GROWING UP ON the streets of North Philly wasn't easy for Argo Simpkins
Born to a single mom who went on and off welfare, Simpkins
struggled and did poorly in school and at age 15, found herself pregnant with no prospect of college.
"I finally realized that everything that was happening was all my choices," said Simpkins
."I realized that no one was doing this to me, I was making choices and doing this to myself."
took control of her
had the baby.She
finished high school.She
got a secretarial job, then another job.She
never missed a day of work, never showed up late.
beat the odds.
"But what I learned from it was there are people like me who make mistakes," said Simpkins
"I am not talking about a handout for people," Simpkins
Growing up at 24th and Huntingdon in North Philly, Simpkins
' mother struggled to make ends meet, going on and off welfare, and "doing the best she
could" for Simpkins and her
didn't apply herself at school and as a result, no one encouraged her
to go to college - especially after she
got pregnant at 15.
"My grades weren't good and so it wasn't talked about," said Simpkins
."It was never offered to me."She
managed to finish high school after having the baby, and went straight to a job-training program where she
learned to type, to file and other general secretarial skills.From there, she
was placed at a local real estate agency as a secretary.
"I learned how to type, how to write, I always showed up on time and I never missed a day," she
From there she
went to several other secretarial jobs, but always felt a pull toward a career that could help others to not just survive, but advance in life.In 1994, she joined the Campus Boulevard Corporation (CBC) in Philadelphia, a non-profit training school that took state, federal and local corporate grants and contracts to train employees in computer literacy, data entry and hospitality so that they could advance in the workplace.She began writing the curriculum for trainees and eventually became the director of the career program.
"I was skilled at writing successful training programs for people like me," said Simpkins
"Women are going to prison at a faster rate than men, and they are coming out of prison often to nothing," said Simpkins
In 2003, Simpkins
and 13 other employees just a few days' notice that it was struggling financially and planned to shut down.Simpkins
stepped up to the plate and took over the operation, signing on as president and renaming it the ABO
Haven Job Training Program.
"They hadn't been actively seeking new contracts to bring in more revenue, so we had to do some serious scrambling," said Simpkins
The success story
Since 2003, Simpkins
has succeeded in maintaining the federal and corporate contracts that CBC
had, while still trying to recruit new ones.
"Right now, we send graduates to Glaxo SmithKline
, the City of Philadelphia
, Abington Hospital
, Temple University Hospital
, Towers Perrin
, all over," said Simpkins
does not make a profit from the training program, she
created other for-profit ways to sustain ABO Haven.Romulus Enterprises, LLC
, is a licensed career-training school that trains students in computer and other certification programs at 2 Penn Center.And after repeatedly seeing that graduates who are single parents often have to turn down jobs requiring off-hour or overnight shifts, in November she opened a round-the-clock, seven-days-a-week daycare called the ABO Haven Center for Non-Traditional Early Learning and Child Care.
The 9,000-square-foot space at 10th and Spring Garden can care for 101 children, for about $150 to $220 a week; subsidies are accepted.Though it is now at about 10 percent capacity, Simpkins
believes business will pick up as word of mouth spreads."These kids love it here," said executive director Marlo Satchell, who has worked with Simpkins for 16 years.