Tim Whitaker’s Mighty Writers Program Empowers Philly Kids to Raise Their Voices

The Wynnewood resident and former editor of Philadelphia Weekly puts his writing experience to good use through a three-year old initiative that’s taking the city by storm.

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A longtime journalist in the area who lives in Wynnewood, Whitaker launched Mighty Writers in the summer of 2009 after a 14-year run as editor of Philadelphia Weekly. “I wanted a way to reinvent myself,” he says.

If necessity were always the mother of invention, society would place a higher priority on basic reading and writing. “There’s a growing gap between the essential needs of our businesses and the fundamental skills of our people,” states a 2009 study by the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board, which found more than half of the city’s adults to be “low literate” or worse. “We have not invested the necessary resources for our people to keep pace.”

Making judicious use of grant money, donations, some 300 volunteers and its four staffers, Mighty Writers provides a shot in the arm to beleaguered schools. Such programs are not always greeted warmly by school districts, but Mighty Writers has been a neighborhood hit since settling into its brick-and-stucco headquarters. The building is owned by Philly music giant Kenny Gamble, who grew up nearby and has worked tirelessly to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood. His Universal Institute Charter School is just a block away.

Seventy-five kids signed up when the doors opened more than two years ago, and that number has most likely topped 1,000 by now. They come from public and parochial schools, some from as far away as Ardmore and Chestnut Hill. Even  top-ranked institutions like the Julia R. Masterman School participate.

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