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MilkCrate for Communities helps companies and institutions reward sustainable living

About a year and a half ago, local startup MilkCrate began an incubator residency through Project Liberty. This came after a potent mix of bartering, bootstrapping and crowdfunding helped to launch the sustainable-living app. Now the company is ready to add a major new level to their platform that goes beyond individual users.
 
The free MilkCrate app officially launched in early 2015 as a resource for people who want an easy way to connect to socially and environmentally conscious businesses and services. It has since expanded beyond Philly to Denver, Boston and Asheville. Co-founder and CEO Morgan Berman, who earned a master’s degree in sustainable design from Philadelphia University, was pleased to see traction from the original concept, but the team quickly realized that more was on the table.
 
"We actually took a pretty radical approach to both our business model and our product," she says of the revamp, launching this month.
 
MilkCrate for Communities isn’t replacing the original free app -- it’s an add-on service that companies, universities and other enterprises will be able to purchase and extend as a perk to their employees, students or residents. It will also let buyers quantify and collect data on real-life social- and eco-conscious practices within their organizations, which can be harnessed both for external branding and marketing as well as internal messaging, all while encouraging sustainable living.
 
The company realizes that app platforms aimed at boosting sustainable practices at large institutions or companies already exist, but MilkCrate has a major edge because they already have a comprehensive localized directory and calendar within their existing product.  
 
Berman says MilkCrate for Communities is a premium, private "game-ified" social experience that clients can tailor for their users. Members of participating groups can download the free app and, unlike in the public version, log in and begin earning points for things like checking into a farm-to-table restaurant or fair-trade coffee shop, signing up for a composting service or CSA, or volunteering.
 
Participating companies and schools can use MilkCrate to tabulate the eco-friendly and socially conscious steps users make, and incentivize them with quarterly or semester-based rewards.
 
The first official buyer of the MilkCrate for Communities platform is Berman’s own alma mater, Philadelphia University, which will launch the experience for students and faculty this summer. Other clients are already in the pipeline, including the co-working provider Benjamin’s Desk, home to MilkCrate’s offices. Berman says a customized pilot product for Comcast is also in the works.
 
"We are looking for more corporate and academic clients that want to be part of the big launch this summer,"she adds. Anyone who wants to bring a demo of MilkCrate for Communities to their campus or office can get in touch.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Morgan Berman, MilkCrate 

Primal Supply Meats brings sustainably-raised, nose-to-tail products to the masses

Even for farm-to-table chefs who are invested in serving humanely and sustainably sourced meat, connecting to the right supplier is difficult.
 
"It’s just a really broken chain," explains former Kensington Quarters (KQ) head butcher Heather Marold Thomason. Many chefs and home cooks want to minimize waste and know exactly where their meat comes from, "but it’s not easy for anybody to use whole animals."
 
Enter Thomason's new company Primal Supply Meats.
 
Over the last year, the idea for the startup evolved as she got to know her customers at KQ’s retail meat counter. Word was spreading around the city about the quality of the locally sourced meat for sale at this Frankford Avenue retail/restaurant hybrid.
 
"More and more people were approaching us," she recalls. "We had a really awesome relationship with people in the Fishtown area who were our everyday customers." She also began to notice shoppers coming from other parts of town -- from South Philly to Mt. Airy -- saying they wished KQ delivered or had other locations. "I also had a lot of chefs approaching me, saying, 'How are you getting this meat? Can you help me?'"
 
She realized there were farm-to-table chefs all over the city who aren’t able to take a whole animal into their kitchen, but didn't want pre-cut frozen meat either.
 
Primal Supply Meats, while not a retail counter like KQ’s, bridges that gap, acting as a liaison between farmers and chefs. The entire butchered animal is used, but shared among as many as three or four different clients asking for different cuts.
  
"I think that our customers have actually been receptive to what we’re doing and their responsibility as customers," says Thomason. With a fresh, whole-animal model at the KQ counter, part of her job was guiding customers to what was available that would also suit their tastes and needs. "Our customers were super-receptive to that."
 
That’s part of why she has high hopes for the CSA-like subscription model Primal will launch in a few weeks (those interested can visit the website). Individuals or families will be able to purchase meat packages on a rolling month-to-month basis, and have confidence in knowing where their meat is coming from.
 
