For the Wleh family, giving back is an inherited trait – the 4-year-old daughter of Jackie and Johnetta Wleh has already taken part in some of their community outreach initiatives.
Jackie Wleh, a senior anthropology major, was walking through the snowy streets of West Philadelphia in Winter 2010 when it struck him how many sidewalks and driveways were unplowed. He said he wondered how many residents were physically unable to remove the snow themselves.
It was with that question in mind Jackie Wleh and his wife Johnetta created the charitable organization Able Bodied Christian Men. ABC Men is the couple’s effort to service the community, something they both said is of great importance to them. Though the organization’s purpose is based on their faith in scripture that calls for service, Jackie Wleh said he and his wife encourage anyone with a passion for charitable work to join as a volunteer, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof.
“Anyone can join,” he said. “We’re not preaching. That’s not what we’re about. We’re about serving.”
ABC Men is organized to operate year-round based on three main initiatives: caring for the elderly, assisting the disabled and providing support for youth. During winter months, the group focuses on snow removal for residents in Philadelphia who cannot shovel snow from their sidewalks, driveways or cars. After the season is over, ABC Men visits elderly residents in nursing homes, while also assisting at a school in West Philadelphia for individuals with cerebral palsy.
During the summer, ABC Men takes local youths on educational trips, which in the past have included visits to the White House. Jackie Wleh said in the past, they’ve also taken students on an informal tour of Temple, the Wagner Free Institute of Science and a forensic lab at the Philadelphia Forensic Bureau for a presentation. This year, they hope to tour City Hall.
“We [encourage] quality education with a few trips,” Jackie Wleh said. “We’ll supervise them doing their homework. In the future, we want to branch into tutoring.”
In order to expand into services like tutoring, Johnetta Wleh said ABC Men needs to have its own facility to use as a base. She said it’s a major goal to work toward at the moment, so that they can run their programs year-round from one location. ABC Men operates from the Agape International Baptist Church. Johnetta and Jackie Wleh run the organization on top of two full-time jobs and parenting.
“[ABC Men] was set up [in a way] that would allow us to maintain our full-time jobs and still be effective in the community,” Johnetta Wleh said. “I know a lot of people share that thought, where they want to help but time is difficult.”
Now that ABC Men has partnered with Temple and is able to grant work-study compensation to student-volunteers, the couple hopes to increase volunteer interest. Johnetta Wleh, who is a Temple alumna with a double major in psychology and criminal justice, said she was happy to make the arrangement with such a “familiar” school and she’s excited to start working with students.
“It’s always challenging,” Johnetta Wleh said of recruiting volunteers. “You find individuals, [but] what’s challenging is getting committed individuals.”
She said ABC Men has five regular volunteers to depend on for providing various services. One such volunteer, Kenneth Walker, was a coworker of Jackie Wleh’s when they both worked as case managers for homeless men with mental illnesses.
Walker, who now works as a job developer for People for People Inc., a program for youth offenders between 18 and 21 intended to rehabilitate for career paths, said he joined because he “loves to serve.” Although he’s running for state representative this year, he said he still finds time to help with ABC Men. Typically, Jackie Wleh will call him to ask if he’s available to do some work, he said.
What ABC Men needs most is more volunteers, Walker said, adding that he thinks college-aged individuals would do a lot for the organization’s success.
“The youthfulness [helps],” Walker said. “Shoveling and laboring is very tiresome. Also, [college students’] flexibility – I work a 9-to-5, I’ll go [do work] on my lunch break.”
Johnetta Wleh said her reasoning is the more volunteers ABC Men has, the more people in the community they’ll be able to help. Walker said as he campaigns, he feels it’s important for him to continue doing community service along with any individuals also interested in volunteering.
“I believe that we have a lot of great nonprofits in the city and most of the time it’s hard for them to get the resources to provide the services they want to provide,” Walker said. “[ABC Men is] doing a great job and [I] want them to continue the services.”
Erin Edinger-Turoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @erinJustineET.