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Meet Broad Street Ministry's new executive director

Last summer, we featured Broad Street Ministry (BSM), a powerful local organization offering an ever-expanding range of services and resources for thousands of Philadelphians experiencing homelessness, poverty, housing or food insecurity. This month, BSM is installing a dynamic and dedicated new leader: Michael J. Dahl.

"I had a desire to start working with the most vulnerable in our community at the grassroots level," says Dahl of what prompted him to make this career shift (he’s former senior vice president of Pew Charitable Trusts, overseeing the Philadelphia program). "It became a personal matter -- where do I think I could have the most impact at this point in my life, in my career? I was looking around for what the next chapter could be."

He was impressed by BSM’s model and services. He went and volunteered, and participating himself is what confirmed his desire to get involved.

A Stanford alum, Dahl is taking over for BSM founder Rev. Bill Golderer, who left the organization last November to seek a seat in U.S. Congress (Golderer will remain on the BSM Board of Directors through the transition).

Before his 15 years with Pew -- which encompassed planning, public policy, fundraising, evaluation, research, finance and legal affairs -- Dahl had a hand in two successful business startups spanning strategic advisory, and insurance and financial services software. He was also an economic, tax and policy advisor to Senator Bill Bradley.

Dahl argues that it’s become far too easy for us as a society to "dehumanize" entire populations. He appreciates BSM’s rigorous approach not only to programming (including offerings as diverse as art classes and mail service for people without homes), but to evaluating and strengthening its approach.

"I come from the model that if ain’t broke, fix it," he says of applying ongoing, measurement-based improvements. "How can we do a better job of helping these people, people who are facing hunger or housing insecurity? Can we help them find their way to reclaim their lives and become more productive citizens?"

Dahl especially appreciates the existing Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative, "but I think the real upside is once you gain the trust, what are the fleet of services and supports that can be provided that truly let these people move back into society?" He’s also a fan of BSM's inclusivity as a faith-based organization that’s "open to all faiths, and people of no faith."

Dahl will officially start as BSM’s new executive director on June 13.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Michael J. Dahl, Broad Street Ministry 

Jewelry company Riot Alliance builds a business plan designed to give back

As the Master of Social Work (MSW) supervisor at the University of Pennsylvania's Child Advocacy Clinic, Sara Schwartz quickly realized that the toughest dollars for hard-working social justice nonprofits to raise are general operating funds. She decided to combine her after-hours passion for jewelry-making with a business plan tailored to give back.

Schwartz founded Riot Alliance in early 2014, making custom jewelry and teaching community jewelry-making workshops. The company partners with a different nonprofit every quarter, donating 10 percent of sales towards the organization's operational costs, while also using online platforms and social media to promote the nonprofit and its events.

"After I got my MSW, I started thinking more seriously about starting an independent artist business that was connected to social justice from its inception," says Schwartz. She focuses on nonprofits working in areas such as immigrant rights; criminal justice advocacy and reform for youth and adults; economic justice; and youth leadership.

"I really wanted to focus on working with organizations in Philly who may have a more difficult time obtaining operational funding," versus grants earmarked for a certain program or purpose, she explains. The Riot Alliance money is available for crucial day-to-day expenses, supplies for community events, or stipends for community workers. For many of these smaller nonprofits, a small amount of money can go a long way.

Looking forward, Schwartz hopes to grow her model in several ways. She aims to make Philly arts fairs more accessible to those who can’t afford the cost of their own tables by purchasing a table herself and sharing it with an artisan from her current partner organization. She also wants to expand her community jewelry-making programming, and look into a stipend-based community or student internship to help her scale up production. Pursuing various independent arts grants and other funding will enable her to donate more in the future.

She also plans to expand her partnerships with other social justice and arts-based businesses via pop-up shops, like a recent one at W/N W/N Coffee Bar.

Riot Alliance's current partner is Juntos, a South Philly-based immigrant rights organization; in May, they'll begin working with Youth United for Change.  