While she hopes Primal will eventually gain its own space, it’s currently operating in West Philly via a partnership with the new FDA-certified facility 1732 Meats. For trucking and cold storage, Primal is partnering with North Philly’s Common Market.
 
This summer, things are still getting off the ground -- Thomason is visiting farmers one-on-one, learning both sides of the business.

"We’re working on getting all the infrastructure in place, making sure our supply chain works and our production processes are solid," she says. "[That way] we can make sure we’re ready to meet demand as it comes."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Heather Marold Thomason, Primal Supply Meats

Strawberry Mansion celebrates first Schuylkill River Arts Day

The Strawberry Mansion area (our recent On the Ground home) has plenty of artists, but there’s rarely an opportunity for them to come together on their home turf, says INVISIBLE RIVER spokesperson Sylvana Joseph. The Schuylkill River Arts Day (SRAD) on July 16 is going to change that.
 
Founded in 2009 by Artistic and Executive Director Alie Vidich, INVISIBLE RIVER has been "celebrating our local rivers through live public performances and river advocacy." A mix of art, programming and interactive outdoor offerings serve the mission of engaging the public with both the Schuylkill and the Delaware.
 
For the last few years, Vidich has created one of Philly’s most eye-popping interdisciplinary performance events: an aerial dance suspended from the Strawberry Mansion Bridge, with audience members watching on shore or from boats on the river below. Beck Epoch, this year’s incarnation of the show (an "aerial exploration of swinging, swimming, swiveling and suspension from above the Schuylkill River") is coming up on Friday, July 15 and Saturday, July 16. Audience members will be able to watch for free from the eastern shore near the bridge, or they can buy a ticket to watch by boat on the river itself (everyone should arrive by 6:15 p.m.).
 
SRAD will kick off at 10 a.m. at Mander Recreation Center with an interactive drum and dance procession led by the Strawberry Mansion-based group Positive Movement and the African Diaspora Artist Collective. The group will take Boxers’ Trail from the rec center to Kelly Drive, where the arts fest will take over until 2 p.m. Other performers include Kulu Mele, Anne-Marie Mulgrew & Dancers Co, Almanac Dance Circus Theatre and many more. (Here’s the full line-up of participating artists.) There will be visual arts, crafts, and even fishing and boating lessons. Families are encouraged to bring a picnic and stay for the day.   
 
"We’re really focused on getting the Strawberry Mansion area and the people in that area to come, to use the Schuylkill River [and] learn about the river," says Joseph. "All of us that live in the Philadelphia live right in proximity to all of these great things, but we never use them. There are many musicians and dancers and artists of all stripes that live in that area but leave the area to perform -- it’s great to have this opportunity to have people from the area perform in the area."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sylvana Joseph, INVISIBLE RIVER

 
Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

What's next for the Philadelphia School District?

Last Tuesday, the latest Exchange PHL Breakfast Series drew a crowd of over forty people for a special conversation on the future of the School District of Philadelphia.

Hosted by the nonprofit-centric co-working space, these morning meetups bring a dynamic group to the Friends Center on Cheery Street. On June 21, attendees represented a wide range of organizations eager to hear Fund for the School District of Philadelphia President and CEO Donna Frisby-Greenwood discuss "Engaging with the School District of Philadelphia.”

Those organizations included People’s Emergency Center, Philly Fellows, Women of Tomorrow, the Fleischer Art Memorial, Philadelphia Young Playwrights, the William Penn Foundation, the Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth & Family Services, and many more.

Frisby-Greenwood provided a snapshot of the District and its challenges: It serves a total of 135,000 children (not including the 50,000 students who attend charter schools), 39 percent of whom live below the poverty line. It encompasses 149 elementary schools, and 69 middle and high schools. During the 2014-2015 school year, PSSA performance at District schools reached a proficient or advanced level in 37 percent of schools for science, 32 percent for English, and just 17 percent for math.

So what is the District doing to better harness resources for its students?

The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia is a reactivation of the former Philadelphia Children First Fund. Upon assuming his role as superintendent, Dr. William Hite "wanted a more robust fund," explained Frisby-Greenwood. Under its new name, this arm of the School District went from being a passive "fiscal agent" for dollars already arriving at the School District to a much more active development force as well as a way to "identify and coordinate partnerships on behalf of the District."

