I grew up in a small town called Darby Township, it sits on the far southwest border of Philadelphia, about a mile or two from the Philadelphia airport. This close knit working class community of about 3,000 instilled the values of friendship and neighborly affection in its longtime residents. We all know each other… We know each other’s Mommas, Daddies, sisters, brothers and most cousins. Whenever tragedy or trauma befalls someone from Darby Township, it causes me angst. I find myself spending days fighting off feelings of deep anxiety or dread.
As I have grown older, my circle of close friends and surrogate family members has expanded beyond Township limits. Sometimes I don’t see or talk to friends for weeks or even months at a time. You know how that goes… Family concerns take precedent, business goals have to be met and, in far too many instances, friendships aren’t nurtured as they should be. But true friendships don’t require constant attention.
Friends are there in a time of need. Friends pick up right where they left off.
Unfortunately, my dear friends at The Fountain of Life Center Church in Burlington County are suffering.
Their beautiful church building, located in Burlington County’s Florence Township was destroyed in a massive eight-alarm fire Monday night. According to reports, the rapidly spreading blaze broke out at about 6 p.m., and more than 150 firefighters from more than 50 fire companies across South Jersey and Pennsylvania struggled to contain the inferno.
After waging a relentless battle for about six hours, the fire was finally contained. The heroic firefighters were able to save roughly 65% of the church complex. The school was slightly damaged and the gymnasium was spared altogether. The fire was the largest in Burlington County since an 11-alarm blaze at a Dietz and Watson plant in 2013, according to the Burlington County Board of Commissioners.
“It’s a devastating loss,” Russell Hodgins, a senior pastor at the Fountain of Life Center, said. “The sanctuary’s just been completely burned… The roof collapsing is a pretty embedded image in my mind. When we saw that drop into the sanctuary, that was a pretty devastating image.”
Hodgins said classes for roughly 300 Life Center Academy students are canceled indefinitely
Unbeknownst to most observers, Life Center Academy has served as refuge for some of the most talented and troubled young basketball players in the nation for more than a decade.
Dion Waiters (Syracuse/NBA) and Traci Carter (Marquette/La Salle/Hartford) both escaped the hard scrabble streets of South Philadelphia and refined their considerable basketball skills on the Life Center Academy campus. LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State/EuroLeague) and Malik Hines (UMass/McNeese St/EuroLeague) left the mean streets of Jackson, Mississippi to learn, live and play at Life Center Academy. Trayvon Reed (Auburn/Texas Southern/EuroLeague) extricated himself from the projects in Mobile, Alabama and landed safely on the Life Center campus. Maurice Williams (Kutztown) and Malik Ellison (St. Johns/Pittsburgh/Hartford/NBA) were also standout performers in the Life Center program. With the lone exception of Waiters who left college as a sophomore and earned over $67,000,000 in his career, every one of these young men is a college graduate.
They are products of the Fountain of Life Church… the church is much more than just the building, it’s the people.
The church, the school, the basketball program… It’s impossible to separate them. When I encountered talented young men dealing with adverse situations, I always knew I could call upon Life Center Academy.
Poor young men from the deep south, in need of guidance and opportunity… Life Center took them in…
Troubled young men from cities like Philadelphia, Trenton and Newark, often with difficult and challenging home situations…
Life Center took them in…
No questions asked other than “are you willing and able to attend church”?
I made my way to worship today with my dear friend Pastor Dave Boudwin, his wife and family. There was no place else I would have rather been. I’m from Darby Township and we support our friends through trying times.
The service and the sermon were uplifting. The sanctuary was filled beyond capacity and the overflow room held another few hundred congregants. Let there be no doubt, through the devastation, the Fountain of Life community of believers stands together in faith.
“The church is not brick and mortar, the church is really the body of believers,” Hodgins said. ” God will help us through this, and I believe the church will be stronger than ever.”