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sara Schwartz, Riot Alliance

Philadelphia makes another prime showing in latest Knight Cities Challenge

After nabbing more project grants than any other U.S. city in the Knight Foundation's inaugural 2015 Knight Cities Challenge, Philly has more reasons to be proud. As announced at an April 12 celebration at Reading Terminal Market (RTM), local winners received the largest share of the national grant program’s $5 million pool for 2016: over $873,000 for four local initiatives.
This year’s contest, which invites individuals and organizations nationwide to submit their ideas for improving city life, drew over 4,500 applicants. That was narrowed down to 138 finalists and 37 grantees. Philadelphia's winners include the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA) for its 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses; Reading Terminal Market Corp. for its Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers; Little Giant Creative for its Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship, and Benjamin Bryant for his Little Music Studio.
Caitlin Quigley of PACA spoke at the celebration. Her organization will use its $146,000 grant to launch 20 book clubs in 20 Philly neighborhoods. Attendees will focus on studying cooperative business models, and then use what they’ve learned to launch a co-op business serving a need in their community.
Quigley hopes the initiative will "activate Philadelphia residents to be lifelong agents of change in their neighborhoods."
RTM General Manager Anuj Gupta spoke on behalf of Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers, recipient of $84,674. According to Knight, the project will build "cultural bridges to Philadelphia’s immigrant communities with cooking classes celebrating ethnic food," led by RTM chefs.
RTM is one of the city’s most diverse public spaces, explained Gupta, and it’s known "as a place where one can expect civility," no matter where you come from, over the common enjoyment of food.
Tayyib Smith's Little Giant Creative is receiving $308,640 for its project that boosts "economic opportunity by using hip-hop to provide hands-on business training to members of low-income groups." As Smith noted, one third of our city’s population lives in poverty. With a GED and two semesters of college, he’s now the founder of four businesses, and he wants to see Philadelphia's entrepreneurial community talk as much as they can about local poverty.
Bryan's The Little Music Studio, which netted $334,050, will be a "traveling playground for musicians," making musical instruments accessible in public places to anyone who wants to sit together and play. The "project is not about performance," says Bryan, but about diverse people connecting through spontaneous jam sessions. (He’s leading the project through his role as director of planning and design at Group Melvin Design.)
As Knight Foundation Philadelphia Program Director Patrick Morgan put it, "Each of these ideas represents the best of Philadelphia."
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Patrick Morgan, Knight Foundation Philadelphia, and Knight grant recipients 


Aalta Yarn knits together business and social good

"All knitters are givers," says Christine Forester, founder of Aalta Yarn. Tapping into the national trend toward social enterprise, her business links knitters not only with high-quality hand-knit yarn but with charities in need of knitted goods. 

Forester, a Bucks County native, worked in the yarn industry for years, witnessing the explosion of the knitting craze. 

"The younger generation wanted to make something of their own that was beautiful and unique," she explains, recalling how celebrities like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and Jennifer Aniston led the trend, knitting European novelty yarns into simple scarves. 

Knitting's popularity has only increased since then: Philly millennials are showing up to classes at Nangellini in Fishtown or LoopKnits on South Street, and making names for themselves yarn-bombing all over the city (that includes Jessie Hemmons of Ishknits). 

Today's knitters want quality yarn to work with from companies that prioritize purpose along with profit. Aalta Yarn fits the bill. The high-quality Italian product is ideal for creating long-lasting blankets -- something Forester encourages knitters to create and donate to support their partner charities, the local chapter of Project Linus and Tabor: A Family of Services

"I was absolutely amazed at the number of needs [these organizations] had," recalls Forester. "There were so many children in need of blankets." 

Along with coordinating donation points at local shops, the company donates yarn to knitters via website request so that anyone can contribute their skills to make a blanket. 

Aalta Yarn is available in regional yarn shops including The Tangled Web in Chestnut Hill, Finely A Knitting Party in Swarthmore, and Knit in Newtown. The shops also carry Philly-made wool baskets and bags braided with 100 percent wool yarn.