One major funding goal supports the District’s ongoing efforts to make sure every child is reading at grade level by fourth grade. (Last year, we took a closer look at this initiative for teacher coaching and new classroom libraries, funded in part by grants from the William Penn and Lenfest foundations.)

Other initiatives on deck include the continued roll-out of sustainability and recycling goals within the School District’s GreenFutures program (here’s our piece from earlier this year), and a push to get automatic electric defibrillators into every elementary school, which, unlike middle and high schools, often lack the life-saving devices.

The organization also aims to create a database of Philadelphia School District alumni; develop a comprehensive listing and map of private, nonprofit, and corporate partners for individual city schools; and improve outreach to garner more school partners, especially in schools which currently lack this community investment.

"I’ll remind everyone we’re just a year in as a team," said Frisby-Greenwood of the revamped Fund and its staff -- she envisions good things ahead for the District.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Donna Frisby-Greenwood, the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia 

Flying Kite is the media partner for the Exchange PHL's Breakfast Series.

Empowered CDC expands community-driven change in Southwest Philly

Regina Young never set out to found a community development corporation. A New Haven, Conn., native who now lives and works in Southwest Philadelphia, she had a career in teaching and social work before going back to school for her masters in community development.

She says her inspiration for the CDC simply came from living in the neighborhood and interacting with friends and family there. In 2014, she launched Empowered Community Development Corporation out of Meyers Recreation Center at 58th Street and Kingsessing Avenue, not far from Flying Kite’s new On the Ground digs.  

Southwest CDC has been operating in the neighborhood for decades, but Young still saw a need for her group.

"The geographic area of Southwest is so large," she says. "It’s just pretty evident that one organization cannot possibly effectively handle all of the community in this particular area."

Young sees Empowered CDC as part of a local matrix that will see success in cooperation.

"This has to be a collaborative approach," she explains. "There’s not anything that can be done that’s sustainable if we’re an island. We have to deal with other organizations; we have to really get the community reinvested in beautifying and building and transforming the Southwest area."

Currently, Empowered holds some programs out of Myers, but because of needed building repairs there, the organization has moved its offices temporarily to nearby Tilden Middle School.

Their health and wellness program is the one Young is most excited about: A recent community garden initiative in a former vacant lot has spurred beautification, education, healthy food access, safe space for seniors and youth, and community cohesion. Empowered obtained a lease for three lots on the 2000 block of Cecil Street, and in the course of a year, formed a community garden club and installed benches and garden beds for flowers, fruits and veggies. This summer, the CDC is launching new educational programs around the garden for youth, seniors and everyone in between.  

"I charged the community with really leading the design of what this parcel of land looks like," says Young.

And the transformation there is spreading.

"It started with the garden," she explains, but now locals are saying, "if we can do this with a parcel of land, what can we do with our own block?" It’s lead to new painting, more street cleaning, a movement to get planters installed, and "really being a more cohesive block. That’s what Empowered is all about."

The organization is still new, but Young has high hopes for building and utilizing the skills of community members.

"Our biggest asset as an organization, being very new, is simply human capital: understanding how relationships matter, how communities have a voice," she says. "That’s what really propels us as an organization."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Regina Young, Empowered CDC


Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Knight Cities Challenge funds the development of 20 new Philly cooperatives

"There are many different expressions of cooperation and mutual aid in Philadelphia, among very diverse groups of people," explains Caitlin Quigley of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA). Now, thanks to a $146,000 award from the national Knight Cities Challenge (check out our peek at the four Philly winners here), the organization hopes to expand interest in co-ops citywide.

PACA’s Knight-funded 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses initiative aims to gather learning groups of six to 12 people from a variety of Philly neighborhoods. The organization will help guide the book clubs through a tailored process to master the building blocks of building a cooperatively-run business of any type, based on the community’s interests and needs.

So what exactly is a "co-op"?

A cooperative grocery store (like Philly’s Weavers Way or Mariposa), for example, "is a business you own with your neighbors," explains Quigley. "You make decisions about the products that are on the shelves, how the co-op should treat its workers; how the co-op should decide how to be in the community.”

The latter includes things like representation at events, education and outreach, and making donations.

"You and your fellow co-owners can decide how you want that business to serve you," she adds.

And while grocery stores might be the most prominent local example, PACA is a consortium of all kinds of co-ops across many industries. These range from banks to housing to community gardens, green space, or land trusts, or child-care or artist co-ops.

