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Power Street Theatre Company's efforts in the community are both on and off stage. Photo: Power Street Theatre Company.
Power Street Theatre Company's efforts in the community are both on and off stage. Photo: Power Street Theatre Company.

Power Street Theatre Company to host financial wellness story circle for the North Philly community

The virtual gathering on Feb. 18 is part of the organization’s Comunidades Conectadas programming for 2021.

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At the center of Power Street Theatre Company’s mission is its community. 

Both the productions put on by the nonprofit theater company based in North Philadelphia and their efforts to bring individuals together around performance art are a reflection of and breathe life into the surrounding community.

The birth of community story circles

The story circle is something Power Street developed following the reboot of its first play, MinorityLand, in 2019. 

Paired with the performances were a series of discussions with residents around the play’s subject matter. In the case of MinorityLand, gentrification and housing took center stage.

As part of Power Street’s Comunidades Conectadas program, participants in these early discussions were paid to take part in them before seeing the show. They were also given housing resources.

“On the same note, what we needed from them was information about their lives and who they were in order to effectively program for them,” said Lori Felipe-Barkin, Power Street’s coordinator of community outreach.

From there, Felipe-Barkin said the program “took its own shape.”

“We noticed that the neighbors were just so happy to be connecting and to be around each other, and to have a space to laugh or grieve or talk about common issues that everyone else was having,” she said. “It became this community-focused group.”

But amid COVID-19, gathering members of the community into the same space became impossible as everything went virtual.

Back in May, Power Street co-founder Gabriela Sanchez told AL DÍA that in the aftermath of the cancellation of the premier of its play, Kiss of Addixion, the organization held a virtual story circle on health injustice and health inequality.

Thirty people attended, and Sanchez was introduced to the global potential of the virtual world, but admitted to missing members of the surrounding community.

“Abuela and tio and señor from the corner store are not on this call,” she said at the time. “That’s hard.”

Comunidades Conectadas in 2021

In 2021, Power Street is sticking with the virtual format for its Comunidades Conectadas program and sticking with discussing issues that are pertinent to the surrounding community.

It’s first virtual gathering being held on Thursday, Feb. 18 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. is all about financial wellness.

When Felipe-Barkin called all the people on the organization’s list of previous participants in the Comunidades Conectadas program, loneliness and financial security rose to the top.

“With the program, I make it a point to really listen to what the community needs, so essentially I surveyed all the members that picked up the phone,” she said.

To bridge some of the digital divide previously encountered, Felipe-Barkin has also spent her time walking some prospective participants in the community through how to use Zoom in preparation for the meeting.

There is a limit of 10 participants for the event. Five residents of North Philadelphia will receive $25 Amazon gift cards for participating.

The meeting format is something Felipe-Barkin admits will be a bit of an experiment in the virtual setting. 

In-person story circles started with a brainstorming session, where every participant said the first thing that came to their mind about a certain subject or question. Those words went on a white board, and then connections were drawn between them. 

“We do this big purge of whatever’s on the top of everyone’s minds,” said Felipe-Barkin

What follows are breakout groups for community members to get to know each other better as they talk through a couple of guiding questions.

“That’s usually fascinating to hear what are the persistent worries or the persistent feelings that people are having individually and as a group,” said Felipe-Barkin.

For the Zoom meeting on Feb. 18, the plan is similar with a big, group brainstorming session before pairing off into Zoom breakout rooms.

At the end of the session, participants will hear a presentation by a representative from Baker Industries, an organization dedicated to finding stable work for adults in Philadelphia who struggle to get and keep employment.

A resource sheet will also be distributed that lists organizations that help with everything from Internet access and utility bills to food insecurity.

Interested participants are encouraged to register on Eventbrite to receive a Zoom meeting link prior to the event.

The financial wellness story circle is one of six planned by Power Street for 2021. For a full list, visit their website.

As for their impact? Organizers like Felipe-Barkin hope the gatherings, though virtual, bring just that: hope.

“I’m hoping that people leave with a renewed sense of like: ‘The pandemic is going to end and we will all be together soon,” she said.

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting as brokeinphilly.org.

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