Broke in Philly

Kensington kids are loving the new summer programming in McPherson Square

“They should put a fence around the park and give *us* the keys,” said one fourth grader.

Kids play in the McPherson Square Park playground during Playstreets, with Playstreet captains (in red) helping out

Kids play in the McPherson Square Park playground during Playstreets, with Playstreet captains (in red) helping out

Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
daisiecardona

Each day this summer, the park and library at McPherson Square in Kensington transforms into a safe space for kids, complete with cooking classes hosted by the New Kensington Community Development Corporation and a new outpost of the city’s Playstreets program.

Though the public park has always had some level of summer youth programming, this is the first year it has been transformed with new signage and play equipment, designed by local nonprofit TinyWPA.

Neighborhood parents seem to like the program, which sections off the playground to create a space for children to play freely and safely — something often lacking in the area around McPherson Square.

“Many of these blocks have drug problems, so it’s not safe for Playstreets to be held on those blocks,” said neighborhood parent Theresa Malone.

Malone’s daughter Anastasia, a rising fourth grader, said she feels safer because of the new programming.

“Especially now that the fence is around the playground,” Anastasia said. “It keeps people out — they should put one around the whole park and give us the keys!”

The neighborhood is considered a gun violence “hotspot,” which means it consistently contributes disproportionately to Philadelphia’s shooting statistics. Twenty-five of the blocks that saw 10 or more shootings during 2021 are in Kensington, and the area has some of the lowest median household incomes in the city. The summer programming for kids is a bright spot.

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation is operating its pop up PlayPark program in three Kensington locations this year, said department spokesperson Maita Soukup: McPherson Square, Hissey Playground, and Harrowgate Park. They’re possible because of a partnership with the Free Library, the PPD, the Managing Director’s Office, and the city’s Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP), she said.


💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.


In addition to the snacks offered by the Playstreets initiative, McPherson Square Library also offers daily free lunches for kids.

It’s run by a woman the kids affectionately call “Miss Maria the Lunch Lady.” She hands out food and even sends home extra meals for hungry siblings. Over 16% of School District of Philadelphia households experienced food insecurity during the 2020 to 2021 school year.

“I’m just trying to do my part,” said Bryan Belknap, the after-school program coordinator at McPherson Library. He’s worked there since 2015 and has a hand in creating its annual summer programming. Belknap says the Playstreets program averages around 40 youth attendees a day, and that participation in the after-school program ebbs and flows with the academic year on top of library closures.

“If the library was ever to shut down, a lot of our young men would die or get wrapped up in something bad,” said Malone.

Scroll for a look at kids and adults enjoying McPherson’s summer offerings.

Bryan Belknap, McPherson Square Library after-school program coordinator, pushing Jolissa on the swing

Bryan Belknap, McPherson Square Library after-school program coordinator, pushing Jolissa on the swing

Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
A youngster playing on the ropes during Playstreets

A youngster playing on the ropes during Playstreets

Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
Jozephina going down the slide with her brother Josiah

Jozephina going down the slide with her brother Josiah

Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
Getting snacks from Miss Maria the Lunch Lady

Getting snacks from Miss Maria the Lunch Lady

Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
Staff from the New Kensington Community Development Corporation prepare to lead cooking Class

Staff from the New Kensington Community Development Corporation prepare to lead cooking class

Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
A young chef prepares for cooking class in the teen section of the library

A young chef prepares for cooking class in the teen section of the library

Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
Library after-school coordinator Bryan Belknap making slime with the kids

Library after-school coordinator Bryan Belknap making slime with the kids

Daisie Cardona for Kensington Voice
Playing in the McPherson Square playground during 'The Block Gives Back' event

Playing in the McPherson Square playground during 'The Block Gives Back' event

Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
Adults taking advantage of the playground equipment during 'The Block Gives Back' event

Adults taking advantage of the playground equipment during 'The Block Gives Back' event

Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
The McPherson Square playground fence with (R to L) Theresa Moreno, Riley, Ezekiel, Jozephina, Josiah, Corey, Mason, Latiff Amar, Jamil, Emory, Antonio, Amaya, and Anastasia

The McPherson Square playground fence with (R to L) Theresa Moreno, Riley, Ezekiel, Jozephina, Josiah, Corey, Mason, Latiff Amar, Jamil, Emory, Antonio, Amaya, and Anastasia

Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
McPherson Square Park and Library

McPherson Square Park and Library

Daisie Cardona for Kensington Voice

Want some more? Explore other Broke in Philly stories.

Mornings are for coffee and local news

Billy Penn’s free morning newsletter gives you a daily roundup of the top Philly stories you need to start your day.

You finished another Billy Penn article — keep it up!

We hope you found it useful, fun, or maybe even both. If you want more stories like this, will you join us as a member today?

Nice to see you (instead of a paywall)

Billy Penn’s mission is to provide free, quality information to Philadelphians through our articles and daily newsletter. If you believe local journalism is key to a healthy community, join us!

Your donation brought this story to life

Billy Penn only exists because of supporters like you. If you find our work valuable, consider making a sustaining donation today.

Being informed looks good on you

Thanks for reading another article, made possible by members like you. Want to share BP with a friend?