Changing the game by empowering community, one block at a time

Cherri Gregg
February 11, 2019 - 6:00 am
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)The Block Gives Back, a nonprofit that engages the community, was founded by a group of friends who graduated together from Lincoln High School.

Their journey to giving back to their community began three years ago.

"One of my friends was watching a video on YouTube about feeding the homeless," said Tom Roush, president or the organization, "so we decided to do it for Christmas."

The group of six friends — which includes Roush, Felix Alvarez, Kevin Morales, Sean Rogge, who recently moved to Philadelphia from Oregon, Tyreek Wannamaker, and Hakeem Ruiz — created a GoFundMe page hoping to raise $200. Instead, they collected $1,200. 

The event was a big hit, too.

"We got to talking — why don't we make this bigger?" wondered Roush.

 They noticed complaints on social media about the trash on the blocks and rundown parks. 

"We were tired of complaining," he said, so they launched a goal of cleaning up four blocks in four weeks. They took block nominations from neighbors, then brought in volunteers to lead a cleanup, followed by a block party. 

The Block Gives Back
Courtesy of The Block Gives Back

The Block Gives Back
Courtesy of The Block Gives Back

The group worked in Roush's basement. Eventually, they moved into a one-car garage — then they decided to get organized.

"We call ourselves degenerate do-gooders," said Roush. "We are regular guys in our 20s — so we like to have fun — but also do good."

  

"Everybody has a role," added Morales, the group's treasurer. "We have meetings once a week and we all pay dues, and if you are five minutes late for the meeting, it costs $2."

The guys also designed T-shirts and other merchandise that they sell to fund their efforts. Now, in addition to block cleanups, they host peace and play days, back-to-school drives, park renovations, and more.

"We were not allowed to go to the park because of needles and stuff and were basically forced to play in the street," noted Alvarez on his childhood growing up in North Philadelphia. "So now that I can do something about it, that's what we do."

The Block Gives Back
Courtesy of The Block Gives Back

The group hopes that by visiting blocks all over the city, they'll encourage the people who live there to get to work.

"I want us to do so good that we no longer exist," added Roush.

While the guys come from different neighborhoods themselves and boast diverse backgrounds, they are brothers with a common cause: empower the community one block at a time. 

"Once the community gets involved, they change the game themselves," said Rogge.

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GameChangers is led by KYW Newsradio's community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg and recognizes 10 individuals or organizations that are making a positive impact on communities of color. For a full list of 2019's GameChangers, visit kywnewsradio.com/gamechangers.