The ballroom at the Philadelphia Irish Center is often home to social events of one kind or another, including concerts and pageants, or banquets and balls hosted by the city’s many county organizations.
It’s a popular place—but often, mostly among adults.
On Saturday, March 2, the ballroom will play host to a younger crowd. Much younger.
That evening, the Irish Center (also known as the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center), will host its first-ever Middle School Social for 6th, 7thand 8thgraders. The Center is located in Philadelphia’s Mount Airy neighborhood.
It’s all part of an effort to make the Center a more welcoming place for the next generation and their families. That, in turn, is an outgrowth of a survey the Center conducted fairly recently when it became incorporated as a nonprofit.
“We wanted to be sure we were serving the Irish community and the surrounding Mount Airy community, to the best of our ability,” says Center board member and vice president Lisa Maloney. “The survey came back with some interesting results. Some of it we knew. For example, they wanted more Irish music events. We’ve been doing our best to do that. But they also wanted family-friendly events and this (the middle school social) was one that a number of us on the board had thought about in the past, but we never really got it together.”
Now seems like the right time to do it, Maloney says, so she hosted a meeting at her house in Havertown, and invited representatives of various parts of the local Irish community. There was a consensus around the middle school social idea.
Many of these kids already interact with each other, Maloney says, at Gaelic Athletic Association activities, like the Delco Gaels and the Glenside Gaelic Club, local Irish dance schools and competitions, and CYOs at schools such as Cardinal John Foley Regional Catholic School and Sacred Heart School in Havertown. Given that many of the kids in this age group already knew each other in one way or another, the middle school social seemed like a natural idea.
What’s on the agenda?
Well, there is no formal agenda, and that’s pretty much the point.
“We just want the kids to have fun,” says Maloney. “There are no big speeches. We’ll have some representatives of the GAA walking around, and we’re hoping that the Philadelphia Rose of Tralee and Miss Mayo will stop by, just so the kids can get a sense of what’s out there in the Irish culture. Otherwise, it’s really just the DJ, Tommy Tunes, to keep the kids dancing, and we’ll have pizza and refreshments, a little photo booth, and all kinds of things to keep the kids entertained.”
So far, the social seems to be generating a lot of interest, she adds, though at this point it’s still hard to know how many kids will show up—especially since it’s a first. For now, “we’re just spreading the word. I’ve been sending group emails to my 6th, 7thand 8thgraders at Cardinal Foley. I have a person at Sacred Heart reaching out to that school, and to the CYO. And that small group of people who met at my house, some were from the Delco Gaels, and they’re getting the word out. I’ve been in touch with the Glenside Gaelic Club, and I’ve made contact with the Irish dancing schools.”
Also on hand, Maloney believes, will be older teens who are members of the Foróige Youth Group, a program of the Irish Immigration Center of Greater Philadelphia, to serve as informal chaperones—and also to give younger teens yet another idea of Irish cultural involvement as they get older.
Of course, there will also be adults on hand, all of whom have secured the necessary security clearances, to monitor the activities.
For parents who choose to wait for their kids, there’s also something to do. The event starts at 7 p.m. and wraps up at 9:30, so there will be coffee and tea in the Fireside Room. Board members will be on hand to give them a tour of the sprawling facility.
“There are lots of hidden gems at the Irish Center, and some people may not know about them,” Maloney says. “We want to make it as friendly for both the parents and children at the same time.”
There have also been many recent improvements to the Center, and Maloney is hoping to show off. “It’s a beautiful building, and it’s being lovingly restored. We’re trying to make it a place where people want to go, have their parties, and share their Irish heritage. There is always some kind of event going on, and we’re working on publicizing them—and we’re open to people’s idea for other things they want to see the Irish Center focus on.”
The Center is located at Carpenter and Emlen Streets, across from SEPTA’s Carpenter station. Admission is $10, payable at the door. Pre-registration required at https://goo.gl/forms/69FgSjoVykizDeNd2. For more information, please contact Lisa Maloney at firstname.lastname@example.org 215-514-1654.