Serving a higher purpose

The Philadelphia Access Center is a Christian-based community organization offering referrals and free counseling to those in need.

By Lorraine Gennaro
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 9, 2004

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A former federal police officer with the Department of Defense, Frank Wiedeburg is homebound and suffers from heart and lung failure as well as gout.

Unable to go as far as the grocery store, the resident of the 1400 block of South Ninth Street would spend most of his veteran's pension on food deliveries from the corner shop.

"I was near death for physical and mental reasons," he said.

Then, thanks to the intervention of a cousin, he found the Philadelphia Access Center.

Center volunteers began delivering meals to Wiedeburg, 51, and offered him other nourishment as well.

"I was pretty much down in the dumps. They started teaching me about the Bible and I started praying earnestly, and my life turned around," he said. "I think they are a godsend. They brighten up my days. They are really good people."

The Philadelphia Access Center has been serving South Philadelphia since September 2001, when it opened in the First Christian Assembly Church at 11th and Mifflin streets. In December 2002, the church bought a building across the street, where the center is housed today.

The seeds of goodwill were sown when a young woman down on her luck approached First Christian Assembly Pastor Joe Melloni for help.

The parishioner's needs were many -- housing, childcare and a desire to get her GED -- and, unfortunately, beyond the scope of the church, Melloni recalled.

"It was a burden the Lord put on my heart that we should be able to do more," he said.

So Melloni prayed and pondered how he could help the woman.

He began to identify social-service agencies and other churches in the community that were doing the Lord's work, as he put it. After checking them out, the pastor started to give referrals to other parishioners in need.

During the course of his research, however, Melloni realized that the area lacked a centralized resource center that offered help with all types of social-service issues.

And thus came the Philadelphia Access Center, funded by the Inverso Baglivo Foundation, a charitable organization founded by Melloni's uncle, Daniel Inverso.

In keeping with Pastor Melloni's vision, the Philadelphia Access Center is a referral agency and counseling center all in one. All of the center's services are free.

A core team of 12-15 administrators and counselors volunteer their time weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Other volunteers work in the community or part-time at the center. Jim Laverty, the center's director since its inception, is the only paid staffer.

Laverty previously lived for a decade in Spain, where he did ministry work. When he's not at the center, he's studying for his master of divinity degree at the Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield.

By talking to clients and evaluating their needs, the Philadelphia Access Center matches people with the appropriate service providers. The center offers free services such as referrals to area food banks, addiction-recovery programs and assistance in completing forms for public benefits such as food stamps and rent rebates.

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