The 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses project, operating on a year-long grant cycle from April 2016 to April 2017, will continue outreach this summer, with the goal of organizing project participants by September. Each group will meet twice a month for six months, with guidance from PACA staffers and volunteers, and a comprehensive curriculum of suggested learning materials, from books and comics to field trips and podcasts.

Author Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard, whose book Collective Courage is a major inspiration for the project, is collaborating with PACA on the study guide.

In March of next year, participating groups will convene at a large event that will include cooperative business pitches. Beyond that, PACA hopes to support interested groups in more intensive business planning, such as drafting articles of incorporation and writing bylaws.

"Not all of the groups that do the book clubs are going to necessarily decide to move onto this phase," says Quigley, but that’s ok. "Even if it doesn’t happen right now…They have a new set of tools and perspectives that they can bring to anything they do in their communities from then on." Ultimately, it’s about building "a strong movement around a just and inclusive economy, with all of these different sectors of cooperatives and their members."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Caitlin Quigley, Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance

KIND Institute preps for a summer of arts and community in Point Breeze

The KIND Institute -- a young arts and community center in Point Breeze -- isn’t just providing an outlet for arts education when cash-poor schools cut programs, but putting a new lens on arts education itself.

"There’s a lot of misinformation about arts education and its value in society today," says Min Kim, who manages the KIND Institute’s blog and helps out with the nonprofit’s operations. "It’s called a dead end; there’s no way to make money off of it."

But in reality, he insists, there are a lot of strong careers to be had in "the living arts." Towards that end, KIND offers classes targeting kids ages five to twelve (though the model is inclusive) in pursuits ranging from watercolor, sculpture, and graphic design to computer-building, languages, and music. New sessions will kick off this summer.

KIND co-founders Maria Pandolfi (an award-winning educator who’s been teaching art in the School District of Philadelphia for 22 years) and Ronald Kustrup (an internationally exhibiting artist) spearhead the program, which formally launched in August 2013 and now occupies a building at 1242 Point Breeze Avenue. This summer, locals will be able to meet them and learn more about KIND’s professional studios, gallery and classroom spaces: the co-founders will open the doors every weekday from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. July 5 through August 26.

Funding for the space and programs is a currently a mix of donations, grants, space rentals, ticketed events and commissions on resident artists' sales through the gallery. KIND holds monthly exhibitions and music performances with themes like women’s empowerment, sustainable living and compassion for animals.

Coming soon is a re-launch of the KIND website, integrating a platform for resident artists’ work and the organization’s blog, which will continue to feature artist profiles.

"Our focus here is the local community and helping local artists showcase their work," says Kim. "When you buy the art it becomes more than just a piece to hang on your wall -- you get a real story of the person who crafted it."

So why Point Breeze?

"We see it as representational of a lot of neighborhoods in Philadelphia right now," he explains. "It’s changing, there’s a lot of growth, and there are a lot of people who are scared of changes that are coming to Point Breeze. [The KIND mission is] to make people understand that we are a community regardless of how the community is shifting, and really just make sure we’re keeping people unified."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Min Kim, KIND Institute 

Keep Philadelphia Beautiful litter convenings continue to draw a crowd

Late last year, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) launched a series of what Executive Director Michelle Feldman calls "Litter Convenings." They offer a platform for city agencies and residents to come together to tackle the problems of trash and littering in integrated and transparent ways.

The first session took place in October 2015; consortium members included the Commerce Department, the Streets Department, the Philadelphia Association of CDCs and the Philly chapter of the Local Initiative Support Coalition (LISC). There was a follow-up session in January, and on May 11, KPB organized a panel discussion featuring leaders from the Streets Department’s Philly SWEEP, the City’s Community Life Improvement Programs (CLIP), the Department of Licenses and Inspections, the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee (PMBC) and Philly 311.

Attendees represented groups and agencies such as the Office of Sustainability, the Village of Arts and Humanities, the Friends of Pennypack Park, the Commerce Department, South of South Neighborhood Association, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), LISC, the North 22nd Street Business Association, and Councilman William Greenlee’s office. Feldman framed the discussion as a chance to be "proactive rather than reactive" to issues of illegal dumping and trash in Philly.