Forester, who grew the business out of her capstone project for an MBA in strategic design at Philadelphia University, sees Aalta Yarn as a way to connect the giving spirit of knitters with quality products for kids who, like Linus in Peanuts, need that extra bit of comfort. 

"I want to make a difference," she says. "I want to make an impact, I want to bring joy and happiness to these children that are in need."

Writer: Martha Cooney
Source: Christine Forester, Aalta Yarn


DIY electronic mental health screenings come to Montgomery Country

We may be used to using automated kiosks to pay for groceries, take out cash, or even check our blood pressure, but what about normalizing this kind of service for mental health screenings, too? The HealthSpark Foundation, with partners Screening for Mental Health and the Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation, hopes to increase access to mental health services while reducing the stigma many people feel when they try to address mood disorders.

This month, the organization is debuting five MindKare kiosks in Montgomery County. This comes after two city pilots, one at a North Philadelphia Shop-Rite and another on the Drexel University campus.

According to the partners, the kiosks are "freestanding stations that offer a quick way for individuals to check on their mental and behavioral health by providing online self-assessments." The whole process can take as little as three minutes, explains HealthSpark President and CEO Russell Johnson, who likens the experience of using the touch-screen stations to visiting the ATM.

Evidence-based questions (developed through Screening for Mental Health) that gauge subjects’ feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts result in geographically customized recommendations for follow-up. This includes a list of accessible mental healthcare providers, or encouragement to bring the results of the assessment to a primary care doctor. If a user reveals suicidal thoughts, the kiosk can immediately provide a hotline number for help. Some kiosks enable users to print their results; others offer the option for them to be e-mailed to the user.

As a condition of installing the kiosks, one staffer from the hosting organization who works within view of the kiosk must receive training in mental health first aid. When needed, he or she can be a calming and well-informed presence for a person suffering from severe anxiety or suicidal thoughts, until help arrives.

The program evolved from a Scattergood design challenge a few years ago -- Drexel public health students won with a concept for a mental health-screening kiosk.

"Their interest…was to reduce the stigma associated with behavioral health conditions and create access," explains Johnson.

Dollars from the design challenge win led to the development of the kiosks with help from Screening for Mental Health. After the initial success of the pilot in Philadelphia, HealthSpark came on board, along with the Montgomery County Department of Behavioral Health, to try suburban placements.

According to Johnson, these locations were determined by factors such as geographic diversity and high pedestrian volume. You can find them at the Ambler YMCA, Manna on Main Street in Lansdale, Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Einstein Physicians Collegeville and the Norristown Regional Health Center.

And more kiosks may be coming. Johnson says that Screening for Mental Health, a national organization, is already getting inquiries about installing the kiosks across the country.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Russell Johnson, HealthSpark Foundation

Win Win: $300,000 for a new jobs program at University City District

Many who want to work face challenges such as poverty, long-time unemployment, or transitioning to life outside the criminal justice system. They may not be ready for the traditional workforce, but they’re adults with the capacity to build skills given the right mentorship. Enter a new landscaping program from University City District (UCD), which just received a $300,000 two-year seed grant.
The Green City Works employment initiative -- which earned a $50,000 planning grant last year -- is now officially launching with support from the Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN), a program of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. JOIN awarded the nascent program (an extension of the existing West Philadelphia Skills Initiative) that planning grant in January 2015; 24 regional organizations competed for four awards.

The grant program was dubbed the Win-Win Challenge because it aimed to build a win-win scenario for workers and employers. The local nonprofit community was invited to "come to us with new ideas around partnership…that seek to address actual business needs," explains JOIN Executive Director Jennie Sparandara. But at the same time, they wanted to help those who most need a leg up in the workforce.

JOIN assessed the four grantees one year later, determining who was ready to translate their plans into action. Green City Works, a nonprofit landscaping venture, was the clearly prepared for the next step.

