WINDSHIELD TOUR DRIVES HOME THE PROBLEMS OF A COMMUNITY + video By John Sarvay | July 22, 2011
In Richmond’s East End, six housing projects huddle around the Peter Paul Development Center. Then, I-64 wraps around the entire area, successfully positioned as a moat, or wall, which isolates the concentrated urban poverty from the resources of greater Richmond.
In this bleak city island, poor means an average income of $8,900, says Rev. Lynne Washington, executive director of the Peter Paul Development Center (PPDC).
Rev. Washington is our guide on the Windshield Tour, which safely carries us into areas of town many will never visit; to witness landscapes many of us would never forget were we to see them.
The Windshield Tour is about a 90 minute event. Aboard the bus, participants learn interesting and shocking facts about the neighborhoods served by the PPDC.
For example, no new schools have been built in this neighborhood--even though there are 4,000 children in Churchill--since the 1950’s, says Rev. Washington.
Or that “ Newsweek” magazine considers Armstrong High one of the nation’s worst “drop-out factories.”
After the return to the center, another tour--of the PPDC facilities--ensues and then lunch is served, over more conversation.
Rev. Washington tags off to board member Christopher Moore, who addresses our group as we nibble on a lunch prepared for us in the PPDC industrial kitchen.
“Think about $200,000 (considered fact) to successfully raise a child until age 18, and then around $9,000 total annual income,” says Moore. “It’s obvious that these children are going to be vastly under-resourced.”
While the PPDC offers services to several groups, like meals twice weekly to seniors, their main focus is the children.
Whitcomb, Fairfield, Creighton, Mosby Central, Mosby North, Mosby South--all considered “courts”--but not the kind where justice prevails for the young kids who call these streets home.
It’s the densest concentration of public housing south of New York City. A place where poverty and illiteracy are handed down, like genetics or heirlooms, to the children throughout generations.
Through afterschool and summer programs, the PPDC provides intensive instruction to help the children become productive citizens.
Originally opened in 1979, at St. Peters Church, the new 10,000 square foot facility now boasts a computer lab, dedicated classroom and tutoring spaces, library, kitchen, gymnasium and stage area.
The new center opened in 2007, with 100 plus kids, and many more placed on the waiting list.
“All public housing was intended to be temporary, after WWII,” Rev. Washington says, insisting that education will be the way for children to shed this legacy binding them to poverty.
The PPDC administers testing that measures results against national levels, not local or state levels. Using criteria established by VCU, Peter Paul discovered that their honor roll students were actually two grades behind the national level.
Almost a dozen people were on the WIndshield Tour, with one repeat visitor who needed more time to process everything he had seen. He pointed out a hole in the fence to me. On the last tour Rev. Washington told the group how cars make stops off I-64, and pass drugs off through that hole in the fence.
One couple, relatively new to Richmond, took the tour to learn more about Peter Paul and seek volunteer opportunities.
‘We really had no idea the magnitude of the problem here, the education system here, and who lives here,” Sam Fuller says, his wife Carol Ann nodding along for emphasis. “For us it was a big revelation, and also very inspiring.”
“The magnitude of the housing development, as well as the aging schools, which is somewhat depressing,” Carol Ann adds, noting it was enlightening “to see all the different public housing areas that are just trapped in there by the interstate.”
And we recommend the visit, for the point of view, rather than the sightseeing.
Contact the Peter Paul Development Center, at www.peterpauldevcenter.org to see when the next Windshield Tour is scheduled.
originally published May 31, 2011
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