The lively conversation on the 16th floor of the Municipal Services Building included an update on the City’s growing success in removing unlicensed clothing donation bins, which often become a magnet for illegal dumping. These bins can gain permits for placement on commercially zoned private property, but not on public right-of-ways like sidewalks and street corners, where they routinely reside. After a call to 311, L&I may note and tag the offending bins, but it’s the Streets Department that performs the removal.

Participants also discussed efforts to make Philly 311 -- the city’s non-emergency reporting line for civic issues like graffiti, overgrown vacant lots, illegal dumping and litter -- more accessible to the public through a mobile application and better integration of services with agencies who handle 311 tips.

Misunderstandings can arise when Philly 311 reports a case as closed when the issue has not visibly been resolved. This is because the agency can’t report publicly on outcomes like fines, and other agencies (from PWD to the Streets Department) open their own case file on the issue once they receive it, separate from the Philly 311 report.

Updates from CLIP included graffiti removal efforts and a community service program that employs non-violent ex-offenders on city cleanups. PMBC reported on its active work with up to 800 block captains from across the city. The organization provides supplies for cleanups and sponsors clean block contests with prizes ranging from $300 to $1,000 dollars to be used for further beautification of the block.

In KPB news, applications for the organization’s 2016 microgrants are due on May 27; they include two $,1500 grants and two $1,000 grants (guidelines available here). And on June 22, KPB will team with Young Involved Philadelphia for a Cleaning + Greening 101 panel at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Keep Philadelphia Beautiful Litter Convening speakers

UPenn's BioCellection may hold the key to plastics pollution worldwide

As high school seniors in their hometown of Vancouver, Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao had some big questions -- and answers -- for a planet that produces enough plastic every year to circle itself in Saran wrap four times over.

Yao recently graduated from the University of Toronto and Wang is finishing her senior year at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Biology. Together they founded BioCellection. Now their team (which also includes Alexander Simafranca, Eric Friedman and Daniel Chapman) is the first undergraduate team ever to take the $30,000 grand prize at Wharton’s annual Business Plan Competition. And that's only the beginning: They also took home the Wharton Social Impact Prize, the Gloekner Undergraduate Award, the Michelson People’s Choice Award and the Committee Award for Most "Wow Factor." No other single team has ever taken five prizes in the competition.

Wang and Yao began studying riverside soil samples back in high school. They wanted to find out what the ecosystem itself might be doing to survive pollution from plastics. Traditional plastic products are made from fossil fuels, which come from carbon. Humans run on carbon, too -- our source is glucose.

"Could there be bacteria that have evolved with plastic chemicals as their carbon source?" Wang recalls wondering. "The answer is yes…Nature is very much evolving to recover itself. There is a solution in this biology, it just needs to be tapped into. Potentially this could be a large-scale commercial technology used to clean our drinking water."

Wang and Yao focused on how bacteria could be harnessed to break down potentially carcinogenic components of some plastics (like phthalates) that aren’t otherwise biodegradable. Their work won them the 2012 National Commercialization Award at Canada’s Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge and led to a popular 2013 TED talk.

In the labs at Penn, that work grew into BioCellection.

"Instead of tackling derivatives or additives in plastic, we’re [now] tackling the polymer of the plastic itself," explains Wang. "What if we can take this really big problem of the polymer, and try to solve it on a modular basis?"

BioCellection developed a way to engineer bacteria that produce an enzyme which, when combined with problem plastics in a proprietary portable chemical process, can convert that plastic into water and carbon dioxide. This patent-pending technology is still about two years away from the field, but its future application in plastic remediation at landfills, industrial sites, oceans and beaches could be tremendous, with annual revenue projected to reach $100 million by 2020.

A little further down the road in their business model, BioCellection hopes to launch a centralized processing plant that will use this enzyme to convert discarded plastics into a bio-surfactant necessary for textile manufacturing. With the help of collaborator Parley for the Oceans -- which is helping BioCellection connect to brands like Adidas that want to incorporate recycled plastic into their products -- the company hopes to sell this "upcycled" surfactant at $300/kg. It’s an estimated $42 billion market.

The issue of used plastics is a global problem: Because current recycling methods don’t generate enough revenue, over 90 percent of our cast-off plastics (even those going for recycling) end up in landfills, or incinerated, which compounds pollution. 

