Make the World Better and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society will lead improvements to treasured Grays Ferry and Port Richmond community spaces

Today Rebuild Executive Director Nicole Westerman announced that $15.4 million in grant funds have been awarded to two experienced nonprofit organizations to carry out major renovations at the Vare Recreation Center in Grays Ferry and the Glavin Playground in Port Richmond. Made possible by the Philadelphia Beverage Tax and a signature initiative of Mayor Jim Kenney’s, Rebuild is committing hundreds of millions of dollars to restore parks, recreation centers, and libraries in neighborhoods across the City.

Make the World Better (MTWB), founded by former Philadelphia Eagle Connor Barwin and Jeffrey Tubbs, was awarded $14 million to completely renovate and modernize the Vare Recreation Center, which was threatened for closure due to concerns about the building’s structural integrity. The center is currently kept open thanks to structural braces supporting the front of the building.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) will deliver a $1.4 million improvement project to modernize and upgrade the Glavin playground, a popular playground and recreation site for Port Richmond residents.

“Rebuild is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform Philadelphia’s neighborhoods by investing in parks, recreation centers, and libraries,” said Rebuild Executive Director Nicole Westerman. “The investment needs at the Vare Recreation Center and Glavin Playground are critical – these sites are hubs of the community and safe places for young people to learn, play, and grow. We are excited to partner with proven nonprofits like Make the World Better and PHS that allow the City to make improvements in more places, more quickly, with the participation of more residents.”

“Kids and families thrive when they have access to sports, recreation, and community spaces. Make the World Better is excited to partner with the community to rebuild Vare into a world class community center,” said former Philadelphia Eagle Connor Barwin, Founder and President of Make the World Better. “Rebuild is a true community effort, and we are excited to be part of the Grays Ferry community’s work to build the state of the art recreation center it deserves.”

Among the first sites selected for Rebuild investment, Vare and Glavin are active spaces at the heart of their communities that face major facilities failures due to years of deferred maintenance and inconsistent investment. The selected nonprofit partners will work alongside the recreation centers’ staff, families and residents to identify site-specific improvements and design a complete scope of work to modernize and transform these beloved community spaces.

“Public spaces like Glavin Playground – known locally as A&W – connect neighbors and foster healthy community life,” said Matt Rader, President, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. “We are excited to work with A&W’s users and neighbors to create a fun, beautiful, and safe place for all to enjoy.”

As part of the grant selection process, Make the World Better and PHS committed to meeting Rebuild’s ambitious diversity targets, including 25 to 30 percent of all spending on professional services contracts and 30 to 35 percent of all spending on construction contracts go to minority-owned businesses. Similar targets exist for women-owned businesses.

“The programs and resources available to young people at Vare are life lines for many of the kids in this neighborhood,” said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. “The Grays Ferry community has invested so much care, dedication, and hard work into Vare over the years, and deserves a safe, modern facility for our kids. Thanks to Rebuild, our community is finally going to receive the major investment we need to give young people in this neighborhood the absolute best of what Philadelphia has to offer.”

“Rebuild’s impact on the Glavin playground and the Port Richmond community cannot be overstated,” said Councilman Bobby Henon. “Despite its aging equipment and obvious needs, Glavin is home to amazing programs that keep kids safe and keep our community healthy and vibrant. I am excited to see the improvement plans residents put forward and am pleased that a trusted parks and playgrounds expert like the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society will be leading this work.”

Rebuild will issue similar grants to pre-qualified non-profit organizations to help deliver hundreds of millions of dollars in facilities improvements to Philadelphia’s parks, libraries and recreation centers in the coming years. Rebuild recently announced grants to renovate the Cecil B. Moore and Heitzman Recreation Centers. Grant awards are currently being finalizing for improvements, such as the Olney Recreation Center, Kingsessing Recreation Center and Library, and Barrett Playground.

Rebuild kickoff events at Vare and Glavin will take place during the first week of May:

Glavin Park and Playground
Wednesday, May 1 from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.

Vare Recreation Center
Saturday, May 4 from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m.

More details about both projects, and all Rebuild projects, can be found at


Rebuilding Community Infrastructure (Rebuild) is an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in neighborhood parks, recreation centers and libraries.  Proposed in Mayor Jim Kenney’s first budget as a part of his vision for a more equitable Philadelphia, Rebuild seeks to improve pivotal community spaces, empower and engage communities, and promote economic opportunity through diversity and inclusion.  Rebuild is a public private partnership made possible by the Philadelphia Beverage Tax.

Make The World Better (MTWB) works to connect people and inspire stewardship through public space revitalization projects. MTWB is a 501(c)3 public charity founded in 2013 by Connor Barwin, during his first season playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. In spring 2018, MTWB merged with partner organization, Urban Roots, founded in 2008 by Jeffrey Tubbs. MTWB believes that communities prosper when all people have access to high-quality, accessible and fun places to play and gather. The organization has completed two park revitalization projects at Ralph Brooks Park and Smith Playground in South Philadelphia, with a third project currently underway at Waterloo Playground in West Kensington. For more information please visit our website at or follow us on social media @mtwbfoundation.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) is a not-for-profit organization, founded in 1827, whose programs connect people with horticulture and together creates beautiful, healthy and sustainable communities. PHS brings together people from diverse backgrounds to engage in horticultural projects that increase access to fresh food, create healthy living environments, build deeper social connections, and grow economic opportunity. PHS’s best known activities include the Philadelphia Flower Show, street tree planting and maintenance, community gardening, public beautification, and the PHS Pop Up Gardens. PHS programs bring together people from diverse backgrounds to engage in horticultural projects that advance social equity, environmental sustainability, and urban livability. For information or to support our work, visit