The Dixon House, at 1920 S. 20th St., has been a neighborhood community center in the South Philadelphia community for 75 years. Providing the neighborhood with social services, community forums, health services, Girl Scouts and an array of activities—this division of Diversified Community Services (DCS), has made its mark in the neighborhood.
Incorporated in 1968, DCS is a nonprofit, multi-purpose social service agency in South Philadelphia, giving families and children the opportunity to be self-sufficient in their neighborhoods. The Dixon House has been a go-to place for neighbors and community members to receive housing counseling and other forms of financial guidance.
“Most people know about Dixon House and our services—like our utility programs,” said Diane Grimes, director. “We help people who are on the verge of having utilities cut off, people who are on the verge of losing their home, people who need rental assistance or people who are in domestic violence.”
Grimes has been with the center for 27 years and has seen it develop and meet the needs of the community throughout the years. She started off as a volunteer and at the time the center did not offer social programs, Grimes said.
“As a volunteer I went out in the neighborhood and found out a lot of neighbors were living with one of their utilities shut off, so I began to advocate with the gas companies and electric companies—I wanted to help people get their utilities back” she said. “Then the city approached us with some money and then we became a social service center.”
One of the services the center provides is a computer class taught Mondays and Wednesdays to help familiarize residents who may not have access to computers, with necessary computer skills that will assist them in job applications, resumes and other purposes.
Along with these classes, the center offers housing counseling that helps families become first time homeowners. They provide financial management and home ownership workshops that explore budgeting, credit repair and mortgage foreclosure prevention.
Charlene Houston, housing counselor, feels when counseling clients, it’s important to gain relationships.
“You really need to get to know the clients,” Houston said. “It’s nice to be able to see what other opportunities may be available to them.”
Houston feels their impact in the community is “huge” because they assist people in purchasing homes, finding a home and bringing awareness to programs that are beneficial to the process.
“There are a lot of programs out there that are available for homeowners but they’re not aware of them,” she said. “We play a crucial role in educating the homeowners and letting them know what resources are available.”
Dixon House also offers “Adult & Family Services,” a parenting program that consists of a 13-week class, offering guidance on appropriate usage of discipline, anger management and conflict resolution sessions. Their Homeless Prevention Program keeps community members from being evicted and the center’s community forums inform residents of available public and private benefits.
With a wide range of services, this community-based organization aims to help their neighbors in a variety of ways.
“We are just a community center that does everything,” Grimes said.
Keeping art alive in South Philadelphia is a major initiative for the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA), University of the Arts and PECO, who has made a donation of $250,000 to support the development of public art.
On April 17 three organizations held an event at the Diversified Community Services (DCS) Dixon House located in South Philadelphia for “Commotion,” a public art festival.
“There are workshops for parents, children and seniors,” said Benjamin Armstrong, PECO senior communications specialist. “We are making sure the community involvement hits all areas of the community.”
The festival began in January and is a six-month-long series of hands-on community art workshops focusing on visual art, sculpture, dance, drama and music in various neighborhoods south of South Street, including Grays Ferry and Point Breeze.
This initiative was built off the PRA’s 53-year-old Percent for Art Program that required developers to commission art as part of the development process.
The Clothespin by Claes Oldenburg at 15th and Market St. and Wave Forms by Dennis Oppenheim at 34th and Chestnut St. are two examples of public art that derived from the Percent for Art Program.
With the development of “Commotion,” South Philadelphia community members have the opportunity to partake in public art projects and learn art education.
PECO’s contribution went towards the funding for the workshop and the development of an undergraduate class at the University of the Arts that will focus on history and the impact of art in local communities.
At the event, organization representatives and community members joined as artist Jeb Lewis led a demonstration workshop with children from Stephen Girard Elementary School.
In conclusion of the six-month workshop series, the organizers will host a community event in June to display the artwork and other finalized projects from these workshops.
“We are really excited to see the results in June when we have this community event,” Armstrong said.
The workshops are free and will be held at various venues around the city. Local artists lead many of the workshops.
Christina Kerrigan, PECO senior sponsorship and development specialist, felt PECO made a good decision in investing in these programs.
“This was a risk for us as well as University of Arts,” she said. “Nothing like this has been done before especially of this kind — we were excited that UARTS embraced this.”
With the idea to connect with people of all ages in the South Philadelphia community, the University of the Arts, PRA and PECO hopes these workshops will provide an outlet for art expression.
“We feel this is a wonderful way to engage the community and provide art education to various residents and seniors of South and Point Breeze,” Armstrong said.