Updated: Feb 28, 2019
A nonprofit based in the center of the opioid epidemic in Kensington is offering a little hope this holiday season.
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A nonprofit based in the center of the opioid epidemic in Kensington is offering a little hope this holiday season.
Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA) is providing heat to low-income households in Kensington, as well as free vocational training to youth.
"We're right in probably the most challenging neighborhood of Philadelphia," said Steve Luxton, executive director of ECA.
The nonprofit, located on West Clearfield Street, is a stone's throw from the railroad tracks that once served as host to the infamous El Campamento. But while opioid users may sit on the outside, inside of ECA's warehouse, it's a different world.
ECA's emergency heater hotline gets scores of calls every day during the bitter cold months when heaters of low-income families stop working. ECA will dispatch technicians for a quick fix, and if that is not an option, the group will install a new system. The organization installed more than 850 in 2017.
"We restore heat to approximately 4,000 to 5,000 homes every year, all low-income," said Luxton. "You have no idea how miserable life can be until there's no heat and everyone is huddled around an oil radiator to stay warm."
The nonprofit also does weatherization and remodels.
Jeff Colter, a teacher in ECA's Green Retro Renovation program, helps train ex-offenders, high schoolers and others regardless of their skill levels in home remodeling.
"We show them how to lay tile, how to lay down hardwood floors, how to do sheet rock," he said.
Upstairs in ECA's headquarters, there's an HVAC training program with 40 students — half high schoolers, half adults.
"They'll be work-ready by summer," said Walt Yakabosky, director of training. "About 90 percent of our folks are working."
Yakabosky said they've trained 5,500 since they launched the program in 2010. ECA uses government and private funding to get the job done.
There's a need since younger people are bypassing the trades for more tech-focused work. Many organizations — government, unions, HVAC companies and more — are training ex-offenders and individuals in low-income communities to work in the trades and earn handsome livings.
"I didn't know how to do nothing at all, not even how to use a tape measure," admitted 21-year-old Carlos Rivera, who signed up for the program eight weeks ago. "But now, whatever they ask me to do, I can do it — and I am grateful."
Rivera said the free program is a life-changer.
"Now I can get a job," he said. "I want to own my own business one day."
Smiling, Luxton believes the work they do at ECA changes lives in many ways.
"We are the best kept secret in Philadelphia," he said. "In my opinion, we do more than just a little bit to make quality of life just a little better."
To contact ECA's emergency heater line, call 215-568-7190.