The Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC) has been serving the city’s Chinese immigrant community for 55 years. PCDC’s mission is to protect, preserve and promote Chinatown as a viable business and ethnic residential community. While their mission includes developing affordable housing, their proudest development creation is the Crane Community Center at 10th and Vine Streets.
The center, which had been decades in the dreaming and planning prior to its completion in November 2019, has become the hub of the community, a place to celebrate cultural identity. It is also the building where PCDC provides services to Chinese language speakers, not only in Chinatown but in other parts of the city as well.
PCDC’s executive director, John Chin, says clients visit the center to apply for a wide array of benefits, but also so much more.
“We have a youth program, which provides an afterschool curriculum to help provide a pathway to postsecondary education. We have recreation. And this year, we added another component, food distribution for families who need it, Chin says. “The center is a very busy place.”
Between the increase in anti-Asian incidents during the pandemic and people being forced to stay at home, PCDC Program Manager Ping Lee added that the agency has seen a big increase in the need for its mental wellness services.
“We noticed that more clients just want their questions answered. They want the help right away, and we can see we are playing a positive role in that regard” Lee said. “People want someone to talk to them, especially the seniors. Sometimes, they call to ask for a little bit of information, but afterwards they don’t want to hang up because they need somebody to talk to.”
In addition to the Crane Community Center, the PCDC social services team also goes on the road, offering services at libraries, churches and at other nonprofits. A significant Chinese immigrant population lives in Northeast Philadelphia. If needed, after clients file applications at the remote sites, they come to the center city office for further assistance.
Lee offered an example of a family who was attracted to an “application day” PCDC held in the Northeast to show how this program can work.
“We were able to get them $800 from the city’s worker relief fund. We were able to offer them $500 in emergency cash assistance. They had a gas bill of $4,600 because they never received a bill from PGW. We helped them to apply for PGW’s CRP (Consumer Responsibility Program), they were able to get on the program, and now their bill is being forgiven at a rate of $129 a month as long as they pay their bill on time. This is really meaningful to help a family to get back on their feet instead of them wondering what they’re going to do with a $4,600 gas bill.”
PCDC also offers remote service through Zoom or by phone. People can submit documents online, so everything can be done remotely. Unfortunately, some immigrants pay for these services when PCDC, like all agencies in The Promise: The Poverty Action Fund for Philadelphia, offers them for free.
“Some folks feel they have to pay somebody to help them apply for benefits because they don’t know that these services are free,” Chin said. “One thing we have done very successfully is develop a strong communications plan to make sure that as many clients and potential clients as possible can access these services. Our communication goes out on regular email but it’s most effective on social media, especially a mobile app called WeChat that most Chinese language speakers use.”
Lee added, “Many Chinese immigrants have been using WeChat since they were in China so when they come over here, they still use it. Our clients are not on Facebook and Twitter.”
The other powerful tool is PCDC’s partnership with other organizations.
“We treat this (Promise) partnership like a franchise where the client has multiple locations where they can go,” Chin said. “No matter which of our doors you walk into you will be able to access the same services.”
Chin said he and Lee have great hope for the impact The Promise’s funding and coordination can have.
“Our position is, no one should be living in poverty,” he said. “From a policy perspective, the city has an important job to ensure that every person develops his or her personal social and economic improvement, and along with that comes a sense of self-worth. When we help lift people out of poverty, the economic conditions improve, the social conditions improve and then the self-confidence comes along with that.”
For John Chin, who grew up in Chinatown with poverty all around him, the mission is personal.
“We know that there’s social and economic inequity in this country and city so not every person has a fair or equal opportunity,” he said. “We’re trying to level the playing field. We’re trying to provide resources to impoverished families but most importantly, we emphasize education. Beyond the direct benefits of The Promise, getting money into these families’ pockets as quickly as possible, we also have long-term programs to ensure that these families continue with their financial education and wealth building.”