calendar September 25, 2014 in News

Turning Point Makes Connections

In 2007, volunteers from Redemption Lutheran and Rhawnhurst Presbyterian in the Northeast began listening to the Spirit and the community’s longings for a safe place to welcome neighborhood youth. After much prayer, planning and fundraising, Rhawnhurst Turning Point officially opened its doors in 2011. The center gets support from the Synod, ELCA and the Presbytery of Philadelphia.

Turning Point’s storefront on Castor Avenue is a haven for local youth who work on homework with mentors, participate in free art, culture and performance classes, and serve their neighbors. Over four years Turning Point has served 175 youth, with 22 new repeat visitors in 2013-14. Participants build community in a safe environment with caring volunteers, many of whom are young adults living out their faith in ways they can’t in church. We visited with Director Cheryl Lafferty to find out how things are going:


What are you most excited about at Turning Point?

The variety of art classes we have now and coming up in the fall. Our Hoffman Art Program Manager, Dawn, has been working very hard to do some new things as well as keep around the old things the kids really like.

Drawing class in RTP's Hoffman Art Program.

Drawing class in RTP’s Hoffman Art Program.

We had a mime class this summer and plan more guitar classes this fall. Last spring we had an “Intro to Japanese Language and Culture” class. The kids loved it and it was a great experience. Now their teacher is spending the year in Japan, so we are going to do pen pals with her class there.

I’m really excited that the weekend program has gotten some traction and its director, Andrew, really has a vision. We went from having one service day a month to two. And we started a “Star Wars” Bible study on Saturdays.

I love that we have all of these different outlets so that a youth can explore different activities, and find what they are passionate about and where they feel they fit in.


Where do you see God at work in Turning Point?

In the relationships. God is making connections, growing self-confidence in kids, and helping them to find trusted mentors in the volunteers. They now have a network of peers that is committed to making good choices. Fostering healthy relationships and helping kids to grow in knowledge of themselves and others, those are the God moments.

We weren’t expecting this to happen, but there is also a real sense of community growing among our 20-something volunteers. Many of them are interested in living out their faith but aren’t necessarily active in a church. They do things together and support each other. When one volunteer’s father died, a number went to the funeral and stayed with him afterwards. What we wanted to happen with the youth is now also happening among the young adults. God was looking at this more broadly than we were.


What’s breaking God’s heart in this neighborhood?

Turning Point Youth Saturday Service project.

Turning Point Youth Saturday Service project.

A lot of our working middle class here has become working lower class. They don’t have enough money to go around, people have lost jobs. Over at Feast of Justice (a local food pantry) we see a huge increase in how many families need food. The reality is that if you can’t afford food, you can’t afford art classes, or homework help, which is why our programs are free of charge.

I think it breaks God’s heart when kids aren’t fully able to explore their own gifts and talents. In this neighborhood there are great rec centers with awesome sports, but it’s more difficult to find outlets for “artsy” kids that don’t require a financial contribution. That’s stopping kids from figuring out how God wants them to use their gifts. We want them to grow in every aspect of their lives: academically, socially, relationally, spiritually.


What has God revealed to you lately?

We had eight high school students graduate in June, some of whom have been here almost every day since we opened. I’m really grateful for the deep relationships we have with them, and for the new connections that will come as we welcome a new class.

This is so much bigger than we expected. When we started we weren’t sure we could stay open for a year, now we’re in our fourth program year. There is something neat about the breadth of what God is doing over time here.


What do you have to share or teach with other ministries?

Young adult leaders run a class for youth.

Young adult leaders run a class for youth.

The model of how this started is important to share… not that you can transplant it, but to talk about how we started: It was from the ground up, it was many voices all expressing the same hopes, and it was grounded in a prayer group that continues to meet. There was a lot of intentional waiting and prayerfulness in starting this. So our story is really important, even if there is one piece that helps someone else get started on his or her idea.

Our kids have a lot to teach us. We have a core that loves service, from raking leaves to working with veterans to making dog biscuits for the shelter.

Many of our young adult volunteers say they do this as an outgrowth of their faith. They wish they had a place like this when they were younger and they’re going to serve because Jesus tells them to. Turning Point offers a place for them to have a community and live out their faith when they might not be comfortable doing that in the formal structure of a Sunday morning church.


What do you need?

We need prayer, always. We need unrestricted financial support that we can use to keep the lights on and the doors open. We always need volunteers either working directly with the kids or behind the scenes doing bookkeeping or fundraising. We always need storytellers who can share what we are doing so that other people can become aware.


What is the one word that sums up what is happening at TP these days?

Action. It feels like we are in perpetual motion, in a good way.


– Interview by Bob Fisher