"UCD is really recognizing that not everybody…is ready for work with a big employer," says Sparandara of the program’s appeal to JOIN. "[They] need a safe space to learn on the job, with practical skill-building and workplace coaching designed to help participants progress in their careers beyond Green City Works. With UCD, the hope is to connect them with these big institutional employers in the Philadelphia area."

"From JOIN’s perspective, we’re interested in learning how these positions can serve as an entrée into the trade,” adds JOIN Program Manager Hoa Pham.

According to Sparandara, UCD was able to demonstrate and articulate "a very clear vision for how they wanted to use funding to build out this program…They are open to and interested in learning and growing along with us as funders.This fits very well with JOIN’s mission as seed-funders and a learning community.

The project will formally launch on March 22, with JOIN dollars beginning to flow this month.

In the future, we’ll take a look at how Green City Works grew from the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative and the program’s specific goals over the next two years.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jennie Sparandara and Hoa Pham, JOIN 

The Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN) has partnered with Flying Kite to explore how good jobs are created and filled in Greater Philadelphia. Stay tuned as we follow the progress of these exciting grants and track the city's continued workforce development challenges.


The Philadelphia Immigrant Innovation Hub launches in Mt. Airy

On February 4, Mayor Jim Kenney joined Mt. Airy USA Executive Director Brad Copeland and others for the official launch of the Philadelphia Immigrant Innovation Hub at 6700 Germantown Avenue.

In his remarks to the diverse crowd of immigrant entrepreneurs, funders and other supporters, Kenney called the room "a beautiful sight."

"This is what Philadelphia looks like," he said. "And this is what the country should look like."

Copeland added that a support and co-working hub for Philly's immigrant entrepreneurs was "very Mt. Airy" -- the neighborhood is already extremely diverse and civically engaged. He praised Hub members’ commitment, drive, energy, vision and "willingness to take risks."

The Hub was made possible by a 2015 Knight Foundation Cities Challenge grant. Speakers credited former Mt. Airy USA leader Anuj Gupta for the inspiration to pursue these dollars for the project. Out of 5,000 applications last year, there were 32 winners -- seven of those from Philadelphia, the most winners from any city in the country.

"[Knight] allows organizations like ours to dream crazy dreams and then challenges us to make them a reality," enthused Copeland.

Sarajane Blair and Jamie Shanker of Mt. Airy USA outlined the new space's offerings, which are made possible with additional financial support and guidance from the nonprofit community lender FINANTA. Services will include "core workshops" (offered through a partnership with the Welcoming Center for New Pennyslvanians), individual business and financial plan development, credit building tools, and community support and engagement helmed by Mt. Airy USA. Hub members will also have access to a co-working space on Germantown Avenue, five financial lending cycles a year, and dedicated networking programs.

"We will do everything we can to help you succeed," said Blair to program participants.

Those eligible for the program must be immigrants to the U.S. who want to be self-employed and have a business idea or plan, but need assistance in starting or growing their business. Applicants can head to piihub.org to get started.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Philadelphia Immigrant Innovation Hub launch speakers

Yards, La Colombe and Shake Shack team up for a limited edition Coffee Stout

A new collaboration between Shake Shack, Yards Brewing Company and La Colombe Coffee Roasters is giving Philly a rich and tasty new brew for the cold-weather season, available on draft at select locations while supplies last.
On January 8, Shake Shack Culinary Director Mark Rosati, La Colombe co-founder Todd Carmichael, and Yards founder and brewmaster Tom Kehoe officially launched their limited-edition Coffee Stout at Center City’s Sansom Street Shake Shack location.
Kehoe chatted with Flying Kite while taking full advantage of an impromptu Shake Shack combo -- making a vanilla custard float with his stout. The collaboration has been in the works for about two months. The strong, dark, and smooth ale gets bright notes of lavender, orange and caramel from ethically sourced beans that come to Philly via the Haitian village of Fatima (as part of La Colombe’s three-year investment in the Haiti Coffee Academy). 
The base stout is very similar to Yards' Chocolate Love Stout, brewed with the same chocolate malt. It gets its mellow coffee flavor directly from the beans in a secondary fermenter.

