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Memes, flip phones: North Philly tries new tools in fight against coronavirus

April 13, 2020

Memes, flip phones: North Philly tries new tools in fight against coronavirus

A woman wearing a surgical mask makes her way past a mural on the west side of the Save-A-Lot store at 22nd and Lehigh. (Michael Bryant/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
A woman wearing a surgical mask makes her way past a mural on the west side of the Save-A-Lot store at 22nd and Lehigh. (Michael Bryant/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)


First, preschool director Michele Ayala and her teachers delivered tablet computers with six months of free internet access to the homes of the 133 preschoolers who attend Trinidad Head Start in Fairhill.

Then Ayala set up an app to send videos to the kids and communicate with parents. When that was a big hit, she launched multiple daily Zoom lessons for her “babies” so they wouldn’t lose any of the learning they’d been absorbing since September.

“We get videos and messages and pictures from our kiddos saying how much they miss us and are sad and they want to go back to school,” said Ayala, whose center is one of four operated by the community development organization Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha.

“We write them back, ‘This is just temporary. It’s for us to be safe. This is what is needed right now so when everything is normal, everything is safe for you to go back to school. We’ve got to practice being safe. We’ve got to make the right choices,’” Ayala said.

Ayala and her staff aren’t alone in dedicating long hours and trying new methods to help the city and its vulnerable residents weather the coronavirus lockdown.

Teachers, health care workers, elected officials, grocery store operators, delivery drivers, community organizers and many volunteers have worked overtime for weeks to encourage everyone to comply with Mayor Jim Kenney’s stay-at-home order — and make it feasible for them to do so.

Figures released by the city underline the importance of staying at home, especially in areas like Trinidad’s Fairhill community, where higher rates of chronic health problems, layered with deep social inequities, present the perfect storm for a pandemic.

While the scarcity of testing masks the true number of infected people, a city map counting positive tests for coronavirus in each ZIP code shows a high rate in the school’s 19133 district. Nearly 37% of the 247 people tested in the zip tested positive for COVID-19 infection as of April 9.

Measured by income, the North Philadelphia neighborhood ranks as the city’s poorest, with many residents who do not have access to health care or stable housing, other factors that increase vulnerability to the disease. About half the population is Latinx and a large number do not speak English as a first language.

The virus may be spreading more in those areas because the residents can’t afford to stay at home from work or haven’t absorbed the message about sheltering in place, because of language barriers or because they don’t know anyone who has gotten sick and have not internalized the risks, public health experts say.

“I’m very, very frustrated,” Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez said.

The councilmember said she heard from doctors at Temple University Hospital that they were seeing a high number of positive tests among Latinx residents, even as her constituents were reporting egregious cases of people gathering outdoors in large groups.

On the last Thursday of March, mild weather drew dozens of people to Waterloo Playground in the West Kensington-Fairhill area, Quiñones-Sánchez said. “They cut one of the gates and there were like 50 kids playing in there, kids and adults. The neighbors were all sending me clips from their cameras, texting me, inboxing me.”

People broke the fence at Waterloo Playground on North Howard Street after the city closed recreation facilities to promote social distancing. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The councilmember said she has been inundated with messages on every imaginable app and social media platform since the coronavirus crisis reached Philadelphia. Many of the calls and messages come from Kensington, where drug users and dealers still cluster on street corners, ignoring the police who periodically drive by with bullhorns, telling them to disperse.

“The residents who live there are like, ‘I can’t go outside. All these people can be contaminated.’ What’s already a bad situation becomes untenable,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “You can imagine the frustrated calls that I’ve gotten.”


The need to comply with the city’s orders is particularly urgent in areas where widespread chronic health problems make residents more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 symptoms. In Hunting Park-Fairhill, 23% of residents are in poor physical health compared to 14% citywide, according to a 2019 report by the city’s Department of Public Health.

