By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA GRANT – Honor Blackburn loves working with kids, and that’s a good thing. Running a Catholic Social Service (CSS)-sponsored Beacon Program after school at St. Martin de Porres Interparochial School in Germantown requires empathy with young people.

“I feel like it is family there, and I want to give back,” she said. “We serve about 160 children, grades K through 12.”

Beacon offers an array of services, to young people who might be at-risk on the streets.

“Kids are at risk because of the streets, both parents may be working. There is crime, violence and poverty. The environment plays a big part in what’s going on,” she said. “We are here for the purpose of providing them with the tools so they can make it in the world.”

Open five days a week from 3 until 8:30 p.m., she explained, “it’s a safe haven.We give homework assistance, we have sports and recreation, we teach financial management. “It’s good for them to come to a place where they can be a child. They really want to do better, and I’ve seen children come a long way here. I also see it in kids who volunteer. We get them from colleges and from high schools such as Little Flower, Hallahan, Dougherty and Mastbaum.”

Blackburn-Grant grew up in North Philadelphia’s St. Malachy Parish. After graduation from the parish elementary school, she went on to Mastbaum High School where she concentrated on business and distributive education. She was still in high school when her life turned upside down.

Her dad died in 1985, during her senior year, and her mom died shortly after her graduation. She moved to California to be with family but returned to Philadelphia after two years and settled in southwest Philadelphia,

She also earned her undergraduate degree at Temple University and taught for a time in the public school system.

Her real career started when she volunteered with CSS at the Southwest Family Service Center which led to part-time work and ultimately a full-time position there.

“I’ve been Catholic all my life and I remembered the great things the Church does,” she said. “It’s an honor to work with her.”

Blackburn-Grant fell in love with the challenge of social service and went back to Temple for her master’s degree in social work. Her tasks included family case management and facilitating a girls’ “Sistakeeper” program. Through Sistakeeper, originally founded in St. Louis, girls are grouped in programs for ages 8-11 or 12-15. The sessions promote self-esteem, along with self-awareness, character, education, spanersity and leadership.

The girls, assisted by Blackburn-Grant, meet and talk about their lives and other topics.

Many kids don’t like to talk about themselves, but in a structured group they are more likely to do so, Blackburn-Grant believes.

Two years ago she transferred to the Beacon Program at St. Martin de Porres Parish in North Philadelphia, and this past year has taken charge of the Beacon at St. Martin in Germantown.

Blackburn-Grant was one of the speakers at this year’s archdiocesan Catholic Charities Appeal kickoff, and faith plays a big role in everything she does. She is also active in her own parish, St. Barnabas, where she has worked with the CYO. When she was asked to serve as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, she hesitated. “You never think you are good enough,” she said. “I prayed on it and asked the Lord what He wanted,” before accepting.

On the other hand, when it comes to working with young people, the prayer is of thanksgiving.

“I always wanted to help people and I love children. That’s what we do as an organization,” she said.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.