According to the company, "We can’t expect to change consumer habits overnight or integrate new materials immediately. It’s time to tackle the plastic pollution that currently exists, and that we’re continuing to produce, to save marine wildlife, keep the planet’s food chain intact, and protect human health."

Besides the $54,000 in total prize money from Wharton, BioCellection has earned $90,000 in grants and $240,000 in investment. The company is relocating to the San Jose BioCube in June 2016 for further development.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Miranda Wang, BioCellection 

Weckerly's Ice Cream to open its first retail location in Fishtown


Philly ice cream connoisseurs have something to look forward to. Currently, if you want some top-rated Weckerly’s Ice Cream, you have to buy it by the pint (or sandwich) at a local cafe, food retailer or farmers' market, but now the company is gearing up to open its very own brick-and-mortar location on a bustling stretch of Girard Avenue in Fishtown.

Fronted by husband-and-wife team Jen and Andy Satinsky, Weckerly’s launched in late 2012 in West Philly’s Spruce Hill neighborhood. In 2014, the micro-creamery moved to Port Richmond’s Globe Dye Works.

"At that time, we really did want to open a retail shop eventually in West Philadelphia," says Andy. But the search proved difficult, so they broadened the hunt. With some help from New Kensington Community Development Corporation, they discovered a 350-square-foot shop at 9 West Girard Avenue, and knew it was the perfect place (they’ll still make their ice cream at Globe Dye Works).

"We definitely wanted a neighborhood," says Andy. "We wanted to be amongst families and homeowners, and people who engage in activities in their neighborhood."

Jen is an experienced pastry chef (her maiden name, Weckerle, inspired the company's moniker). A former bicycle mechanic, Andy eventually left his job to focus on the business full-time.

"[Jen] is the reason we make ice cream and have an ice cream company," he insists. "She’s the heartbeat of everything."

The company is known for unusual flavors such as buckwheat sour cherry and lemon verbena black raspberry, but "we do embrace the classics," he adds. "There’s a place for a vanilla ice cream made with grass-fed milk and cream and good-quality vanilla bean…that tastes like ice cream would have tasted 50 years ago."

Weckerly’s more adventurous combinations are inspired by the company’s mission to source seasonal ingredients from local farms. This is partly why the Satinskys need to grow their business with a retail location, rather than increasing wholesale production. With their own shop, they can stick with their model and showcase small batches of exclusive flavors -- perhaps only five gallons at a time.  

"There are aspects to the way we operate that don’t lend themselves well to a rapidly growing wholesale business," explains Andy, noting the difficulty of scaling up while still working exclusively with local farms.

The new Girard Avenue shop will be open year-round seven days a week, offering a selection of signature ice cream sandwiches and hand-dipped cups and cones, with six rotating ice cream flavors and two sorbets.

They couple isn't sure of an opening date yet, but hope to launch by late summer or early fall. Fans can follow along for the latest @Weckerlys on Twitter and Instagram, and on Facebook.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Andy Satinsky, Weckerly’s 

Green City Works expands employment opportunities in University City


So how will University City District (UCD) transform $300,000 into sustainable, career-launching jobs in a traditionally tough business? Last week, we spoke with Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN) leaders Hoa Pham and Jennie Sparandara about the Win Win Challenge grant UCD received this winter, following a $50,000 planning grant award in 2015.

The grant-winning Green City Works (GCW) program grew out of the organization’s existing West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI), which has been connecting long-time unemployed West Philadelphians with job opportunities at major local institutional partners for over five years.

"We were looking at partnerships that would allow us to broaden our demographic base," explains Sheila Ireland, vice president of workforce innovations at UCD, noting that WPSI cohorts tend to skew toward African-American women ages 25 to 35, with jobs in healthcare or educational institutions.  

The idea for GCW was born when Valley Crest landscaping approached UCD about recruiting landscaping technicians from the West Philly area. For an organization already managing up to $400,000 of work in green spaces within its district (think The Porch at 30th Street), a jobs program geared toward landscaping seemed like a natural fit, as well as an opportunity to broaden its programs into a male-dominated industry.

When Sparandara approached UCD about applying for the planning grant, "We said, 'Here is the opportunity for us to not just work on greenspace projects…[but] to do a social venture as well," recalls Ireland. The program targets applicants struggling with challenges such as longterm unemployment or re-entry from the criminal justice system, and helps them build transferrable job skills. "We used that Win Win Challenge planning grant period to prove a couple things: Could we build this program? Could we take on fee-for-service contracts? How would we incorporate?”

