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Providence Center home
SEPTA’s 47 bus stop in front of Providence Center, located on 5th and Huntingdon streets. Photo ALDÍa News

How SEPTA makes the Providence Center home

It’s a part of every day for Shaakinaa Drakeford and Neftali Perez. Just like where the two meet and collaborate on a daily basis.

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Neftali Perez is still relatively new to Philadelphia. Having moved from the Dominican Republic to the city’s Olney section four years ago, his main way of learning the city has been SEPTA.

These days, his routes are many — the 47 and 54 buses to go to school, the 33 to see his uncle, the 53 to the gym, and the 89 or Market-Frankford Line to see friends at a baseball game in Juniata or the Fashion District.

“I got different routes,” said Perez.

Neftali Perez, Teen Leader at the Providence Center . ALDÍA News .
Neftali Perez, Teen Leader at the Providence Center.  Photo ALDÍA News     .

But his most important is the daily trip he takes to the Providence Center on the 47 bus.

Since November 2021, Perez has been a teen leader at the longtime Fairhill-based youth and family center. It’s a select group of adolescents that are hired by the organization to be mentors and look after the younger children that arrive everyday for extracurricular help and other activities.

“The community in Providence Center is good. I got in touch with people. I got comfortable with them, and they became part of my life,” said Perez.

His job is all-encompassing when it comes to looking after younger kids that come to the center. Whether it’s homework help, giving school advice, or playing games and conjuring group activities for them all to do, it’s hard work, but a task Perez doesn’t take lightly.

“I’m a role model for them,” he said. “It means a lot because it’s my first time interacting with kids and taking care.”

Leading Perez in his effort to guide and connect with more youth at the Providence Center is Shaakinaa Drakeford, the Youth Program Coordinator at the center. In that role, she not only oversees Perez’s growth and development as a teen leader, but also the afterschool program called Power, for younger kids.

Drakeford’s daily journey is also on SEPTA, but in addition to the 47, which Perez also rides, Drakford takes the 26 and 18 buses to start the journey from her home around Lasalle University.

For her, a lifelong Philadelphian, SEPTA has been constant.

Shaakinaa Drakeford, Youth Program Coordinator at the Providence Center. Photo ALDÍA News .
Shaakinaa Drakeford, Youth Program Coordinator at the Providence Center.   Photo ALDÍA News     .

“I’ve taken just about every form of transportation of SEPTA that you can think of,” she said.

“I’ve taken just about every form of transportation of SEPTA that you can think of,” she said.

What she appreciates these days is how the neighborhoods and people change out of the bus window on her daily commute.

Where she starts, Drakeford described as “quiet.”

“You won’t hear anyone talking a lot, you won’t hear anyone communicate with each other a lot,” she said. “It’s not necessarily family-oriented or warm and fuzzy.”

That changes, she says, the moment she gets on the 47 heading south towards the Providence Center.

“It’s like totally different. It’s bright colors, people speaking with passion, everyone’s in the mix with everything, everyone’s so friendly,” said Drakeford.

In other words, she comes to work everyday energized by her interactions on the bus, or at least a story to tell to coworkers. Coming from outside of Fairhill for work, Drakeford has also used the ride to connect with people in the surrounding community.

For Perez, it’s how he found Providence Center in the first place. While walking to catch the 47 back home, he met a woman who worked at the center doing the same thing.

“She just stopped me, saying ‘do I want to get a job?’” he said.

The rest is history, and the Providence Center has become a second home for both Drakeford and Perez.

“I don’t consider this a job… this is my life. This is what I do every day and I definitely enjoy it. This is my dream job. I enjoy impacting so many,” said Drakeford.

“I don’t consider this a job… this is my life. This is what I do every day and I definitely enjoy it. This is my dream job. I enjoy impacting so many,” said Drakeford.

For Perez, he’s still got another year as a teen leader before heading off to college. His ultimate dream is to be an entrepreneur, and he’s building his base as we speak at Fifth and Huntingdon.

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