Nearby Upper Kensington had the bottom ranking for health outcomes in the report, with similar figures to Fairhill for several health conditions.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley has said the city is not using the ZIP code data to target public health outreach since the virus is present in all areas and services are being delivered citywide.

“This virus does not discriminate,” Farley said during a recent news conference. “The virus is in every neighborhood. It’s in every population. Everyone needs to take our recommendations seriously to avoid getting the infection or passing on the infection.”

But in recent days the city has released data showing that African Americans are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Thirty-eight percent of coronavirus deaths in the city were people who identified as African American while 24% percent were white. The city does not know the racial identity of 36%.

About 44% of the city’s population is Black and 34% non-Hispanic white.

Councilmember Cindy Bass, whose district encompasses majority-Black areas with high rates of people testing positive, described the situation as the tragic outgrowth of longstanding inequalities.

She said poverty and a lack of access to health care, a feeling of distance from the pandemic and longstanding cultural practices may be leading people to ignore the stay-at-home order and risk infection.

“In the African American community we have been known to go to work when we’re sick, we’ve been known to go to work when there’s a tragedy. Like, ‘I don’t have time to worry about coronavirus. I’ve got to worry about keeping the lights on. I’ve got to worry about keeping a roof over my head,’” Bass said. “Coronavirus seems far away, very distant, like, ‘I’ll worry about that when it gets here.’ And we just can’t do that.”

She wondered why the ZIP code data wasn’t playing a bigger role in shaping the city’s strategy for containing the pandemic.

“Why wouldn’t we target an area that has a lot of people who are being affected at a higher rate than other areas throughout the city?” Bass said. “What’s the use of data if you’re not using it to make decisions and to move resources?”

Tailoring the message

One strategy to encourage people to stay at home and practice social distancing is to have charismatic, beloved public figures put out the message in a way that resonates with residents, said Carolyn Cannuscio, a social epidemiologist at the University of Pennsylvania. She cited the example of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who made a funny video of herself doing various activities at home and internet memes showing her looming over the city, blocking entrances to parks and telling people to stay home.

Mayor Lightfoot #StayHomeSaveLives


Just a friendly reminder from your Auntie to stay home.

View image on Twitter

That’s the kind of creative approach City Council could take using a $400,000 appropriation for social distancing messaging approved last week as part of an $85.4 million emergency spending bill.

Quiñones-Sánchez and others said messages need to be expressed in everyday terms that people understand, rather than vague, technical terms like “flattening the curve.”

The councilmember said she envisions robocalls targeted to senior citizens or other vulnerable residents and printed materials like postcard mailers in multiple languages. Others at City Hall have begun experimenting with memes.

On a conference call organized by Temple University’s Center for Urban Bioethics, an African American community leader from Nicetown urged officials to tailor their messaging to young people, Quiñones-Sánchez said.

“She was like, ‘With all due respect, when you say social distancing, I’m not sure my community gets this. We need to talk about physically staying away from each other.’ Social distancing may be a little too fancy and not getting to the point with some folks,” the councilmember said.

Above and beyond the messaging challenges, there are cognitive biases to battle in all parts of the city.

Social scientists call one type of misperception of risk the “availability heuristic,” Cannuscio said.“If people don’t have an example from their own lives that’s accessible to them of, for example, someone who’s sick with COVID-19, it feels like such an abstract and remote threat that it’s hard to activate the protective mechanisms that would really get people to engage in social distancing,” she said.

Another phenomenon at work is “optimism bias,” where people underestimate risk or think they’ll fare better in a difficult situation than others, Cannuscio said. People are also bad at estimating physical distances, and may think they’re six feet apart when they’re actually closer, she said.

Cannuscio said she’s looked out the windows of her home next to Taney Park, on the east bank of the Schuylkill River, and been upset to see her neighbors and others picnicking despite the city’s social distancing order. It’s vital to remind everyone about the importance of staying at home. But at the same time, she said, there’s also a place for compassion for people fulfilling an “intense need to connect” during an extremely stressful time.

