New York Youth Visit Southwest

Youth from several United Church of Christ congregations in Tonawanda NY sort children’s books at WePAC in West Philly.  Their volunteering at other sites was coordinated by their Southwest hosts The Common Place.
Youth from several United Church of Christ congregations in Tonawanda NY sort children’s books at WePAC in West Philly. Their volunteering at other sites was coordinated by their Southwest hosts The Common Place.

The Common Place coordinates intensive volunteer program

This was an “Aha” moment for Troy Hengst from Tonawanda, New York.  Hengst had driven a busload of youth from there to The Common Place in Southwest to engage in a number of helping ministries.   They inventoried and cataloged hundreds of children’s books at West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC), mentored one-on-one with children at Myers Recreation Center, read with youngsters at  Cornerstone Christian Academy’s J-Rock summer camp, and did gardening at Presby Inspired Life apartments at Greenway Avenue and 58th Street.

The Common Place, the capacious community center at 58th Street and Chester Avenue, is dedicated to enriching the lives of families living in the neighborhood.  With plenty of space and lots of connections in Southwest, it was an ideal temporary home for the Tonawanda youth recruited from six United Church of Christ congregations in the area. Tonawanda is located North of Buffalo, and just Southeast of  Niagara Falls. 

“It was great to come down here and have our interaction with people who are engaged in real ministry and so well organized,” Hengst related.   It was not like some mission trips where “you came into a space and left with a feeling that the job was only half done.” Although TCP had only been established for five years, one knew that “a level of trust had been built in the community that was a great advantage to us.” 

Last week’s contingent was led by a team including Rev. Elizabeth Duffy, pastor of Zion UCC.  Through her denominational activities, she was in contact with Rev. Cean James of Grace Christian Fellowship and Director of CityLights Network based at TCP.  “It’s one thing to engage in religious work not only speaking the Gospel, but also living it out… that’s what Christ is all about,” Rev. Duffy reflected. 

Throughout the school year, The Common Place hosts a variety of programs including after school and Saturday morning programs for children and youth, instruction for both instrumental and choral music, and monthly an open “Common Worship and Common Meal” on  Sundays, and a popular men’s breakfast and fellowship on the third Saturdays.  

The three-week partnership with the Tonawanda UCC churches is ably coordinated by Hannah Johnson who directs the Common Place’s A.C.M.E. (A Common Mission Experience) program.   In line with its vision “A Sacred Place To Do Life Together,” TCP plans to bring other groups to Southwest so they can experience the benefits and challenges of urban life in Southwest Philadelphia.  

To learn more about what’s happening at The Common Place, visit www.thecommonplacephilly.org or phone 267-275-8238.  

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