"Coffee really works so well with the beer," said Kehoe. "It’s definitely a beer for winter because of the robustness of it."
Sales will benefit the City of Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program (MAP), Center City Shake Shack’s official charitable partner. $2 from each pint purchased will go to MAP.
So where can you get your hands on some of this buzzy brew? Pints are on sale for $5.75 at Yards’ Northern Liberties tasting room, La Colombe’s Fishtown café (1335 Frankford Avenue) and all three Philadelphia-area Shake Shack locations (Center City, University City, and King of Prussia).
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tom Kehoe, Yards Brewing Company

From Startup to High Impact: The latest Exchange PHL Breakfast talks nonprofit innovation

On December 2, wake up with more than just coffee at the latest installment of the Exchange PHL Breakfast Series. At Wednesday's event, regional leaders in innovative social good will tackle "the Path from Startup To High Impact." 

"I think there is something that’s profoundly shifting among nonprofits and their openness to look at these possible changes in how they do business," explains Nadya K. Shmavonian, director of the newly formed Nonprofit Repositioning Fund, who will be speaking at the breakfast.

Hosted by nonprofit-centric co-working space The Exchange, located in Center City’s Friends Center, the event will shift the conversation from entrepreneurship to operations, and discuss how great programs become part of the fabric of the city, touching on sustainable revenue models, evaluation and adaptation.

"We just launched on October 7, so it’s a very new effort," Shmavonian says of the Fund. "We have been pleasantly surprised at how much interest there’s been."

The seven founding members include North Penn Community Health Foundation, Samuel S. Fels Fund, Scattergood Foundation, the Barra Foundation, the Philadelphia Foundation, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, William Penn Foundation and Arizona’s Lodestar Foundation.

The Fund targets nonprofits in transition in the greater Philadelphia area, including Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Philadelphia and Montgomery counties. Hosted and administered by the Philanthropy Network of Greater Philadelphia, seed awards and grants will support nonprofits as they explore and formalize new collaborations, joint ventures and consolidations.

In rare instances, the Fund will also help with dissolution planning for individual organizations outside of a merger or acquisition. That, along with the work of "repositioning" nonprofits, can lead to questions about the Fund’s goals.

"How do foundations work with nonprofits in a way that is not threatening?" asks Shmavonian. "Because obviously there’s a power imbalance there. This isn’t about thinning the herd. It really is about finding ways to allow a nonprofit to…deliver on their mission in a sustainable high-performance way."

That can include tweaks like merging back office realms or making an informal partnership an integral piece of an organizations’ structure, allowing the pooling of resources and best practices.

"There’s a whole array of arrangements that people are looking at that stop far short of a formal merger or acquisition," she adds.

Shmavonian is looking forward to the December 2 conversation, which will also feature Lauren Fine of the Youth Sentencing and Re-entry Project. She thinks the next several years will bring very interesting deals for regional nonprofits, and that the Fund will grow a portfolio of creative models for participating organizations.

"It’s a fast-changing environment out there," she argues. "I’m as much about shifting the culture and dynamics around this as I am the actual individual deals that we’re going to engage in." 

The latest Exchange PHL Breakfast Series is happening Wednesday, December 2 from 8:30 - 10 a.m. at 1501 Cherry Street. Attendance is free; click here to register.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nadya K. Shmavonian, the Nonprofit Repositioning Fund

Breakfast Club at The Exchange: Talking Social Innovation

Last week, over 30 Philadelphians set their alarms and woke early to head to the Friends Center for breakfast. On offer was much more than just bagels and coffee -- organized by The Exchange, a co-working space comprised of nonprofits and philanthropic organizations, the event was an opportunity to discuss social innovation in Philadelphia.

