourth graders during Lincoln’s Library at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center February 10, 2003, in New York City. Photo credit Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

By Pat Loeb KYW Newsradio 1060

October 12, 20208:54 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW NEWSRADIO) — For 50 years, the non-profit Association of Puerto Ricans on the March — or APM — has been serving Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican community, and it’s determined to celebrate the anniversary, despite the challenges of the pandemic.

It’s marking the occasion, this week, by hosting an online talk with one of the most beloved stars of children’s television.

Sonia Manzano did not start out as an early childhood expert or literacy guru or even a role model. She was just an actress, on a relatively new show for kids. But as so many who become the “first” to represent an entire culture, she was called on to authenticate the show’s Latino credibility.

“There was a fruit cart on Sesame Street that had apples and pears, and I said, if this was a really diverse neighborhood, it would have yucca and coconut and kind of tropical fruit, and I suggested it to the producer, and they complied. So I could say, I diversified the first fruit cart on Sesame Street,” Manzano said. “That’s how I sort of rose to the notion of being a representative and having a responsibility.”

 

Through 44 years of playing Maria, she developed a high-level understanding of how kids learn.

“They had a very active research department, and as a writer you were privy to all the information and research they came up with to make sure what we were doing on the show was researched and appropriate,” she said.

Manzano says she’s impressed with APM’s services to children, including preschool placements for more than 600 3- and 4-year-olds and the recent delivery of tablets to them to address the digital divide during the pandemic.

 

6abc’s Townhall – The State of the Latino Community 09-30-2020

October 15, 2020

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — We are Philly Proud to continue celebrating Hispanic Heritage month 2020.

Anchor Walter Perez joined a distinguished, multi-generational panel of local Hispanic leaders for 6abc’s ‘State of the Latino Community’ on Wednesday night.

Topics covered during this hour-long conversation include COVID-19’s effect on the community, voting & voter mobilization in the Latino community, the Census, the current social justice movement around police brutality/protests, effects of gun violence in our local communities and the generational debate on Latin vs. LatinX.

We were also joined by 2020 6abc Philly Proud Community Leader honoree – Nilda Ruiz- President & CEO, APM – Associación Puertorriquenos en Marcha.

Panel:
Nilda Ruiz – President & CEO, APM – Associación Puertorriquenos en Marcha
Ricardo Hurtado – President & CEO, Hispanic Media, Publisher of El Sol Newspaper

Joanna Otero-Cruz – Deputy Managing Director for Community Services, City of Philadelphia
Judge Nelson Diaz – Lawyer, Author
Yocasta Lora – AARP, Associate State Director of Advocacy & Community Outreach, Co-founder of Dominicanos of the Delaware Valley
Dr. Adrian Rivera Reyes – Commissioner for the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission for Latino Affairs

Fire and Storms Push Demand for Emergency Shelter to a New High

October 5, 2020

 

Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The Red Cross has provided more nights of shelter to Americans this year than at any point on record, a sign of the widening human toll of climate change.

WASHINGTON — A year already filled with historic wildfires and hurricanes can now claim another dubious distinction: Americans have spent far more time in emergency housing than in any year during the past decade, smashing 2017’s full-year record with three months left to go.

“This is an exceptional year,” said Trevor Riggen, senior vice president for disaster services for the American Red Cross, which houses most disaster victims who need assistance. “And we’re not even close to done,” he said, considering that the traditional wildfire season in the West is just getting started, and hurricanes remain a threat through November.

The Red Cross has provided 807,454 nights of shelter to disaster victims nationwide through Sept. 25, according to data provided by the organization. That far surpasses 2017’s end-of-year total of 658,000, and is more than four times the annual average between 2011 (the earliest year for which comparable data is available) and 2019.

The surge reflects the growing toll of climate change, as the country has staggered from disaster to disaster.

In the Atlantic, this year’s hurricane season has already broken records by producing more named storms, more quickly, than in any previous year, capped with the highly unusual one-two punch of Hurricanes Marco and Laura both striking the Gulf Coast in late August.

On the other side of the country, the West Coast has suffered through some of its worst wildfires on record. Blazes that began in mid-August have burned almost 4 million acres in California, killing 30 people and destroying more than 7,500 structures as of midday Thursday. In Oregon, huge fires raced through the western part of the state, where forests historically have been too wet to burn.

Climate change has made large-scale disasters like these more common, scientists say. Warmer ocean waters provide more energy for hurricanes, while higher temperatures and longer droughts make forests more combustible.