“We’re asking people to change so many behaviors in such a short period of time,” she said.

Cannuscio said it’s important to engineer environments in ways that establish clear social norms and make it easier for people to comply. At her local farmer’s market, Cannuscio annoyed a neighbor by suggesting they stagger their visits into a vendor’s crowded tent, but by the following week the market had set up a handwashing station and drawn lines on the ground six feet apart to encourage social distancing without conflict, she said.

Likewise, people need to have the ability to follow the rules, said Dr. Kathleen Reeves, the director of Temple’s Center for Urban Bioethics.

Children need educational opportunities or other activities they can do at home, like those being provided by Ayala and her staff at Trinidad preschool. Elderly people may need flip phones to maintain social contacts if they don’t know how to use computers, and many people need to get nutrition without going out, Reeves said.

After participants on the center’s conference call expressed concerns about infection rates among the Latinx community, the group arranged to print 10,000 flyers about social distancing in Spanish and English. Cousins Supermarket inserted the flyers into customers’ grocery bags and Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha posted them in the windows of corner stores.

Some North Philadelphia communities are understandably wary about public health information they hear. They are more likely to trust information received through community partners who they know well, such as APM, Nicetown CDC and local churches, Reeves said.

Reeves said the center is coordinating with community organizations to deliver 300 bags of groceries weekly, especially to households with senior citizens and children. Temple is funding the deliveries with help from donors, she said. Separately, Cousins Supermarket donated and delivered groceries to 60 seniors in coordination with APM.

“If you have folks who are food-insecure, and you’re telling everyone to stay home, but they have no food, well, that’s not a reasonable thing to ask,” Reeves said. “Trying to help people have the tools they need to enact what we’re asking them to do is also very important.”

APM Addressing the Digital Divide/Tablet Delivery 3-30-2020

March 30, 2020

APM Tablet Delivery

At Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha, we are committed to our mission to help families achieve their greatest potential.  Today, our leadership and educators from the Early Childhood Education service area delivered nearly 700 tablets to the students that we serve.  The action taken today was truly empowering and the definition of selflessness.  Our commitment to those that we serve prioritizes service over self.  Thank you to TruMark Financial Credit Union for the resources to purchase the tablets and T-Mobile for providing 6 months of free internet service.

Trumark Financial



APM 50th Anniversary Media Kit

February 13, 2020

APM 50th Anniversary Media Kit


Please Click the Button to view material in relation to the upcoming events going on at APM during our 50th Anniversary:


APM Media Kit



Dr. Colon-Rivera Behavioral Health Speaker Series Plug 2-13-2020

February 13, 2020

APM Medical Director Interviewed by Syrmarie Villalobos on Telemundo 62


APM Medical Director Dr. Hector Colon-Rivera was interviewed yesterday by Syrmarie Villalobos on Telemundo 62.  Dr. Colon-Rivera spoke about our Behavioral Health Speaker Panel being held this evening at WHYY at 150 North Sixth Street.  This panel, the first of our 50th Anniversary Speaker Series, will have a keynote speech by Mackenzie Phillips, Actress, Author and Survivor of Substance Abuse.  The evening will also feature a panel of professionals, who will discuss Cultural Competency and Economics in the Provision of Care.  Our featured panel includes:

Michael Cram, Staff Inspector for the Philadelphia Police Department

Derrick Pelletier, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs

Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Councilwoman for the 7th District

Robert Torres, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Aging

Hector Colon-Rivera, MD,CMRO, Medical Director, APM (Moderator)



February 10, 2020



  Contact:  Barbara Beck



610-246-9167 (cell)



Actress and author to speak to APM community about experiences with substance abuse


PHILADELPHIA — (Feb. 5)Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (Association of Puerto Ricans on the March or APM) is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a four-part Speaker Series, bringing together thought leaders, experts and activists to discuss issues central to the organization. The first event in the series will feature actress, author and survivor of substance abuse Mackenzie Phillips on Thursday, Feb. 13, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at WHYY, Inc. (150 N 6th St, Philadelphia, PA 19106). Tickets are available at: https://apm-for-everyone.ticketleap.com/apm-bhsp-mackenziephillips/.

