By Michael Hogan
John Bannan believes in the power of education. He also believes that when you see a need, you should try to do something to meet it. These beliefs led him to form the Philadelphia Children’s Foundation (PCF) in 2006, a non-profit organization that seeks to meet the needs of Philadelphia’s school aged youth in unique ways.
Located in Chestnut Hill Tower at 7600 Stenton Ave., Suite 1-B, the foundation began as a clearinghouse of online information for students, parents, teachers and administrators, and has become much larger by offering recycled computers, books, guest speakers, career clubs and workplace tours. PCF’s mission is to help children of all ages find their passion, develop needed skills and make positive career and life decisions to achieve a successful future.
Mr. Bannan, who requested that his age not be mentioned, has been interested in social justice since his high school days at St. Joseph’s Prep in North Philadelphia and his college days at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he was a student advisor.
As a young student he was well aware of the great inequity he saw all around him. “Here in Philadelphia we have a 27% poverty rate, and 41% of households in the city don’t even have a computer,” John said. “Kids living in the city have so few options, but I think we underestimate as a society what these kids are capable of achieving if just given the opportunity.”
And opportunity is what the Philadelphia Children’s Foundation is all about. In the past five years the foundation has worked for thousands of kids in more than a dozen city schools, including Germantown, Edison, Frankford, Overbrook and Bartram High Schools. The online resource guide (www.philly-connect.org), coordinated by Mayu Nakamura, continues to be updated and expanded. Hundreds of donated computers, refurbished by Ranee Grant, have been distributed to families in need. Dozens of guest speakers, coordinated by Christina Chiolo, have opened students’ eyes to the professional possibilities around them. And Tia Diggs, Director of Programming, continues to find new and exciting ways to get kids out of their everyday environment and into workplaces around the city that they never even knew existed.
In addition, the foundation collects books and donates them to school libraries, which is coordinated by Maysa Alijafari. John says that about half of Philadelphia’s public schools don’t even have libraries, and PCF will have donated about 7,000 books this year alone.
Of course, to keep programs like these running, the foundation needs donations and volunteers. “Anyone can help,” John said. “We have positioned ourselves to expand easily, but we need help to do that. We’ve had great success with all of our programs. I don’t think people realize just how much they would be appreciated by going into these schools and talking to the kids.”
In fact, there are many ways to get involved. Obviously, computer and book donations are needed. However, Bannan hopes that more people will get actively involved. “We’ve tried to put together a menu so that people can help us in whatever way they can,” he said. They need volunteers to help out in the office, on field trips and with the foundation’s fundraisers, which include the Philadelphia Children’s Foundation Regatta and the Turn and Burn Regatta.
Those regattas are particularly close to John’s heart. As a student athlete and later a coach, he has spent many years on the water rowing. He was a full-time sales and marketing professional, but his true passion, which he did part-time, was as a rowing coach. He has coached high-level teams at St. Joseph’s University, Rutgers University and the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1977 he was a member of the U.S. National Rowing Team, and in 1984 he was one of the coaches for the U.S. Olympic Team. He stopped coaching in 1987 after his first daughter was born, making the decision to be a hands-on dad. That decision led him to become very involved at the Henry School in Mt. Airy, which his children attended. “The Henry School is a great place for kids,” he said, “but it brought me back to that realization that there are some kids and schools that have so much, while there are so many that have so little.”
The Philadelphia Children’s Foundation is a United Way designated organization agency # 47532 and accepts private and corporate donations. Monetary contributions not only help expand PCF programs but are also essential to funding the core operations. “When the state budget collapsed,” John said, “we had to shift gears to smaller, in-school, common sense solutions. But we still have a lot of good ideas that we want to implement.”
He said the foundation wants to reach more kids in more schools throughout the city. But they need your help to do that. “I like to hope that we can do more to have thousands of people work with us over time to go into city schools and talk with students so that they can envision the possibilities. Like-minded companies such as Comcast and Sunoco would be a great partner to help us achieve our goals,” John said with the determination one would expect from a former Olympic coach, adding with motivational zeal, “We can all work together to help kids!”
Bannan lives in Mt. Airy with his wife of 31 years, Christine. They have two daughters, Elizabeth and Valerie. More information at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.philadelphiachildrensfoundation.org, where you can check out their Facebook page for photos and stories.