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McPherson Square is the last lifeline of my hurting neighborhood. It's time it gets more funding.

McPherson Square Park is widely known as “Needle Park.” Many people don’t know that the old building sitting on the hill is a public library. Not only is it a library, but to many, it’s a last hope. 

McPherson Square Library in Kensington on July 11, 2020. (Photo by Daisie Cardona)

I grew up going to the library; it was like my second home. The library was always in use, ready to aid whoever needed it. I remember helping with different events at the library. Christmas, Easter, Spring Fest, community meetings, and more.  I spent most of my holidays there. During the Christmas parties, I’d dress up in all green with an elf hat along with my brother and my mom dressed as Mrs. Claus. We’d set up elaborate backdrops and props for the kids to take pictures with Santa and receive a toy. It was one of the many things done regularly at the library, bringing our community closer together. 

Bryan Belknap, a librarian at McPherson Square Library, teaches children and youth how to make slime on April 4, 2022. (Photo by Daisie Cardona)

McPherson Square Library: A safe place for Kensington children and youth

Many kids and teens from the community flock to the library after school and receive help with homework and participate in afterschool programs. Parents eagerly send their children to the library, hoping that it will keep them safe and off the streets. The librarians and volunteers give their all to protecting the library and those in it. 

Inside the library, there are many computers and a bulletin board covered with program flyers from the library and community along with jobs and other resources. Of course, the library has many books. But if you go downstairs, you’ll see a room dedicated to different programs such as sewing and gardening in an incubator that students helped create. On the other side of the basement is the kitchen where kids and teens who are hungry can come to get something to eat or take food home to their families. Many of the kids who participate in the afterschool programs come day after day and stay until the library closes. Then they go out to the playground with trusted adults and fellow parents watching over them until it’s time to go home.  

The name “Needle Park” has been around for a long time, longer than I’ve been alive. The needles and drugs in the park make it very hard for kids, teens, and adults to use the park as desired, and sometimes it even makes it dangerous to walk up to the library. From what I’ve seen while cleaning up needles at the park, people who use drugs in McPherson shove needles in the grass face up, making it very likely to get stabbed. You can even find bloody needles shoved into trees and under the playground, accompanied by human feces. Or you could until Parks and Rec, along with other groups, put a fence with locks up around the playground. Librarians, trusted parents, and neighbors lock up the playground every night while also keeping an eye out throughout the day to make sure none of the people using drugs go into the playground. This keeps the play area safe and clean for the kids, teens, and families. 

Jolissa Rodriguez points through the newly installed fence at McPherson Square Park on November 13, 2021. (Photo by Daisie Cardona)

I asked some kids in the neighborhood how the new gate around the playground made them feel. The kids were pleased and said,  “It makes us feel safe,” and “We can finally use the park without worrying anymore.” The gate also protects the younger children, who are too small to know to look out for danger, from running off or standing on a needle or something harmful. The kids and teens have gotten into the habit of making sure the gate is closed when entering or exiting the playground; even if it’s to go inside the library, you close the gate behind you. 

The neighborhood kids know that the library is a safe place. The park outside the library is hard to manage, but once you pass through the doors of the library, you’re safe. Everyone knows the library turned community center is off-limits and does their best to honor the unspoken rule.

Librarians (top row from left to right) Bryan Belknap, Dominic Gallager, Karen Vincent and (bottom row from left to right) Iris Rivera Selby, Toshiba Hightower, Tuesday Chalmers pose for a group photo outside of McPherson Library on April 28, 2022. (Photo by Daisie Cardona)

‘The library employees go above and beyond’

McPherson Square Park and Library is the last lifeline of a hurting neighborhood and an inspiration to keep moving and fighting for our community. The librarians and volunteers of McPherson Square Library have always been dedicated to providing ways to keep the people of their community safe and improving the quality of life in the area, making the building a lifeline. Not only for the children who spend their days there, but the parents, adults, and even the people who struggle with addiction who come inside once in a while. 

The librarians, volunteers, and security guard work hard to look after the library, park, and the community to the best of their abilities, no matter what it takes. That’s how they ended up being some of the first library employees in the country to be trained in using Narcan to reverse overdoses despite not being medical professionals. They then provided Narcan training to the general public. The library employees were also trained on how to properly pick up needles from the park without harming themselves or others. Behind the reception desk, you’ll see a red box, a needle picker, and Narcan. 

The library employees go above and beyond what their jobs entail, putting themselves in harm’s way to help the people in their community. They do their best to make sure the people of the community feel safe. Yet funding from the City of Philadelphia is scarce despite all that they’ve done and continue to do for our community. This library and many others across the city play such a big part in keeping children safe, providing resources, and leading people down a new path. McPherson Square Library must continue providing these needed services to our community, but in order to be able to do so, they must be given the necessary funding.

Editors: Zari Tarazona, Solmaira Valerio / Designer: Solmaira Valerio