As Monday’s rain replenished the garden soil of The Central Club for Boys and Girls, 2537 Alter St., Rev. Stanley Wilson pondered his Grays Ferry roots.
The 62-year-old preacher had his prayers answered May 15, as the Court of Common Pleas granted a six-month stay of execution on the sale of two nearby lots he acquired in October 2010. The overseer of eight spaces along the 2500 block of Alter Street, has embarked on a crusade to have affiliated debt forgiven, a move that, if successful, will sustain full operation of the organization his mother Mabel Wilson chartered in 1946.
Having enlisted the Public Interest Law Center to gain a 90-day delay, Stanley Wilson, the club’s 10-year leader, is seeking to receive rulings from the Philadelphia Office of Property Assessment pertaining to prospective and retroactive nonprofit real estate tax exemptions. He obtained the lots through a quiet title action and, not having received advice from former counsel to file nonprofit exemption applications for any of the properties, found himself stunned in November when learning of the proposed sale of 2530 and 2540 Alter St., a pair of places key to his group’s mission to fortify the future of children through gardening.
“Today’s generation lacks resources,” the West Parkside resident said from his childhood home. “This matter centers on preserving opportunities, most notably green space. This is not for selfish gain.”
He learned altruism from his matriarch, who in ’29 began to serve neighbors meals with the yield from her adjacent garden. Bible study sessions, 4-H clubs and Boy and Girl Scout troops followed, with the association’s ’47 incorporation allowing Mabel Wilson to broaden her advocacy. She tended to lots created after the demolition of numerous homes, with those from 2521-33 and 2536-40 becoming her hub. They have remained a source of pride for her progeny.
“We have an impressive roster of products,” Stanley Wilson, himself a descendant of Saturday gatherings, said of participants. “We have also had zero crime.”
Though he has never had to dwell on devious doings, the religious figure must contemplate massive debt. With no timeline on when the City might render its decision, he needs to raise $20,000 for the two main lots. The others remain untouched, but if the City were to offer them, he expects each would cost him around $10,000 to salvage.
“It is devastating,” he said of the thought of losing any turf, especially 2540.
The address serves as the focal spot for club programming, as well as a destination for parties, repasts and reunions. An example of the final element will occur June 16, as participants past and present will unite to celebrate their founder’s vision.
“Mabel Wilson made so many sacrifices,” Gwendolyn Belle-Scott, of 25th and Ellsworth streets, said. “We have to continue to make similar ones if we are to preserve pleasant childhoods for this area’s youth.”
Like Stanley Wilson, Belle-Scott and sister Jacquelyn Belle-Moore have gone from being enthused youngsters to enjoying time as edifying elders, eagerly joining the current crop of 40 to 50 youths, including Belle-Scott’s grandson Deshaun Howard, for gardening sessions.
“I enjoy working with the fruit,” the fourth-grader at St. Gabriel School, 2917 Dickinson St., said.
The satisfaction with tradition was evident Monday, as Stanley Wilson and several ladies looked after the plants. They recently lost an apple tree yet still oversee an impressive collection of goods. Regardless of the contents, Belle-Moore has noticed the garden, the club’s chief identifier, has allowed residents to expand notions of community care.
“They want to build this neighborhood,” the former inhabitant of 26th and Ellsworth streets said. “The identity of the area matters to them, and they want to make it excel even more.”
Stanley Wilson and his colleagues credit Mabel Wilson for their infectious positivity. Their hero developed an interest in assisting children as a teenager and maintained infatuation with their advancement until she passed two years ago at the age of 96.
“She enjoyed arts and crafts, especially,” her son said of the late stages of his parent’s life.
The City esteemed the figure so much it named the 2500 block of Alter Street “Mabel Wilson Walk” in 2009. When Stanley Wilson succeeded her, he knew bold moves would have to be made to bolster the club’s existence. Citing adverse possession, he gained the eight locations to ward off any potential, however minimal, for blight. Minus recommendations from prior legal figures, he incurred the back taxes from previous owners.
In a letter to the Office of Property Assessment, Public Interest staff attorney Amy Laura Cahn relayed that before her retention, then-City Council President Anna Verna’s office became aware of Stanley Wilson’s tax burden with the resolution of the quiet title action. The office negotiated with Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, acting on behalf of U.S. Bank, partial owner of the tax debt on 2530 and 2540, striking up a payment plan for the two locations. Stanley Wilson failed to receive word of the plan and rushed to find representation after receiving a notice of neglected remission. Cahn filed applications for nonprofit real estate tax exemption for him Dec. 30.
Having received nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service May 17, ’11, Stanley Wilson recorded deeds for the tax lien foreclosure case properties Jan. 30, becoming the owner. Last month’s bit of good news came one day before the sale would have occurred and has helped him to rally the horticultural devotees.
“We have this over our heads, but we are not fretting,” he said of the predicament of having to raise money while also being aware his petition to have the taxes waived could win favor at any time. “We are just trying to continue the good work established generations ago.”
Prior to the downpour, he and the others shared reflections, including ones on 2521’s “Cowboy Hill,” a plot whose sloping terrain promotes sledding and bicycle riding, and anticipated adding chapters to the club’s annals. They have diligently overseen the lots and have customarily crafted a full slate of activities for the children and the seniors, with the latter who have passed receiving a memorial garden. This year’s builders include last month’s annual planting day, a youth poetry jam, sports, health and wellness classes and trips. Camaraderie will welcome a bit of competition for October’s harvest fair.
“That is going to be the ‘Battle of the Roses,’” Stanley Wilson said.
He has intensified promotion of the club’s history and aims to secure funds, knowing the extra time is a blessing but not a symbol of survival.
“Today’s kids need something,” he said. “This club has worked to give every child from every neighborhood an educational option. Since we have a history of drawing [participants] from all over, he have ‘Central’ in our name. We want to help kids and parents to see that they, like the thousands before them, keep neighborhoods thriving.”
For more information, call Stanley Wilson, 215-913-4804.
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124. Comment at southphillyreview.com/news/features.