At first, emergency managers worried that this year’s coronavirus pandemic would discourage people from evacuating their homes even when told to leave. But the numbers reveal a different problem: In response to the cascading disasters, demand for emergency shelter has exploded.

At the same time, the Red Cross has been forced to shelter more disaster victims in hotels and motels rather than traditional spaces like school gymnasiums, where clusters of strangers in close quarters could create hot spots for spreading Covid-19.

Part of the growth in demand quite likely reflects the economic fallout from the pandemic, Mr. Riggen said: As people lose their jobs, more families than usual may struggle to pay for emergency accommodation on their own, forcing them to turn to the Red Cross for help.

But the bulk of the growth is from the scale of the disasters themselves, he said, particularly with many of them striking the same areas numerous times.

The largest number of overnight stays this year, 358,545, have been in Louisiana. While that state has been struck by several hurricanes and tropical storms this year, the greatest damage was from Hurricane Laura, which hit the southwest part of the state on Aug. 27 as a Category 4 storm with wind speeds of 150 miles per hour — the first time since 1856 that the state has experienced a storm of that strength.

That led to the largest evacuation effort for a hurricane since Hurricane Gustav in 2008, according to Mike Steele, spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Most of Cameron Parish, where Laura made landfall, is still under a mandatory evacuation order, Mr. Steele said. More than a month after the hurricane, almost 9,000 victims of Laura remain in hotels in Louisiana, and more than 4,000 are in hotels in Texas. And those figures reflect only those people who needed help leaving or finding shelter.

Being away from their homes for extended periods means children remain out of school and people away from their jobs, Mr. Steele pointed out. At the same time, the region is struggling to get back to normal: More than two-thirds of households in Cameron Parish were still without power as of Wednesday, according to data from the Louisiana Public Service Commission.

“You don’t want too many people returning home until the emergency services and medical facilities and those kinds of things can catch up,” Mr. Steele said. “You kind of have to balance those things.”

Credit…Eric Thayer/Getty Images

 

The need for shelter also grew in Texas, which was hit by Hurricane Hanna in July, and then Tropical Storm Marco and Hurricane Laura a month later. The Red Cross has provided 213,282 overnight stays in Texas so far this year, including to Louisiana residents who had to leave because of Laura.

Most of the other nights of shelter provided by the Red Cross were in California and Oregon, which accounted for 144,968 and 45,362 overnight stays. Those two states have experienced some of the worst wildfires in their history in the past six weeks.

The evacuations in California reached a high point in late August, when some 140,000 people were evacuated from their homes, according to Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. As of Thursday, that figure was more than 96,000.

In Oregon, the number of people under some level of evacuation warning peaked at about 500,000, according to the state’s Wildfire Joint Information Center. “We have no hesitation stating Oregon has not seen a disaster of this magnitude until now,” Andrew Phelps, director of the state’s Office of Emergency Management, said in a statement.

The Red Cross numbers don’t capture everyone forced to leave their homes because of disasters. Many people stay with family or friends, or pay for a hotel room out of pocket or through their insurance. But because federal and state officials don’t track annual evacuation figures, Red Cross shelter data offers a way to gauge the acceleration of climate-driven displacement.

The psychological consequences of being forced from one’s home by disaster can be devastating and long-lasting, according to Jane Webber, an assistant professor in the counselor education department at Kean University in New Jersey, and author of a book on mental health counseling for disaster survivors. “We always think we’re going to be safe in our home,” Dr. Webber said. So when a disaster forces somebody to flee their home, “you lose your stability and your safety.”

For some people, the anxiety and fear caused by a disaster can lead to physical trauma, Dr. Webber added, making them more susceptible to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other afflictions. “Our body remembers the trauma and the disaster, almost more than our mind does,” she said.

That trauma can be particularly hard on vulnerable communities, including low-income families and minorities, according to Dr. Hector Colon-Rivera, president of the American Psychiatric Association’s Hispanic Caucus and medical director of a nonprofit organization for Hispanic communities.

Hispanics and African-Americans tend to be at greater risk from disasters in the first place, Dr. Colon-Rivera said, because they’re more likely to live in areas with poor flood control, zoning or other protections against natural hazards.

And because minorities are more likely to work in jobs that require them to show up in person, they’re more likely to lose their income if a disaster forces them to seek shelter away from their neighborhood. That, in turn, puts families at risk of going hungry, which makes the emotional and physical health effects even worse.

“It’s a domino effect,” Dr. Colon-Rivera said. “It’s a mess.”

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