Phillips will deliver a keynote address about her journey of overcoming substance abuse. Speaking from her own experiences, she will share her wisdom about the approaches available to help those on their way to recovery and other practical treatments. Other topics to be discussed during the evening include access to medical treatments and opportunities for mental health services, increases in suicide rates, substance abuse and addiction.

Following Phillips’ speech, APM Medical Director Dr. Hector Colon-Rivera will moderate a panel discussion involving professionals from health care and public policy as well as other community stakeholders. Among them will be Derrick Pelletier, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs; Robert Torres, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging; Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez; and Michael Cram, Staff Inspector at the Philadelphia Police Department.

“APM strives to show the humanity behind the struggles that come with securing basic and necessary community needs,” said Nilda Ruiz, president and CEO of APM. “Bringing together Mackenzie Phillips and other behavioral health leaders will empower those we serve to take ownership over their health-related care.”

Phillips, who rose to fame in the 1973 film “American Graffiti” and the ‘70s sitcom “One Day at a Time,” has been open about her drug addiction battle. More recently, she played the role of Barb in “Orange is the New Black” and is the Program Director of Referral Relations and a substance use disorder counselor at Breathe Life Healing Center in Los Angeles, specializing in trauma and treatment and recovery for drug and alcohol addiction. She has detailed her personal journey in the New York Times bestselling memoir, “High on Arrival,” and another book, “Hopeful Healing: Essays on Managing Recovery and Surviving Addiction.”

In its 50 years serving Philadelphians, APM has become a leader in providing behavioral health and support services, drug and alcohol treatment, and family therapy. With two mental health clinics and multiple locations for individual assessments, behavioral therapy and recovery support, APM works to help those who need it most. The 50th Anniversary Speaker Series is a means to merge the good APM does in Philadelphia communities with a closer look at the larger societal issues at-hand. Sonia Manzano, John Quiñones and Elizabeth Smart will join APM for future Speaker Series events.


About APM

APM is a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life for residents in the Greater Philadelphia Area through direct services and outreach. APM’s vision: A community where all families are self-reliant, children are protected and nurtured to become future leaders and residents are engaged in their community. We offer a full spectrum of bilingual and culturally sensitive services related to education, health, human services and community and economic development.

To learn more, visit https://apmphila.org/ and follow the hashtag #APMTurns50 and @APMForEveryone on Twitter and Instagram.

APM Celebrates 50 Years and Counting

February 10, 2020

Contact:  Barbara Beck


215-209-3076, 610-246-9167 (cell)




Landmark anniversary to unfold throughout the year with new initiatives, community events and a star-studded speaker series

PHILADELPHIA—(February 3, 2020)—In 1970, a group of Puerto Rican veterans of the Vietnam War returned home to Philadelphia and saw that many basic social services were unavailable to the city’s Hispanic residents. They founded the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (Association of Puerto Ricans on the Move or APM) with the goal of bringing these services and other opportunities to the community. Still going strong in 2020, APM is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a yearlong slate of special events and programs.

Today’s APM serves more than 40,000 people a year and runs programs in housing assistance, employment training, physical and mental health, early childhood education, family counseling and other community services.

“This is a remarkable milestone for the residents of the neighborhoods we serve,” said Nilda Ruiz, APM’s president and chief executive officer. “APM has now brought life-programs to thousands of people. We’re everywhere our families are, and we never stop innovating and growing. That’s what keeps us timeless.”

Throughout 2020, APM will bring people together around the lessons that it has lived by: everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, is equally deserving of respect and opportunity.

Throughout 2020, the anniversary will bring people together through social impact initiatives and community events that reflect APM’s unifying messages.

