World Changers Among Us:
Young People in Philly

posted by , on June 27, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Philadelphia has been a hub for young world-changers since before this nation’s founding. Today, Philadelphia’s growing population of 20-34 year-olds represents a strong corps of innovators, artists, and public servants at the top of their fields. With approximately 90 colleges and universities in the Greater Philadelphia area graduating 66,000 students each year and an overall population of nearly 400,000 people in the “young adult” bracket, it’s no surprise that Philly is a powerhouse when it comes to young leadership.

These leaders are coming together, too, pooling their resources and energy to effect major change in the city. One stand-out example among these leaders’ leaders is Young Involved Philadelphia (YIP), which began in 2000 when a group of recent college grads gathered to brainstorm a better future in Philly. Now 6,000-members strong, YIP leverages widespread influence in the city through its year-round events calendar, professional development programs, running and book clubs, and an annual State of Young Philly series.

In my mind, a “world changer” takes small actions, solves small problems, and ends up making a big difference.
-Christina Arlt, Young Involved Philadelphia

31-year-old Christina Arlt, now the Vice President of YIP, first discovered the organization in 2008 as a graduate student in Philadelphia. Arlt began attending some of YIP’s open events at local venues, and was soon drawn in by the, “fun, educational, and interactive” nature of YIP programming. A few years later, Arlt took her involvement with YIP to the next level through the organization’s Board Prep course. This program aims to equip young people to become effective leaders in the non-profit world. “It’s a great program because it teaches you about strategic planning, legal and ethical responsibilities, and fundraising,” says Arlt.

Since its founding, YIP has worked with over 100 Philadelphia organizations and agencies, and Arlt believes this broad foundation offers young people everything they need to get involved. “YIP is unique because we don’t focus on a single issue–we focus on everything that young people care about, whether that’s education, the economy, the environment, the creative arts, or entrepreneurship.”

By connecting passionate individuals with worthwhile causes, Arlt believes YIP is facilitating radical change. “I’m a big believer that small steps taken over time by a lot of people have the power to change the world,” says Arlt. For anyone who is curious about the city or eager to get involved, Arlt suggests subscribing to the YIP newsletter, following YIP on Twitter or Facebook, attending events, or by becoming a supporting member.

   “The passion and grit of Philadelphians inspires me every single day.” -Rudy Flesher, The Spruce Foundation

Rudy Flesher, now 29, was attending a YIP event in October 2011 when he first met members of The Spruce Foundation (TSF), another notable Philadelphia non-profit.  Flesher was excited to hear about TSF’s youth-focused work in philanthropy and volunteerism, and was drawn to help the organization widen its reach. Flesher was especially interested in helping TSF incorporate LGBTQ issues into its mission, and joined the board the following spring to oversee the program’s expansion.

Today, Flesher is co-President of TSF, and the organization now has four focus areas: Health and Wellness, LGBTQ, Education, and the Arts. Each year, dozens of organizations apply to become partner organizations with TSF, which awards one $5,000 grant per category. Out of a pool of over 80 applications last year, TSF chose to partner with Girls on the Run, iPraxis, The Attic Center, and the Asian Arts Initiative.

The diversity of these applicants is a window into Philly’s world of service and creativity.  “It’s incredible to be a part of the application review process,” says Brittni Devereaux, who serves with Flesher as co-President at TSF. “All around the city, there are young people who are taking their ideas and passions and running with them.”

TSF often selects partners who are newer or smaller, says Devereaux. “We look for organizations where we know the $5,000 will really help.” One TSF success story is Rock to the Future, (an organization Campus Philly covered last month). Founder of Rock to the Future, Jessica Craft, is grateful for the grant that her organization received in 2012. “A lot of local foundations didn’t really want to take a chance on our small, young organization,” says Craft. “Spruce really gave us a chance to succeed and their ongoing support with networking opportunities, social media sharing, and volunteers is a nice bonus.”

Devereaux, who works full-time in consulting in addition to volunteering with TSF, insists there isn’t “just one” type of leader. “At Spruce, we really want to send the message that anyone can contribute, start something, make a change.” Whether manning tables, writing grant proposals, designing websites, or managing classrooms, “any skill set can be put to use,” says Devereaux.  Additionally, volunteers should prepare to be stretched and challenged wherever they engage. “I think, if you’re doing it right, you’ll be getting as much as you’re giving,” says Devereaux.

Interested in getting involved in TSF committees? The Foundation will be issuing a call for applications for next year’s board in coming weeks, so stay tuned! In addition, check out their website for information on partner organizations, events, and their annual gala!

Both YIP and TSF offer great gateways to the rich network of young, engaged leaders in Philadelphia, but there is always more to discover. Whether you’re interested in volunteering to raise health awareness among youth, engaging in local civic service, or developing your technical proficiency through local workshops and events, there are countless ways for the young and aspiring to lead and learn in Philly.

After all, says Flesher, “It is about giving what you have with intention. We all have the capacity to make a difference.”

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