Naima Miller arrives at the Vare Recreation Center every afternoon at 2:30 p.m. to greet kids as they file into the rec center after school for sports practice, homework help, or just a place to hang out. The lifelong Grays Ferry resident runs teen mentoring programs, food banks, and girl scouts at the center, serving hundreds of kids each week.

Families in this neighborhood have relied on Vare for generations, as a safe place for kids to play, join a neighborhood basketball league, or meet friends after school.

When the center was closed in 2017 after the roof partially caved in and engineers deemed the building ‘structurally unsound,’ worry didn’t begin to describe how Naima and the rest of the Vare volunteers and staff members felt.

“We knew we needed a miracle, but I never would have imagined that the City would step in with the Rebuild program to really invest in our center.”

On May 4th, Vare Advisory Council President Yasmeen Porter and Vice President Warren Bethea, stood with Naima, Mayor Jim Kenney, Council member Kenyatta Johnson, and Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell to celebrate the start of a $14 million upgrade to Vare. In addition to serving on the advisory council, Yasmeen also runs a year-around gymnastics program for girls age 4-15.

Football coach and community leader Warren sees the impact the rec has on kids’ lives everyday. Whether it’s basketball drills, swim lessons, or girl scouts, the center offers young people a safe place to build their skills and make meaningful relationships with peers and mentors.

“Three years in, and our football program is going strong,” he explained. “The kids love it and it means Vare sports keep them busy and active at the site all year – football in the fall, basketball when it gets cold, and of course the pool all summer. With the investment, maybe we can get a new turf field and start hosting games here.”

Make the World Better (MTWB), founded by former Philadelphia Eagle Connor Barwin and Jeffrey Tubbs, will lead the work to completely renovate Vare. Make the World Better will work with the community to plan upgrades that Naima, and the kids she looks after, want to see in their rec center.

Made possible by the Philadelphia Beverage Tax, Rebuild is a program to put hundreds of millions of dollars in critical facilities repairs to neighborhood parks, recreation centers, and libraries across Philadelphia. Two thirds of Rebuild sites are in high needs neighborhoods, and the majority of funds will be spent in predominately African-American and Hispanic communities.

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