The recently painted walls of Bethanna, a Point Breeze-based nonprofit serving vulnerable children and families, are now vibrant with variegated images of butterflies and bridges.
The mural, which wraps around the first floor of the newly established South Philadelphia space, was unveiled a few weeks ago in conjunction with nearly 50 pieces of artwork by local students.
Evoking themes of family and community, the new assemblage of art strives to reflect the essence of the Christian organization, which has served the Philadelphia region and beyond for close to a century
In early May, Bethanna, located at 2501 Reed St., officially celebrated the grand opening of its new South Philadelphia space after gradually moving to the location from Center City since August 2017.
The ribbon cutting, which was attended by representatives of the Department of Human Services, Community Behavioral Health, local political offices, parents, pastors and students, acknowledged a few causes for celebration, such as Bethanna’s scoring of five stars in three categories by the Community Behavioral Health for the 2018 provider profile.
But also, the event marked Bethanna’s 85th anniversary, as the organization re-establishes its central location from Center City to South Philly.
“The main core of what we do is working with vulnerable children and families,” said Karen Hamilton-Derry, CEO and president of Bethanna. “We do that through several different mechanisms…We’ve just been able to expand how we do it over the years.”
In striving to support youth and their families who are susceptible to physical or emotional dangers, the organization’s fundamental resources encompass children’s welfare services, behavioral health services, outpatient mental health clinics, clinical transition and stabilization services, and a children’s mobile crisis program for South and Southwest Philadelphia.
Through its child welfare services, Bethanna features the Community Umbrella Agency (CUA), which is a citywide entity under the city Department of Human Services.
Currently, CUA offers case management and other support services to 10 geographic regions around Philadelphia, and the recently established Bethanna in Point Breeze covers children living in the 17th, 3rd, 6th, 9th and 1st police districts. Ideally, the collaboration between the CUA and the police department will foster holistic services to families in neighborhoods of each district.
“Being in the community, we’re able to network with the support that the family is going to need once the crisis is averted,” said Benita Williams, Bethanna’s vice president of child welfare operations and CUA director.
With CUA services on the second floor, the first floor features an outpatient clinic, which includes resources such as mental health counseling and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy as well as visitation rooms, where parents who have children placed in the foster care system are able to have supervised weekly visits with their children.
“We try to give families not only tangible, concrete needs to be able to deal with poverty but trying to give them educational services and everything else to be able to stabilize their family unit,” Williams said.
For two decades, the central Bethanna hub was based in Center City, but now, the Point Breeze location has taken over this role, striving to be more accessible to the communities in which it serves.
A few years ago, the city’s Department of Human Services essentially decentralized the CUA system into various regions throughout the city in efforts to be closer to those populations in need.
The Point Breeze space now acts as a central point of CUA resources, touching the lives of vulnerable children and families even beyond the boundaries of South Philly, as its designated police districts reach just north of Center City.
“They wanted services to be brought right into the heart of the community,” Hamilton-Derry said. “…The closer you bring it to the heart of where they need is, then it’s accessible to people. You build those stronger relationships with other community organizations.”
The move to South Philadelphia continues to cultivate partnerships with local businesses, organizations and resources. Bethanna established a community advisory board, which consists of members from different organizations and businesses of South Philly, such as local churches and officials of Women Organized Against Rape.
Along the lines of community engagement, the organization also has a community festival scheduled for Saturday, July 20, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Smith Playground, 2100 S. 24th St.
“I think the families appreciate us being local because it’s almost like, ‘You can identify with us because you’re in the community,’” Williams said. “And, the whole goal is to make families self-sufficient, so we’re not in their lives forever. We want to be able to work with the families and connect them to the resources that are in the community.”
In commemoration of Bethanna’s 85th anniversary, coupled with its elevated efforts of community outreach in the new South Philly location, the organization reached out to local schools in February for students’ art submissions surrounding themes of family and community.
Bethanna received a scope of paintings ranging in canvas sizes and palettes shades from students of St. Monica Roman Catholic School, G.W. Childs Elementary School and Universal Audenried Charter High School.
“Because we are grounded in the community and that collaboration with the community is so important to us, we thought, what better way to highlight and showcase then to have this community art project?” Hamilton-Derry said. “Because, when the families and children come here, we want to give them a sense of community and a sense of connection and a sense of hope.”
At the ribbon cutting, the artwork, which hangs throughout the first floor of the building, was showcased alongside the mural by artist Shawn Rae Feimster.
The colorful masterpiece reflects the input of families and children who use Bethanna services as well as the visions of the organization’s nearly 140 staff members.
The new collection of creativity serves not only as an embellishment to the new building but concurrently as a source of serenity to those receiving Bethanna services and to those providing.
“When the children come in, they’re coming in to have a service need – to be able to see the artwork really brightens up their spirit, brightens up their day. And to see that other children have done it, it gives them a sense of, I would say, empowerment,” Williams said. “It also serves as a reminder to our staff of why we do this work…it serves as a reminder that we’re in this to help families, to help children.”
To learn more, visit: bethanna.org.