The experiment was successful, even in an industry as difficult as landscaping. Though wages in the field are slightly higher than standard minimum wage, the hours can go from dawn to dusk six days a week in the growing season, with workers laid off in the winter. In other words, not a ton of stability. And with many companies recruiting workers on H2B visas, local job-seekers often don't look at the industry for entry level positions.

"Can we change the way the industry looks at workers?" asks Ireland. At GCW, that means peer mentoring and support, a livable wage ($13 an hour to start, versus an industry average of $9), work hours from 7 a.m. - 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and pay regardless of rainy days that delay the work.

That $300,000 in seed money from JOIN has allowed GCW to hire general manager Brian English and bring in its latest cohort: 12 workers who began a 26-week program on March 28. Those who finish the program stand an excellent chance of joining the GCW staff.

Ireland says the program is important because it honors a range of skills -- GCW’s staffers are people who are happy outdoors and who love community beautification.

"When you activate people’s talents, you really speak to what they should be doing in their lives," she enthuses. "And you can change people’s lives by doing that."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sheila Ireland, University City District 

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.

 

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.

 

GreenFutures takes shape at Philly schools


Last week, we spoke with Megan Garner about the School District of Philadelphia's new five-year "GreenFutures" Sustainability Plan which includes a big boost for recycling in all of the city's schools. Modeled on the City's six-year Greenworks Philadelphia initiative, the program is broken up into several focus areas.

Greenworks includes categories such as energy, environment, engagement and equity, and the District admired the model. Their Office of Environmental Management and Services sought out input from a partnering Consumption Waste Committee which featured representatives from Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, Recyclebank and other school districts (including New York City and suburban Philly-area districts) which have had success with their own green initiatives.

According to Garner, the District chose five focus areas for its own GreenFutures plan: Sustainability; Consumption and Waste; Energy and Efficiencies; School Greenscapes; and Healthy Schools, Healthy Living.

Francine Locke, Director of the District’s Office of Environmental Management and Services, is spearheading the project with help from internal and external partners. She has a master’s degree in environmental health, and experience as an industrial hygienist; Garner studied geology and worked in environmental consulting.

"Prior to this [plan], we were helping with indoor environmental quality inspections," explains Garner. That included projects like the clean-up of oil or chemical spills.

They weren’t educators, but after focusing on the operations side at the District, they began to reach out to curriculum departments about incorporating sustainability initiatives into the life of the schools. Possible future educational options include a special science course, or an environmental or energy-savers club.

Building GreenFutures involved extensive outreach. Within the District, that meant connecting with departments as diverse as educational technology, transportation, food services and facilities management. Outside the schools, it meant creating relationships with local government, public and private industry leaders, nearby school districts, and institutions of higher learning.

Garner says that the initiative's five focus areas cover about sixty individual actions. For example, helping all schools -- not just ones with large yards – incorporate educational green spaces, and officially cataloging the green spaces and gardens that do exist.

"The goal is that 100 percent of [Philadelphia] schools will recycle," says Garner of the plan's major five-year push. Through recycling, the District hopes to "increase its aggregate waste diversion from landfills by ten percent over five years."

Does that sound low?

Maybe, but according to Garner, "we’re hoping to blow it out of the water. Every student will have access to a vision for consumption and waste. Every student will have access to a school that incorporates waste reduction practices and diverts waste from landfills."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Megan Garner, School District of Philadelphia

A new citywide plan for school district recycling gets off the ground


"You wouldn’t think it’s that hard, because pretty much everyone recycles at home, right? So what is the big problem at school?” asks Megan Garner, Sustainability Program Manager at the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Environmental Management and Services. They're rolling out the ambitious five-year city-wide "GreenFutures" program, bringing a full recycling program to each of the District’s 218 schools.
 
Recycling does exist in City schools, but it’s limited -- they are all able to recycle cardboard. Forty-two schools also have a dumpster for co-mingled recyclables and a vendor to haul them, but at the remaining schools, all other recyclables (including cans and bottles) currently go right into the trash.
 
A longtime in-house contractor with the School District through Keating Environmental Management, Garner has been working closely on the District’s sustainability plan (launching this spring) with her supervisor Francine Locke, director of the Office of Environmental Management and Services.
 
