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    Friends Center: Promoting a Positive Change Inside & Out

    How can urban spaces connect us to those around us?

    Nestled at 1501 Cherry St, the Friends Center is the Quaker Hub for Peace and Justice in Philadelphia. But beyond the use for those of Quaker faith, the sustainable center welcomes many like-minded groups to foster a community group ecosystem.

    Not only does the Friends Center encourage changemakers to use its space, but also the building includes many sustainable elements to show how Quaker values can be present inside and out.

    Why did the Friends Center prioritize green building renovations?

    rainwater captureFriends Center captures & stores rainwater to reuse for flushing toilets.

    About 10 years ago, Friends Center decided to undergo sustainability renovations that made it a LEED Platinum building. In the US, buildings contribute to nearly 40% of energy consumption. Beyond the importance of sustainable buildings for the environment, Friends Center also wanted to make a statement to the community about their values while showing other people that it IS possible to make a building green, as Executive Director, Chris Mohr, explained.

    It makes sense. The Quaker commitments to peace, equality, simplicity, and integrity are well rooted in sustainability – like how to face our role in overconsumption and how we use resources. After Friends Center received buy-in from the community through fundraising efforts, it seemed like a sure win.

    They were also early-adopters of sustainable building infrastructure. In 2006, solar panels were installed. Friends Center uses a geothermal heating and cooling system, with 7 open-loop 7 wells under the sidewalk, going 700-1000 feet below the surface. In 2007, the 8400-SF green roof was designed by Roofmeadow and installed to clean the air, filter pollution from stormwater runoff, and reduce heating and cooling costs. The sedum varieties can withstand Philly weather year-round and look pretty impressive from above.

    Friends Center green roof. Photo: Philly Watersheds.

    Choosing sustainability isn’t always the cheapest route: the geothermal system increased the cost. But after the building renovations, the Friends Center reduced its energy use, saving money on operations. These sustainable changes even decreased the water bill by 90%. And Friends Center chooses green providers for its electricity.

    Workspace For Nonprofits: Making a Difference

    Friends Center carefully selects tenants to create an inspiring workspace, which often results in flourishing partnerships.

    With over 40 different nonprofits on site, Friends Center leases offices space and (a currently full) co-working option, the Exchange. Friends Center gives priority to nonprofit groups dedicated to peacemaking, equality and social justice. Tenant organizations include Food & Water Watch PA, Physicians for Social Responsibility, GreenLight Fund, Trust for Public Land and many more.

    It’s not unusual to hear about the Friends Center tenants working together. As Mohr says, it’s one of the best parts of his job.

    “It’s the ability to make connections. We often introduce tenants and event hosts due to similar missions.”

    For example, the Quaker Retreat Center Pendle Hill recently partnered with the Living Building Challenge. The Friends Center hosted their joint meeting on water due to their stormwater initiatives.

    Statue of Mary
    Friends Center Statue of Mary Dyer in courtyard

    Using Friends Center Space for Events

    It’s not unusual to see a ceremony in the Meeting House, whether couples exchange nuptials or families seeing proud students receive their diploma.

    Friends Center also welcomes events of all sizes, from weddings and graduations to conferences.

    The organizations hosting events typically are nonprofits rallying around causes, like peace and justice. “It’s interesting to have this building based on the Quaker beliefs, and also have nonprofits coming here that are fighting for something good in the communities,” said Events and Administration Coordinator Shakirah Holloway.

    The Friends Center hosts many conferences, like the New Voices for Reproductive Justice Conference, a women of color led initiative dedicated to the health and well-being of Black women and girls through leadership development, human rights, and reproductive justice. And once they host an event, “a lot of organizations who come here continue to come back,” according to Holloway.

    Healthcare organizations like the Scattergood Foundation host initiatives for the greater community. For example, Pennsylvania Health Access Network held a huge drive to sign up locals for Obamacare during the Fall. Friends Center also is the venue for Net Tuesday, teaching nonprofits about technology, social media and more.

    The energy inside is contagious. “When you see a passion for what people are doing, it sets something in you that makes you want to do good, too,” as Holloway explained.

    Visit the Friends Center website if you want to host an event. And if you’re a 501(c)(3), there’s always a nonprofit discount!


    Cover photo: Clio

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    Julie Hancher

    About Julie Hancher

    Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake.

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