The crowd included local leaders in development, government, nonprofit administration, startups and philanthropy. All are working towards making this city a national leader in uncovering thoughtful solutions to society's problems, whether through policy, programs or entrepreneurial ventures.

One of the key questions that arose from the discussion -- led by Matt Joyce of the GreenLight Fund (who works out of the Exchange) -- was, what are the things that limit great ideas? It's often not just economics, but also politics: being in the right rooms at the right times, and making the right arguments to the right people. That often takes a different type of expertise -- founders may have knowledge and drive, but they also need pitching help and matchmaking with investors and stakeholders. How can the entrepreneurial and nonprofit communities help nurture initiatives and organizations from creative spark to potential investment to surefire success?

Fortunately, the city has more and more avenues to incubate those great ideas, from the Philadelphia Social Innovations Lab to the Commerce Department's StartUpPHL program, to accelerators at established venture funds like DreamIt and Good Company Ventures. And even if every promising startup or pilot program doesn't make it, the founders earn valuable experience and become better bets in the future. 
Luke Butler, Chief of Staff to the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, talked about how when First Round Capital (a Commerce Department partner) is looking to invest in early stage companies, the idea is important, but they invest primarily in the founder and the team. As an example, he mentioned Curalate -- a company that pivoted from trying to build an Airbnb for parking spaces to designing marketing campaigns for social media platforms. The company has become a shining star in the city's ascendent startup landscape.

And it's not only companies that have to be agile. A group of Temple students founded Philly Urban Creators, an urban farm at 11th and Dauphin. Their goals were to grow produce for the neighborhood and engage the local community. Five years in, they weren't making enough money to sustain themselves. How do you get from a nonprofit that's doing good, to a more sustainable revenue model? 

The organization went through the FastFWD program, a public/private partnership between The City of Philadelphia, GoodCompany Group and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, funded in part by a $1,000,000 grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies. Via that process they came to the conclusion that they needed new revenue streams. The team created a 12-week course targeted at formerly incarcerated youth, covering urban agriculture, carpentry and entrepreneurship. Combatting recidivism was a goal that could dovetail with their original mission, and funding for their first cohort came from the Department of Justice.

Other success stories were bandied about: Coded by Kids, Textizen (which was recently acquired and also went through FastFWD), Springboard Collaborative, an organization that seeks to stop the summer slide for low-income students. Eventually, though the conversation was still humming, folks had to get to work. Fortunately, the bigger picture discussion is just getting started.

Breakfast Club at the Exchange will return November 19. Stay tuned to Flying Kite for more details on the upcoming topic and how you can get in on the coffee talk. You can also join the discussion on twitter using the hashtag #ExchangeBreakfastClub.


New dollars for WINS send Philly's science-loving girls across the world

Since 1982, The Academy of Natural Science's Women in Natural Sciences (WINS) program has been making science exciting and accessible to Philly’s high-school girls. Now, Academy Vice President of Education Jacquie Genovesi is excited to announce that the program has finally been recognized with a national award.

Flying Kite recently took a look at WINS' exchange program, which welcomed youth from Mongolia to Philadelphia, and then organized a reciprocal trip for Philly WINS girls to Asia to study ecology and the impact of climate change on different sides of the world.

In August, the WINS E-STEM program (science, technology, engineering and math through "projects involving real environmental problems") received a $50,000 Innovative Education Award, given through a partnership with Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).

Genovesi, who traveled to the UL headquarters in Chicago in early August to receive the Academy’s second-place award and network with other honorees, says the contest drew almost 150 applications from 40 states and three Canadian provinces.

The new dollars will boost the WINS program by opening up paid internships and field experience for WINS girls.

"We actually just put out a call to all of our scientists, saying, 'Ok, what kind of fun projects do you have coming up in the next  year?'" says Genovesi. Internships could last a summer or -- depending on where they’re located and cooperation from the student’s school -- up to eight months, in the lab and in the field.

"They could be almost anywhere," she adds. The Academy has scientists working in the Greater Philadelphia area, but there are also researchers stationed in Brazil, Vietnam, Jamaica and Mongolia.

