• Ralph Thurman

ACHIEVEability: Working to End Generational Poverty in West Philadelphia

Philadelphia is one of the poorest major cities in the United States, as over 28 percent of the city’s residents live below the poverty line. Poverty is often the result of a generational cycle. Families struggle to escape poverty due to several complicated factors, including a lack of access to education, affordable housing, support services, and other tools. The Philadelphia-based charity ACHIEVEability is working to address poverty in West Philadelphia by helping families find access to these and other tools. Let’s take a detailed look at how the charity strives toward this goal.

History of ACHIEVEability ACHIEVEability was founded in 1981 by the Sisters of Mercy, business professionals, and women struggling with homelessness. Since then, the organization has evolved and expanded its reach.

Here is a quick overview of what the charity has accomplished over the past 40 years:

  • 1981 - The charity is founded as Philadelphians Concerned About Housing (PCAH) and acquired its first housing units from the Mercy Hospital of Philadelphia

  • 1984-85 - 35 housing units are developed



  • 1985 - First tenants join the PCAH Board

  • 1986-87 - The Philadelphia Health Management Corporation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recognize PCAH as a model program

  • 1994 - PCAH becomes a United Way member agency

  • 1999 - PCAH opens a computer center and launches a home ownership program

  • 1990-1999 - 72 housing units are developed for families



  • 2003 - Name changes from PCAH to ACHIEVEability

  • 2005 - Haddington/Cobbs Creek 2010: A Plan for Our Future is developed through a co-led neighborhood planning process

  • 2006 - Launch of the ACHIEVEability Connects Program

  • 2007 - 51 housing units and 158 homes are developed for families

  • 2008 - The Dewey Home Ownership Project is established, offering 10 homes for low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers



  • 2012 - A $7.5 million renovation of Lawson Residences at Von Louhr is completed—the first development financed by Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Historical Tax Credits

  • 2014 - A strategic alliance is formed with Mission First Housing Group

  • 2014 - ACHIEVEability hosts the first annual Health and Wellness Summer Jam

  • 2015 - The charity launches the WorkSmart West Philly Program

  • 2017 - ACHIEVEability appoints Jamila Harris-Morrison as executive director



  • 2018 - Ground is broken on the New Market West Community Center

  • 2019 - The ACHIEVEability Community Development Corporation and Targeted Corridor Management Program for the 60th Street Commercial Corridor are launched

  • 2020 - Programs are expanded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

  • 2021 - ACHIEVEability moves to its new home at New Market West

Family Self-Sufficiency Program The Family Self-Sufficiency Program (FSSP) is ACHIEVEability’s longest-running program. This program provides affordable housing and coaching to families in an effort to break the cycle of generational poverty through education.

Families receive assistance in finding jobs that pay living wages, post-secondary education, and permanent housing. These three services help West Philly families become more economically stable with more upward mobility in their careers.

The stated goals of FSSP include:

  • Help more parents earn post-secondary degrees and professional credentials

  • Help more families find jobs that pay a living wage and offer benefits

  • Help parents become more financially secure by advancing their careers

In 2021, the FSSP program had the following impact:

  • 124 families and 282 children received coaching and a home

  • Nine parents earned professional credentials, five earned bachelor’s degrees, three earned associate degrees, and one got their high school diploma

  • 91 percent of program beneficiaries found permanent housing



  • 50 percent increased their income

  • 100 percent of school-aged children stayed in school

ACHIEVEability Connects This program is dedicated to helping the West Philadelphia community as a whole by providing resources and fostering civic engagement and economic development. Connects is designed to help residents build off their strengths and make meaningful contributions to the equitable growth of this part of the city. Volunteers provide businesses with technical assistance and give residents basic needs services.

The goals of the ACHIEVEability Connects program include:

  • Foster equitable and inclusive economic development in the neighborhoods of Haddington and Cobbs Creek

  • Help residents access more anti-poverty services and opportunities for civic engagement



  • Eliminate and prevent neighborhood blight by supporting 60th Street Commercial Corridor businesses

Here is an overview of this program’s impact from last year:

  • 2,577 people received basic needs services



  • 177 enrolled in public benefits

  • 527 received free tax preparation

  • 216 received emergency financial assistance

  • Three businesses improved their safety standards

WorkSmart West Philly WorkSmart West Philly (WSWP) helps job seekers overcome barriers to employment and become more employable for living-wage jobs that can help to lift them out of poverty. This program partners with unemployed and underemployed individuals and helps them find employment by providing them with training, helping them find employment resources, and fostering connections between community members and employers. Last year, WSWP had the following impact:

  • 237 job seekers were helped by the program



  • 163 received help crafting strong resumes

  • 125 went through vocational assessments

  • 105 participated in skills-building workshops

  • 54 found employment


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