The Beech Companies have been a mainstay in North Central Philadelphia for 32 years, advocating for and representing the best interests of the community. The most critical component in accomplishing its mission, says CEO Dr. Kenneth Scott, is the ground game.
“We’re big believers in meeting people where they are, getting out in the community, letting them know about the resources,” he says. “We see our role as community advocates, for not only more money to drive the programs but also the community outreach and engagement.”
Beech Community Services is a key player in The Promise’s Family Stability Challenge. They help to inform the community about what benefits are available to them and how to work together to access those benefits.
“There’s a lot of hand-holding involved. We like being out,” Scott said. “A lot of people need these resources, and that includes networking them to partner organizations that are part of the Poverty Action Fund for Philadelphia but also anything else that we know is available.”
Being on the ground means exactly what it sounds like. Their boots-on-the-ground approach involves going to commercial strips and greeting people as they go into stores and businesses, delivering flyers door-to- door, and meeting people in that door-to-door process. It also means working with the community’s leaders. Beech also participates in regular community meetings to discuss various issues and activities at the rec center.
Beech’s original mission was that of a grant-making foundation to support community services. The organization got its start when, as Scott puts it, North Central Philadelphia lay wounded from the ravages of the crack epidemic and the dissolution of viable economic opportunities, corporate or entrepreneurial.
Many wrote the community off. But with leadership provided by Beech and others, progress has come.
“Here is North Central Philadelphia we have what we call a ‘quality consortium’ of people we work with, about 70-80 organizations that we meet with several times a year about what’s going on in programs and opportunities,” Scott said. “We have our own community newsletter, our own tie-in with some of the other nonprofits.”
Sadly, Scott notes, so many of the problems that have plagued Philadelphia’s low-income communities have their roots in racism.
“Our history in the Black community is one of barriers,” he says. “I’m not talking about a group or mob, but legal barriers. We’re going to legally allow banks to discriminate. Yes, you can make deposits here but we’re not going to lend you money for housing. You can just rent.”
Scott points to the GI Bill that was enacted after World War II. “Soldiers could get their college paid for and loans to buy homes. All these great things were available. But these benefits were deliberately not made available for Black people who had served. This was legalized discrimination even though my grandfather and uncles served in the war. We are still working to overcome that legacy.”
(While the GI Bill’s language did not specifically exclude African-American veterans from its benefits, it was structured in a way that ultimately shut doors for the 1.2 million Black veterans who had bravely served their country during World War II, in segregated ranks).
Scott is encouraged by the structure and collaboration of The Promise, under which Beech is grouped with complementary organizations: Campaign for Working Families; Benefits Data Trust; CLARIFI; and Community Legal Services.
“I hope the first piece of the project, the child tax credits, and legal services provide a big lift to families,” he said. “People lose their properties because they never straightened out their deed from two or three generations ago. We tell them these resources are available. There are people who will help you take care of this. This effort is about getting resources to people who didn’t know they were available.”
The Beech organization feels some of that frustration firsthand. It offers a student scholarship program but has trouble finding students to give the money to, because like many other benefits, community members simply don’t know that they have access to these resources. Scott feels The Promise will build momentum through information.
“This is just the first step,” he said. “You have to build up a track record. You have to trust people and realize these are real benefits. My belief is that this is going to grow as a major rollout and continue for years to come as a resource that people will know is there. The word is starting to spread and that’s what we want.”
The partners in the Beech group meet regularly to measure how the intake as well as the follow up are going. Success depends on constant communication.
Scott says that because Beech has been in North Philadelphia for so long, people understand that they are genuinely dedicated to serving them, including dealing with serious issues in the community.
“We can turn this wheel of poverty into the wheel of fortune. We can move people forward with a comprehensive plan with housing, benefits, jobs, job training, whatever is needed. That’s the goal.”
Learn more at https://beechcompanies.com/