"Not only is it about STEM and about young women, but it’s about supporting the entire person," muses Genovesi. The WINS program stands out among other STEM programs, which often recruit kids who are acing their classes, love science and are already college-bound. WINS instead focuses on "in-between" students who may be interested in science, but don’t know what they’re going to do with their lives and aren’t at the top of the class. Many come from low-income households. "We give them that extra boost to say, you know what, anybody can do science…And not only can you do science, but you can stay in school, you can go to college, and you can really succeed in life."

“We can’t afford to throw away any creative youth," she adds, especially the girls, who are "so underrepresented" in these fields.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jacquie Genovesi, The Academy of Natural Sciences

A cafe start-up helps foster-care youth get on their feet

Lisa Miccolis worked for a long time in coffee shops. She found a lot of pride and enjoyment in the communities she found there, both among her co-workers and the customers. But she didn’t feel that she was really fulfilling her life’s goal until she had a “lightbulb moment" -- the idea for a nonprofit café specifically designed to employ and mentor young people aging out of the foster-care system.

Miccolis first became aware of this problem on a trip to South Africa several years ago. She met residents of an orphanage who were facing the sudden loss of their support system when they were no longer legally children -- they didn’t have the network or skills to forge an independent life. She realized that the same problem exists in Philadelphia as youngsters lose access to a host of resources at age 18 (or, if they meet some criteria in Pennsylvania, age 21). Without family support or education and job prospects, they don’t know what to do.

"Generally, as soon as one thing goes, everything goes with it," she explains. "If your housing is unstable, chances are you’re not going to be able to hold a job. And if you don’t have a job, good luck getting a job."

Her answer is The Monkey & the Elephant, a non-profit café/mentoring program that hires youth who have aged out of foster care. It launched in late 2012, with pop-up locations in three spots over subsequent years: the Italian Market, Manayunk’s Transfer Station and Impact Hub (from March to December of last year).

In February 2015, The Monkey & the Elephant opened its first permanent location at 2831 W. Girard Avenue in Brewerytown. It’s open seven days a week, 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Eight youngsters have been employed in the program so far, ranging in age from 19 to 25. And it’s not just about food service -- the M&E team helps employees think through career and educational decisions, offers support in the housing process, and even helps out with schoolwork.

"What I’ve noticed is changes in how they think about things," explains Miccolis. "When they’re talking about what they want to do, we’ve been able to reframe the direction they’re taking to get there." It’s not about a rush to the "perfect job," but a practical, encouraging and achievable long-term path. Typically, the program takes on its participants for eight months, but the mentorship is ongoing. "When they finish with us and they are ready to work towards that job or get back into school or whatever it is, they have more of a foundation for it and they’re better able to support themselves.”

Monkey & the Elephant recently received an unexpected honor: a Startup of the Year nomination from the annual Philadelphia Geek Awards. "Geek" has a broad definition these days, and in Philly it’s a coveted label.

"I was pretty shocked and honored to have that nomination," says Miccolis; the ceremony that will take place on August 15 at the Academy of Natural Sciences. "I wouldn’t have thought of a coffee shop or a non-profit as a geek-centered organization... It’s pretty cool that it’s not just for the sciences or technology."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Lisa Miccolis, The Monkey & the Elephant

