The new dining room of Face to Face.

by Sue Ann Rybak

Christmas came early for the clients of Face to Face when the nonprofit social service organization reopened its doors Dec. 18, after closing them seven months ago for major renovations to its 132-year-old Germantown building.

Mary Kay Meeks-Hank, executive director of Face to Face, said the newly renovated facility will allow the agency to better serve the most vulnerable in Germantown – especially children.

“There’s no place like home for the holidays, and the entire Face to Face family is celebrating this homecoming,” Meeks-Hank said. “Many of our guests are homeless or live in substandard housing. Although we do not offer shelter, we are home for so many.”

She said the historic building on Price Street, which was erected in 1884 in the architectural style of Frank Furness, was in serious need of renovations. The new construction has modernized and expanded the kitchen and improved the dining room and common areas. The expansion tripled the floor space within the building, which was built originally as a community center for St. Vincent de Paul Church.

The majority of Face to Face’s clients live in deep poverty, which means a family of four lives on $11, 925 a year or less or an individual that lives on $5,835 a year or less.

Germantown resident Dexter Herbert, who attended Face to Face’s temporary site at the First Methodist Church of Germantown, was happy and excited to see the new facility.

“It’s wonderful to be back,” he said. “It’s so beautiful.”

Another client Donald Davis agreed. He was happy and excited to be back in the dining hall.

“I was curious to see the changes,” he said. “It was well worth the wait.  The real plates, cups and silverware make it feel like a restaurant. It’s a blessing to have a place like this for all of us to gather and socialize.”

Last year, 32,000 meals were served on a five-day-a-week schedule, according to Meeks-Hank.

The newly renovated facility and expansion will enable the organization to serve “at least 13,000 more meals a year and expand to seven days a week.”

While Face to Face began as a church-sponsored dining room in 1985, it has since grown into a multifaceted independent organization that offers a wide-range of services, including providing nutritious meals, health and legal clinics, art and writing classes, computer training and children’s programs.

And thanks to Face to Face’s $5 million capital campaign, “Building to Serve,” and the generosity of the Maguire Foundation, the Raynier Foundation and many others, the organization hopes to complete construction on three preschool classrooms, a large play area for physical activity and a kitchenette.

Face to Face is partnering with Mercy Neighborhood Ministries of Philadelphia, Inc., whose mission is to “create partnerships and services that respond to the needs of those who are poor,”  and to provide high-quality children’s programs.

“We renovated 7,000 square feet on the lower level, which will be used for a preschool,”. “We are partnering with Mercy Neighborhood Ministries to operate the school.” Meeks-Hank said.

Unfortunately, funds are still needed to complete the project. According to Jeanne Reiche, a spokeswoman for Face to Face, the organization has raised approximately $4.7 million.

“Restoring this space will provide a safe, dedicated place where Face to Face can realize the dream of addressing the academic achievement gap as early as preschool, thereby changing the trajectory of the lives of the children of Germantown,” Meeks-Hank said. “We will be offering the highest quality preschool and wrapping the families in nutrition, legal, social and health services, in the hopes that these families begin to find a way out of poverty.”

In an earlier interview with the Local, Sister Ann Provost, executive director of Mercy Neighborhood Ministries of Philadelphia, Inc., said: “It truly is a partnership that I don’t think happens a lot. It really is for both of us being faithful in the compatibility of our missions which is the underlying force that causes us to move forward – our missions are so aligned.”

She added that at the ministries’ present site in Tioga, the organization is recognized as a Keystone Stars Level 4 Childcare Program, which is the highest level in Pennsylvania. The designation allows the organization to do the Head Start program and the Pre-K Count program.

“Our goal at Face to Face is to establish a preschool program, which will be of the highest level in the state, so that children get the benefit of a number of different services,” Provost said. “They will have a set curriculum that challenges them, as well as helps them to grow both academically, emotionally and socially.

She said the program is designed to teach them “good thought processes, so they have an eagerness to learn.”

“Our goal is to teach children 100 sight words before they go to kindergarten,” she said. “We want to give them a love for learning. We want them to feel good about what they know. That affirmation is for them as well as their parents. There are a lot of wonderful opportunities for parent involvement and parent follow up. If helps the parents to have the confidence to share in their child’s learning … so they can work and encourage them at home.”

Meeks-Hank added that the Face to Face partnership with Mercy Neighborhood Ministries will ensure that the children her agency serves today do not become adult clients of Face to Face tomorrow.”

As the words on Mercy Neighborhood Ministries of Philadelphia’s website states: “Neighbor helping neighbor. Transforming lives, one person at a time.”

For more information about Face to Face or to find out how to register for the new preschool program, call 215-849-0179.