As I was delivering extra copies of the Globe Times to the McDonald’s at Woodland Avenue and 59th Street several weeks ago, a voice called to me from across the restaurant. It came from an old Southwest friend and colleague, John McCollough, founder and director of the Philadelphia Training Group. For many years, John and his team had shepherded young boys and girls to learn carpentry and maintenance skills they could use for a career or as knowledgeable homeowners someday.
Thirty years ago a group of members from mainline Wayne Presbyterian Church spread out around Southwest on a “Saturday of Service” to inaugurate its CityLights urban/suburban faith-based partnership with caring groups and individuals in Southwest. The project which fell to some of us that day was painting the entrance area of Myers Recreation Center at 58th Street and Kingssessing Avenue.
Some of us spent the morning hours perched on precarious ladders with local resident Phil Bradley – applying about as much bright blue paint to our coveralls as we did on Myers aged walls.
As we were departing back to the suburbs, proud of our labors, however, we received a humbling comeuppance from the project supervisor, the grizzled McCollough, “We hope we see you again, of course, but the pattern has been for your suburbanites to come down here once and we never see you again!”
Over the decades, we’ve bumped into John at various volunteer locations in Southwest. In fact, a mini-project developed with PTG where pairs of youngsters from Kingsessing were engaged to learn house painting skills from my son Alan who was a contractor in New Jersey. Groups of the city kids were also employed to paint the ceiling and walls of the 1876 chapel of the Wayne Church under Alan’s direction. They learned the rudiments of commercial painting and one young man did eventually start his own painting business in the city.
My own Southwest volunteering eventually found its way to Southwest CDC on Paschall Avenue and 12 years as the editor and publisher of its Globe Times newspaper – and now as a humble reporter.
“I see you’re still here,” said John. It was perhaps the greatest compliment that I’ve ever received!