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What’s Happening in Philadelphia’s High-Crime, Poverty-Stricken Penn Town Neighborhood?
A five-year look back at “The Backyard Philly Project,” with Montae, Tasia, Brianna and David and The Helping Hand Rescue Mission
December 12, 2017 Allentown, PA – Five years ago, Ferasha Films, a non-profit founded by Drexel University graduate Amanda Danziger, released its short documentary and award-winning film, “The Backyard Philly Project.” The film examined the effects of poverty and gun violence on a group of Philadelphia youth and how The Helping Hand Rescue Mission helped them overcome the downward spiral growing up in the poverty-stricken Penn Town neighborhood often entails.
Five years later, Ferasha Films is bringing back the stories of Montae, Tasia, Brianna and David — along with a short update from Youth Director Adam Bruckner from The Helping Hand Rescue Mission. Their stories are centered and filmed again inside The Helping Hand Rescue Mission which is located in an area the locals call “Penn Town.” “The Backyard Philly Project: 5 Years Later” will be released on the Ferasha Films website on Thursday, January 4, 2018.
A lot has changed in the past five years since the film crew wrapped up the first project in 2012, most especially gentrification taking place in the neighborhood that has traditionally been plagued by high crime and poverty. “You have these old neighborhoods that have been occupied by people living at low-incomes, but developers are coming in building $560,000 condos right next door,” says Bruckner.
The four friends give updates on where they are in their lives today and also show how much Penn Town has changed over the years — is it for better or is it for worse? “I’m amazed how much things have changed in the past five years,” says Danziger. “The teenagers are now young adults with new perspectives and outlooks. Creating this five-year documentary opened my eyes to how important it is to learn from our mistakes and to keep pushing forward towards the goal.”
Poverty is a painful reality for many Philadelphia’s young people. Educational opportunities can be the key that unlocks poverty’s hold, like for Montae, featured in the film. “Sometimes I feel like giving up going to school, but I came way too far and too many people depend on me. I’m almost at the top. I’m this close. I’m going to finish strong.”
Recent studies from the Pew Research Center show that “more than a quarter of city residents still live below the poverty line.” The cycle of poverty, addiction and violence is one that plagues many neighborhoods, like Penn Town.
Although a small area, Penn Town consists of 400 Philadelphia Housing Authority units, mere blocks away from historic Philadelphia sites, including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. The Helping Hand Rescue Mission, which is funded by the Kyle Korver Foundation, serves as a safe haven for neighborhood youth and works to helps them overcome the negative influences that living in a place like Penn Town can have.
The first film premiered in Philadelphia in May 2013, “The Backyard Philly Project” has since won awards and accolades at film festivals near and far, including; “Best Documentary” and “Best Feature” at the 2013 Greater Lehigh Valley Filmmaker Festival, “Best Feature-Length Independent Film of the Year” at the 2013 Philly Geek Awards, and more. The original cut can be seen on Amazon Prime’s streaming service or watch the remix version for free on the Ferasha Films website.