The grass will be a little bit greener when it’s time to play ball.
The youth athletic fields in South Philadelphia along Packer Avenue have been in need of upgrades in several areas. So its newest neighbor stepped in to help out.
On Thursday, the future Live! Casino and Hotel Philadelphia, which is owned by the Cordish Companies and set to open on nearby Packer Avenue early next year, donated more than $80,000 to help spruce up the parks.
The money was donated through grants from the Community Charitable Fund, which was established to enhance the neighborhoods surrounding the casino project. It will help a pair of youth organizations in the Delaware Valley Youth Athletic Association and Southeast Youth Athletic Association, which play games and host tournaments at the complex.
“The kids in the community certainly deserve this,” said Joann McAfee, president of Southeast Youth Athletic Association. “It’s been a long time of waiting to make all the fields better in our community.”
The Southeast Youth Athletic Association serves about 3,000 children a year through baseball, softball, soccer and basketball at their home at 7th and Bigler streets. The organization received $43,416.50 to replace all electrical wiring and electrical panel boards to support the installation of LED lights at each of its nine athletic fields.
“Our electrical panel was from 1994,” said McAfee. “It was put up when JFK stadiums were imploded. We received the lighting from there. At one point, we were scared to even flick the lights on in fear of being electrocuted.”
The Delaware Valley Youth Athletic Association, which is headquartered at 19th and Johnston streets, has taken on more responsibility over the years, hoping to maintain multiple playing fields in South Philly.
“When we took over these fields six years ago, it’s a bigger complex and we need all the help we can get,” said Anthony Verratti, president of DVYAA. “It’s a lot of money to keep it going.”
The Delaware Valley Youth Athletic Association received $39,720 to install an irrigation system and new fencing on multiple athletic fields, which will certainly help with its mission.
“This is a blessing not only for us, but for the kids,” Verratti said. “They can have nice fields and play on safe fields and not have to travel all over.”
Both youth organizations gathered with Casino and city officials for check presentations at 7th and Packer under clear blue skies and on grass that figures to only get greener.
City Councilmember Mark Squilla, who grew up playing sports on those South Philly fields, said the partnership between the casino and youth organizations was a perfect match.
“When the casino was being built, they reached out to the community and said we’re working in your neighborhood and would like to be your partner,” Squilla said. “A lot of times, you don’t get that with developments. Today, we have a great partner in Live! Casino to be able to come here and give a check to our organizations who really work with our youth.”
According to Live! Casino Philadelphia, more is to come.
The grants are part of a larger $350,000 initial Community Charitable Fund commitment prior to the opening of the casino. Additional annual financial commitments will be announced in early 2021 upon the Casino’s grand opening.
“From the beginning of this project, we have stated our intention to be active, engaged members of this dynamic, diverse and welcoming community,” said Joe Billhimer, executive vice president, Cordish Gaming Group. “In making these grants, we support the very heart of the Stadium District – sports. South Philadelphia’s children deserve athletic facilities that mirror the professional fields right in their own backyards, and we are so honored to award these grants to two organizations that work hard to make dreams come true for young athletes. We look forward to seeing the enhancements these grants allow these dedicated groups to make and we are excited to share more details about additional grant recipients in the coming months.”
The donation was a solid addition to the fundraising work that the two youth groups have done to keep their organizations afloat.
“Our South Philly community came through,” Verratti said. “We were knocking on doors for donations and no one said, ‘No,’ to us. They all gave us something even though businesses were struggling in the middle of a pandemic.”