"We would like to expand the program, but we’re having trouble getting participation at the schools," says Garner. Many principals and staffers face pressing issues that make it tough to prioritize recycling.
 
But according to some studies, about ninety percent of the average classroom’s waste is recyclable. So is this as simple as just putting recycling bins in Philly classrooms?
 
No, Garner insists, if they don't bring kids on board with the initiatives, "we would be missing a large educational piece with our students…We’re not in the waste business; we’re in the education business."
 
That means not just relying on District staff -- teachers and building engineers -- or outside vendors to make District-wide recycling a reality. It’s getting the kids in on the ground floor.
 
Garner hopes students and staff can eventually see that recycling isn’t a "stand-alone" proposition and build understanding of the "embodied energy" that our trash represents: the use of raw materials and depletion of natural resources, and energy spent shipping, processing and packing. There are also plenty of cross-curricular, interdisciplinary links, like the impact recycling has on our drinking water, air quality and climate.
 
Widespread recycling also makes economic sense. Trash disposal currently costs a set fee per pick-up -- and an additional fee by weight when it reaches the landfill. Recycling shrinks the volume of landfill trash, lessening the number of trash pick-ups needed and reducing landfill fees.
 
"So even if you’re not in it for the social or environmental aspects, financially it makes sense," explains Garner. "To be successful, it really needs to have the students involved...people don’t generally say no to student ideas. So if it’s student-driven and student-led, with the support of teachers and staff, it has a much better chance for success."
 
And it’s about preparing for Philly’s future, too. According to Garner, today’s students are "the decision-makers, the policy-makers, the leaders, the critical thinkers, the innovators of tomorrow."
 
Stay tuned for a closer look at the District’s plan to boost sustainability in our schools.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Megan Garner, School District of Philadelphia

 

Engaging Philly business owners on the issue of litter

Last week, we took a look at the ways the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation and other members of the new Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) city-wide anti-litter coalition are tackling illegal dumping in Philly. Another important conversation revolved around encouraging business owners to be more active in combatting litter.

Beth McConnell, policy director of the Philadelphia Association of CDCs, Michelle Kim, a program officer at LISC Philadelphia, Director Alex Balloon of the Taucony CDC, Akeem Dixon of the People's Emergency Center and the Enterprise Center, and Mayor’s Office of Sustainability Deputy Director of Policy Andrew Sharp participated in this discussion.

Participants noted possible best practices as well as existing challenges.

"There’s no cross-city litter program in the city," explained Sharp. "It’s incredibly siloed."

"We should not be afraid to say the City should be paying more money for these things," McConnell suggested.

Another theme was encouraging SEPTA to take a greater role in combatting litter by ensuring properly maintained receptacles at transit stops. Dixon expressed concern about plans for new surface transit shelters that don’t also include a nearby place to put refuse. Trashcans should be better aligned with transit routes, the group agreed.

"It’s not about cleaning. It’s about engagement," Kim said of reaching out to business owners who can help combat problems of trash block by block.

Or as Dixon put it, "The best app in the world is called talking to each other."

Participants pointed to the success of ensuring SWEEPs officers aren’t just enforcers, but a friendly face and resource in the streets.

Suggestions for helping businesses included amnesty from fines for any owner who calls 311 to report excess trash outside their building. Currently, many owners and managers may not make the call for fear they’ll be punished for the mess. Sometimes, participants pointed out, trash outside one business may not have come from that business at all, but been illegally dumped there or blown by the wind.

Attendees also said that Streets Department staffers could come to more neighborhood meetings, and that there could be higher-profile awards or incentives for business owners who consistently maintain a tidy street and sidewalk.

Balloon also pointed to an existing City ordinance that needs better enforcement: Take-out restaurants are required to have an external trashcan onsite, but many don’t follow the rule, resulting in piles of Styrofoam cast-offs nearby.

KPB leader Michelle Feldman, chatting with Flying Kite after the meeting, said January’s gathering drew just as many participants as the initial one in October 2015, though this time -- based on surveys following the previous meeting -- the discussion was more targeted and specific. She hopes a unified city plan will emerge from the coalition; the next litter convening will be held sometime in April.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Keep Philadelphia Beautiful Litter Convening members 
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