One highlight will be APM’s 2020 Speaker Series, featuring thought leaders, experts and activists in public panel discussions on key current issues. The panels will be held at WHYY (150 N 6th Street) from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets are available at APM’s website at apmphila.org; go to the “Newsroom and Events” tab and click on “APM Speaker Series.”

The series will include the following panels:

  • Behavioral Health: Actress and author Mackenzie Phillips will speak at a Feb. 13 panel on behavioral health issues facing communities, including access to mental health care, substance abuse and rising suicide rates. This discussion will bring together professionals in health care and academia with public policy and community stakeholders.

  • Education: Sonia Manzano, who brought a Latina voice to “Sesame Street” as “Maria” from 1971 to 2015, will join panelists discussing early childhood education on March 19. Panelists will identify the best tools and resources as APM invests in children and their families.

  • Community and Economic Development: John Quinones, an ABC News correspondent and host of “What Would You Do?”, will highlight a panel of experts on community and economic development on April 22. Non-profit organizations throughout Philadelphia have worked for decades to create homeownership, affordable rentals and economic opportunities for low-income residents. This panel will examine the effectiveness of these efforts.

  • Child Protective Services: Child safety activist Elizabeth Smart joins a panel on child protective care services on May 21. Those in the foster care community work to improve the safety, permanency and well-being of children and families. Nonetheless, children in foster care often experience long-lasting trauma. This panel will look at possibilities and solutions.

Another key event in APM’s 50th anniversary year will be the annual Sugar Cane Festival on June 13. The festival is a family day of music, dance, food and culture, and is considered the unofficial “start of summer” for Latino Philly. Attendees can listen to live musical performances and dance to salsa, merengue, cumbia, afrobeat, reggaeton, soca and more. APM staff at the event will provide community residents information about the organization’s services.

The celebration of APM’s achievements culminates with the 50th Anniversary Gala on September 19.

APM began with a staff of five in a Germantown Avenue storefront. Today, nearly 400 multilingual professionals offer a range of services at 13 sites throughout North Philadelphia, transforming neighborhoods in the area.

In housing, APM has developed more than 160 ownership units and 200 safe, affordable rental units. APM counselors have helped families obtain financial assistance for housing and aided homeowners in repairing credit and avoiding foreclosures. Through private and government partnerships, APM stabilized 20 acres of housing that resulted in an investment of $70 million into the neighborhood east of Temple University. Thanks to its housing program, 114 formerly homeless families (256 people) have received permanent supportive housing.

Through its Early Childhood Education initiatives, APM has placed 610 three- and four-year-old children in high-quality preschools and many in before- and after-care centers. Last year, APM’s early childhood education students showed remarkable progress. At the beginning of the year, 64 percent were below expectations in literacy, with 61 percent below expectations in math. By the end, 85 percent met or exceeded expectations in literacy and 75 percent in math.

At two clinics, APM health professionals provide bilingual diagnoses and treatment to address the community’s mental health and well-being through individual and family counseling sessions. Multiple clinic locations offer substance abuse treatment, including individual assessments, behavioral therapy and medically assisted recovery.

APM employment counselors help job seekers with resume preparation and interviewing skills. Group workshops have focused on computer, financial literacy and English as a Second Language.

“We are often asked what APM’s legacy will be,” said Ruiz, who was born in Philadelphia after her parents moved to the city from Puerto Rico. “To me, a legacy is when something is over, and this isn’t over.”

“APM has a profound impact on the lives of North Philadelphia residents, setting a template that other organizations have followed now for a generation,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “Fifty years later, APM continues to deliver on its mission every day, in multiple neighborhoods throughout the city.”

Sponsors of APM’s 2020 anniversary celebration events include villaNOVA Insurance Partners, Goya Foods, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, Fox Rothschild LLP and Temple University.

To learn more, visit apmphila.org and follow along with the hashtag #APMTurns50 and @APMForEveryone on Twitter and Instagram.

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