GAMP quartet goes hands on with Rebuilding Together Philadelphia

Gabriella D’Alonzo has a simple directive for those who wish to enhance communal morale — volunteer.

The 18-year-old and three peers at Girard Academic Music Program, 2136 W. Ritner St., acknowledged altruism’s power this spring by assisting Rebuilding Together Philadelphia as their senior youth service project. Through their twofold participation, the students helped the organization to continue its 25-year mission to improve low-income homeowners’ abodes.

“I love helping people, especially through volunteering,” D’Alonzo said Tuesday at her Girard Estate school. “It makes every day so much better.”

The resident of the 1900 block of Ritner Street and classmates Olivia Busillo, Florencia Ferthio and Tamar Jackson united in March upon social science instructor Brian Terpak’s revelation of their culminating task. With freedom to choose their topic, the young ladies pondered plans that involved advocating for children and domestic violence victims, yet, knowing they needed to select what would yield a tangible result, they elected to pursue means to relax distressed homeowners’ burdens.

“I came up with the idea to help that population,” 18-year-old Ferthio, of the 1600 block of Moore Street, said. “Gabriella did outreach and when she found Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, we felt that was the best chance to help.”

The local, independent affiliate of Rebuilding Together, Inc., the nation’s leading nonprofit offering home repairs, improvements and modifications for financially downtrodden individuals, the Philadelphia chapter acts as one of more than 200 divisions responsible for 10,000 annual projects. D’Alonzo corresponded with administrator and program coordinator Jen Wootten, who informed them of an ongoing project in the city’s Logan section.

“There was a great sense of pride among us in being able to offer any help,” Jackson, an 18-year-old West Philadelphia dweller, said.

As the organization often finds itself drawing support from college and graduate school learners, including matriculators at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the originating institution, the GAMP enrollees found themselves as the youngest assistants partaking in April 27’s National Rebuilding Day.

“The personnel really work to make life as comfortable as possible for the recipients of the upgrades,” D’Alonzo said, adding that chores included ceiling and garden maintenance, air conditioning installation, insulation and a railing painting.

Because their early spring introduction to the chapter resulted in limited involvement with the Logan undertaking, they desired to make a unique contribution to the cause and decided to hold a bake sale.

“We really wanted to make a difference, and we think that helped us to make an even bigger one,” Busillo said.

The 17-year-old resident of the 1800 block of Shunk Street won rave reviews for her brownies, with Ferthio drawing compliments for her cupcakes. With encouragement from an outside source to generate enough funds to merit a matching contribution, the teenagers raised $740 over a two-week stretch in early May and had their amount doubled thanks to their generous ally. Their school hosted Rebuilding Together Philadelphia Executive Director Carrie Rathmann May 29, giving her the money from their culinary crusade and learning from the overseer that their brainchild had accumulated more funds than many organizations’ projects.

“That felt great to hear,” D’Alonzo said, noting their decision to couple their interest in communal growth with Rebuilding Together Philadelphia’s quest for the alleviation of stress among the 60,000 low-income city homeowners has resonated as their most hope-affirming endeavor. “We essentially learned that a little effort can produce so many positive results.”

The organization’s board uses “A Safe and Healthy Home for Every Person” as its guiding principle and consistently gathers committed parties throughout Philadelphia for Saturday events. Though their April assignment took them out of South Philly, the girls anticipate occasions to help the realm all have called home in one sense.

“We enjoyed this so much that any chance to contribute is something we’ll welcome, especially since we’ve already developed a great relationship with Carrie and her colleagues,” D’Alonzo said. “If it’s in South Philly, that will be even better.”

As the youngsters approach their Wednesday graduation, they have given much attention to reflecting on their farewell duty. No matter what their futures might involve, they will retain the importance of using the present to enhance the future.

“I’ve learned I love helping people, too, and that it’s important to make connections,” Ferthio, a future biology major at Drexel University, said.

“It’s very important to bounce ideas off people and work for the advantage of as many people as possible,” West Chester University-bound nursing major Jackson added.

Set to head to Temple University for nursing and photography, respectively, Busillo and D’Alonzo aim to extend their altruism, too.

“I’ve have to get used to making connections because I’m often shy,” Busillo said. “This should benefit me later, then.”

“This could help me to figure out what I might want to pursue as another college course of study or vocation,” D’Alonzo added. “It’s amazing that something as easy as giving your time can teach you so much.”

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Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at or ext. 124.