A Gift of Friendship That Began At the Frankford YWCA

The Frankford Y has long been closed but to the “Young Mothers’ Club” our hearts were forever opened there. I’m sure we’re one of the only groups, if not THE only group, from the Frankford YWCA that still keeps in touch and has lunch get-togethers. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

The Frankford Y is located at 4704 Leiper St. but we know its location is also commonly referred to as Leiper and Orthodox Streets. Everyone knows about this historic site.

It was built by one of the early mill owners, John Garsed, of Richard Garsed and Brother, who were cotton manufacturers. This mansion was built sometime during 1866 and 1867. John would later fall on hard times and it became known as “Garsed’s Folly”. His brother, Richard, would buy it to bail him out. In 1941, the Young Women’s Christian Association took it over and the mansion became a neighborhood center. Something I didn’t know was that many, many USO hostesses were trained there during World War II. During the 1960’s, with “white flight” happening, the Y would be used to foster a better understanding between the races. There was even a community paper there, called “The Northeast Liberator”.

There was a preschool there for many years on the third floor. I even worked there for a while.

A pool would later be added. In fact, I lied about our Jimmy’s age – you had to be 6 months old for swimming lessons and he was 5½ months old. Well, of course, he was precocious. Sadly, in 2009, it closed with nearly 68 years of housing community service activities. Though a few people have tried to revive and repurpose the building, efforts up to now have not been successful. At present, the building is up for sale.

You know me in many different roles. But did you know I’m a “Young Mother”? And that there are other “Young Mothers” just like me?

Back in 1979, I’m pretty sure, there was an ad in the News Gleaner about a group starting up at the Frankford Y that was for young mothers. Now, none of us that came to the first meeting had any idea how “young” the mothers would be. We learned that, of those who did come, the first was in their later 20’s, I was second at 25, and the youngest from there down to 19 or twenty years of age. There were 5 of us at first and then we had one young mother join us soon after we started. What’s interesting is that we were not in the digital age yet, so we can’t find a copy of that ad from the News Gleaner nor did we take a lot of pictures. But in my mind’s eye, I can still see us at the Y and also “through the years”.

We were mostly from Frankford with the others from nearby neighborhoods. One of the Young Mother’s boyfriends would be the babysitter for our weekly hour or so get togethers. I would get teased because my Great Aunt Pearl lived with us and she would care for Jimmy, so at first he didn’t attend. So it was always suspected I didn’t even have a child. Once he was walking, he did come, too.

Well, we met for at least 2 years there but some of the Young Mothers would move, work, have more children so we would occasionally meet at each other’s houses. However, much time passed between us seeing each other, but we can truly pick up just like it was yesterday. We have been doing that for 39 years.

We meet for lunch now every few months and at a recent luncheon, I said a story about the Young Mothers would be a good one for The Frankford Gazette. These photos were taken at a 1999 swim at Anne Marie’s home. Looking at the cake it says “Forever Young Mothers”. Enough from me, let me let you hear from the other Young Mothers.

Let me introduce them to you:
Anne Marie Imperatore is our leader and has done much to keep us together over these years. As we reflected on what the Young Mothers’ Club meant to us, Anne Marie, said that, back then, she didn’t have a lot of friends. She and Donna became “fast friends” and would help each other and just be friends. Now we’re best friends and if some one has trouble, we would be there for that person. Anne Marie has 4 kids, Richie, Nikki, Mario and Brad. She also has 3 grandchildren that she absolutely adores, Brittany, Gianni and Sofia. Home is Hammonton, NJ.

Donna Budelis, is the youngest of the group, and she was a teenage Mom – an amazing Mom. Her role as Mom really put her beyond her high school friends as her responsibilities changed. Donna wanted understanding and new friends who knew what it was like to be a Young Mother. Donna has suffered the loss of a son. It’s still hard for many of her friends to talk to her but she finds that with us, it’s much more comfortable. Thank you, Donna. I think we all appreciate and are glad you feel that way. Donna has 5 kids and lives in Mayfair. As Donna lives closer, we travel to our lunches together and it’s been a treat to reconnect with her.

Peg McCauley is our wise one. When we first met, she had a daughter, Sarah, and I had Jim who was a little younger. Sarah would call him “Mim”. Peg and I became friends and I always admired her. She had a home on Foulkrod Street with the original hardwood floors, stairs and bannisters. She also bought a white sofa from Work Bench, if you remember them. Well, I wanted to have something nice, too. So, I bought one. But I also had day-care in my home. A day or two after I got it, somehow Jim and Philip got a hold of the Vaseline and put it on the new sofa cushion. Vaseline is oil and you can’t get that out. Well, Aunt Pearl and Bob, turned the cover over and it was some time before I learned of this!! Peg, too, wanted friendship and understanding of what it takes to be a mother. Peg remembers the fun, crafts, a summer barbecue and playground time. Most of all, it was the acceptance and no judgement space that we all needed. Peg has 3 kids and now lives in Swarthmore.

Maryann King is our positive and effervescent, ever youthful Young Mother. Maryann has two boys, and was very active in their sports and school. They are now 41, and 37. Maryann went on to be a “perpetual student”, and became a registered dietitian. The “Young Mothers’ Club” was a haven for all of us. We were able to talk about the challenges of being “young mothers”, and there was such comfort in our friendship. The fact that we’re still friends, and love getting together is a testimony of what a support/friend’s group can do.

I, Pat Smiley, have one son and I have always worked with children, so Jim has always been around children. When I had child care in my home, he would wake up and ask, “Where are the friends?” I, too, wanted friends who would have similar interests and could understand that kids change your life in many ways but so enrich your life as well. I didn’t keep in touch with high school friends, college I went evenings and Saturdays, many work friends I didn’t keep in touch with but these Young Mothers were special. And they still are. I am very happy to keep in touch with them. I’m the only one who still lives in Frankford. We lived at 2961 Fairhill St. – the house is not the re anymore. But Great Aunt Pearl and I were always riding over here to Frankford on the bus from Rockledge (right outside Fox Chase) so I really feel I grew up here.

L – Pat Smiley, Maryann King, Peg McCauley
R – Anne Marie Imperatore, Sally Wiley, Donna Budelis

Sally Parham Wiley is the funniest and lots and lots of fun. She describes herself as a suburban brat from South Philly (South Philly is suburban?) but she loved Frankford. Sally needed something in her life like the Young Mothers. First we met with our kids; now we meet without them. That’s coming full circle.

The Forever Young Mothers’ Club is very special to each one of us and when we first met at the Frankford Y, who knew where we would go or who we would be? Given all the changes in our lives, we are still Young Mothers from the Frankford Y and that’s a gift that grows more precious each year.

 

 

 

Resources for this article
http://www.preservationalliance.com/endangered/new-frankford-y/