The Hank Gathers Rec Center in Strawberry Mansion hasn't made a public Facebook post since August 2022 (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

The majority of recreation centers in Philadelphia lack a regularly updated social media presence, which kids and teens say leads them to miss out on potential after-school activities. 

“Most of the time I hear stuff from my friend. Or my mom. If they don’t tell me, then that’s it,” Blair, a 16-year-old from the Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood, told Billy Penn. “I just hear it later and say, ‘Oh sh*t, I missed that?’”

City officials say they’ve been working in recent years to address the issue. 

Last year, social media management was officially added to the recreation leader’s job duties, according to Parks and Recreation spokesperson Maita Soukup, who said the department has been hosting training sessions that cover topics like best practices for content creation, and how to build a following.

Only about a third of the city’s 160 or so active recreation centers and playgrounds consistently post on Facebook, according to a Billy Penn analysis of public pages, while 42% post occasionally or inconsistently. A quarter of rec centers don’t appear to have an official Facebook page at all. 

Even fewer are on Instagram. About 15% maintain a presence on the platform, with just half of those consistently posting and engaging with followers. Just a sliver are active on Twitter, about 4%.

“They need to promote it. If they don’t promote, how do they want stuff to get around?” said Nae, a student at Simon Gratz High School, about upcoming programming.

Some district schools struggle to maintain their own after-school program, guardians and school leaders said. So students rely on the rec centers.

Getting kids and teens involved in after-school activities is widely considered a violence prevention strategy, and both Mayor Jim Kenney and members of City Council regularly frame increased funding for rec centers as an anti-violence effort. Youths under 18 made up nearly 10% of shooting victims in the city last year.

The Department of Parks and Recreation maintains the lack of social media posting is not widespread.

A “handful” of sites would like to post but are struggling to regain access to accounts, according to Parks & Rec spokesperson Soukup, confirming information provided to Billy Penn by rec center staff who asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak to the press. 

These issues often arise because of a password lost in staff transition, per Soukup, and untangling the solution can be difficult. 

“The process for recovering access to these pages requires direct support from Facebook staff, and the timeline varies in each instance,” Soukup said. Overall, she added, the city “strongly encourages recreation centers to use social media to promote programs, recruit staff, and share information with the community.”

Some rec centers do have an active presence that frequently engages community members, such as Tustin Recreation Center, Penrose Playground, and Jerome Brown Playground.

Staff at at Jerome Playground also communicate through one-on-one meetings or pass information to students and parents during impromptu office visits, said Kareem Flowers, a rec leader there. Other locations distribute flyers in schools and around residential areas.

Some have tried to expand their reach by starting TikTok accounts, but there hasn’t been much engagement. “It was a flop,” said Ricky Brown, a community engagement specialist with Parks & Rec.

Several parents and guardians Billy Penn spoke with referred to social media as a fundamental tool rec centers could use to disseminate vital information about the programs they hold, particularly since most youth constantly interact on the sites. 

North Philadelphia resident Abdul Nasir, 28, is the guardian to his two 5-year-old nieces. He said having to seek information by physically visiting the rec centers can be time-consuming.

“I have other things to do too,” Nasir said. “If the rec center can be uploading something online, it will be quick for me to know when to take them.”

This story is part of a yearlong reporting project with Temple University’s Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting on educational disparities within the Philadelphia School District.