From Barnsley to the streets of Philadelphia
In June, I was lucky enough to spend the week in Philadelphia, as part of the UK Cities of Service programme, hosted by Catie Wolfgang the Chief Service Officer with the Mayors Office of Civic Engagement & Volunteer Service.
Catie had organised a packed programme, involving meetings with her fantastic team, Philly Rising, Policy Team, Parks Department and Anti Poverty Team. A key point of learning was the focus by Catie and her team on building collaboration with partners, voluntary organisations, city departments and the business sector to provide extra capacity for initiatives which build service and volunteerism that enable the delivery of greater impact on local challenges.
Patrick Weir, from Swindon Cities of Service, and I visited two truly inspiring projects. I was humbled by the volunteers providing hope through the Soup Kitchen project in Kingston, a neighbourhood that suffers from extreme poverty and described in the media as 'a neighbourhood of lost souls and hope'. They were amazing, drawing on strong faith-based values and networks, alongside engaging six young men as volunteers from a local school to help with the cooking and serving of the meals. The project also hopes to grow its own food through developing a community garden with the support of volunteers.
However, the highlight for me was PowerCorps, an amazing project working through the city’s Parks Department with the support of AmeriCorps VISTAs to support young people who have often been involved in the criminal justice system to build life skills and re-engage in work and society through parks placements. The enthusiasm, passion and energy from the young people blew me away. Their stories were so real, reflecting that they had often left behind a life of crime or faced mental health issues but were now turning their lives around. As Saybrea, a young woman on the programme, said to me: "Yourself is your best self".
On our last day and sporting PowerCorps t-shirts Patrick and I were stood outside City Hall when a young man approached us and asked about the PowerCorps programme. I did my best to describe it and thankfully did a good job, as the young man turned out to be Marcus Bullock, a graduate of the programme checking we knew what PowerCorps was all about! He had a fantastic and powerful story: a year to the day he had finished a jail sentence for drugs violations but had completed Power Corps and was now working as a speechwriter for Mayor Michael Nutter.
'PowerCorpsPHL family will go with me for the rest of my life and I will never forget what they did for me; it’s like being a part of something that’s way bigger than myself. If I could give words to future corps members I would say “go for it”. Apply 100% of yourself to the program and you will not be disappointed.
As being a part of PowerCorpsPHL we developed a saying, it goes "PowerCorps for life", a bond or a pact if you will. An agreement to always put your best foot forward and be your brother’s keeper, when it’s all said done we control our destiny and no matter what we’ve done in the past we control the future! PowerCorps for life!'
- Marcus Bullock
Meeting Mayor Nutter was also inspirational. A quietly spoken man with amazing charisma who clearly believes in SERVE Philly, the VISTAs, PowerCorps and the power of people. Mayor Nutter photo bombing the drinks reception summed him up! A really cool guy with clear vision and leadership that has enabled the sense of service to become the norm in Philly. #LovePhilly
Photo Credit: Franco Folini_Flickr