The School District puts $30 million to work boosting early childhood literacy

Big news for books in the School District of Philadelphia: $30 million in combined investments from the District and major foundations, announced this month, will spur a major literacy initiative for the city’s elementary schoolers. Plans are also afoot to put about 2,000 individual classroom libraries into Philly schools (about a million books in total).
It’s a three-year, three-pronged effort, funded in part by $4.5 million from The Lenfest Foundation and $6 million from the William Penn Foundation. The programs will focus on kids in kindergarten through third grade; it's part of District Superintendent Dr. William Hite’s longterm plan to boost early childhood literacy, a particular challenge for our city.
According to a statement from the District and the partnering foundations, Philly has 48,000 kids in kindergarten through third grade. Eight-five percent of them are members of low-income families, 14 percent have special education needs and 10 percent don’t speak English as their first language. A little over half of Philly's students can read at grade level by the end of third grade, an issue the District has already been tackling with its READ by 4th! Campaign (the new efforts will be an extension of this work).
According to William Penn Program Director Elliot Weinbaum, this investment has been in the pipeline for a while. The District had been working with the foundations for almost a year prior to the announcement; the foundations were impressed by the scope and specificity of the District's plans.
For the first part of the new initiative, 2,000 of Philly’s K-3 teachers (about 65 percent of them overall) will receive a week-long intensive summer training program on research-backed literacy instruction, institutionalizing new evidence-based approaches. Dedicated literacy coaches will support teachers throughout the school year.
Finally, the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia will spearhead a campaign for $3.4 million in matching funds from public donors over the next three years. The money will go towards customized in-classroom libraries.
"The classroom-based library is very much meant for the child to take agency over his or her learning," says Weinbaum. Students will be able to take volumes home with them for reading outside the classroom, and school staffers will help select the books, customizing the individual collections.

"It won’t be a one-size-fits-all library," adds Weinbaum. "We have a very diverse student body, both in terms of cultural and ethnic background," at a range of reading levels. Because of that diversity, the span of classroom interests and needs is "much broader than you would find in other schools and districts around the country. There’s plenty of research out there that shows when kids are interested in a topic, they are more likely to engage with the books."
Members of the public interested in supporting the libraries effort can call The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia at (215) 979-1199.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Elliot Weinbaum, The William Penn Foundation

Pew dollars launch Germantown's 'Elephants on the Avenue'

With a major new grant in excess of $100,000 from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Historic Germantown (HG) is tackling the "Elephants on the Avenue" – i.e., long-standing issues of race and class.

"The impetus for the project really was continuing Historic Germantown’s vision to contribute to the cultural and economic development of this community,” explains HG executive director Trapeta Mayson of the newly-funded "Elephants on the Avenue: Race, Class, and Community in Historic Germantown."

That means respectfully interpreting Germantown’s deep and diverse history on a few main themes, including slavery and abolition, inclusion and exclusion, and tolerance.

"I don’t think people can always easily find themselves in some of these stories, so we feel that some of the responsibility of our historic site is to make this information accessible and relevant to today’s public," says Mayson.

The project, which will launch in October and last two years, will pair local artists and historians to "collaboratively curate text and image-based public art and educational workshops about race and class" with the help of member sites and community partners.

The project boasts four historians: Dr. Abigail Perkiss, Dr. Matthew Countryman, Dr. Molefi Assante and Dr. Thomas Sugrue. Participating creative types include visual artists, educators and poets: Barbara J. Bullock, Ife Nii Owoo, Diane Pieri, Sonia Sanchez, Yolanda Wisher and Benjamin Volta.

Pew dollars will let HG compensate the artists and historians, Mayson explains, and cover materials for workshops, festivals and other community events. "Elephants" will also have a dedicated part-time project manager.

And it’s not just about reckoning with the past -- exploring the full potential of Germantown’s historic fabric has economic importance, too.

"Economics is something that people tend to forget when we think about historic sites and how important they are to a community," insists Mayson. "People come to a neighborhood, they spend money, they become interested."

That means Germantown has a lot of growing to do, from upping the number of available restaurants to improving walkability and transit -- that’s why HG already partners with several non-historic community organizations, meeting monthly with Germantown United CDCGermantown Community Connection and others.

"We’d be missing a great opportunity if we didn’t realize we were just as essential to economic development and community planning," adds Mayson.

"Elephants on the Avenue" will culminate in a final performance/exhibition curated by iMPeRFeCT Gallery co-founder and Germantown resident Renny Molenaar.

Source: Trapeta Mayson, Historic Germantown
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
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