By the age of 21, Kalef Jones, a North Philadelphia native, had been incarcerated three times. When he re-entered society after his final bid, Kalef wanted to change. Kalef knew he could make a lasting impact on his community but needed an opportunity to do so. He was enrolled in a re-entry program through his Probation Officer that connected him to PowerCorpsPHL.
An AmeriCorps program that focuses on workforce development and sustainability, PowerCorpsPHL engages young adults not in school and not working in transforming their lives through service. PowerCorpsPHL members participate in 6 months of AmeriCorps service that provides them the opportunity to develop the skills required to become environmental stewards, secure meaningful work, and become civically engaged members of society. Darren Brown, another alumni says, “PowerCorpsPHL helped me realize I’m doing something right for a change. I knew the things I was doing before were bad, but I didn’t really know how. Beautifying my community, I was able to see the work I do isn’t a waste, that it has an impact.”
PowerCorpsPHL members serve with City departments to tackle pressing environmental challenges and prepare for climate change, including improving stormwater management, increasing tree coverage, and revitalizing public land. While Philadelphia is fortunate to have one of the largest urban park systems in the world and innovative green stormwater infrastructure, it also is beleaguered by high rates of poverty that contribute to larger social inequities like access to safe public play spaces, clean air, adequate housing, and living wages.
PowerCorpsPHL presents an opportunity for Philadelphia both to enhance its vast green space and grow its local workforce. Over the past 2.5 years, PowerCorpsPHL members have revitalized over 3,000 acres of public land including restoring access to our urban watersheds, renovating recreation centers, planting close to 4,000 trees, and removing over 150 tons of debris. In tandem with our environmental goals, PowerCorpsPHL is dedicated to empowering young adults most affected by poverty. Within the corps, 70% have been involved in the justice system and 20% with the foster care system. Statistics say our young people are destined for a lifetime of poverty, dependence on public benefits, and recidivism. Yet, 90% of our alumni transition to employment, post-secondary education, and/or additional national service, launching them on a career path. Committed to our corps members for life, PowerCorpsPHL works with alumni to ensure they are equipped with the tools to succeed, the tools to invest our collective future, and their own.
Since joining PowerCorpsPHL in September 2014, Kalef has pushed himself to find and unleash his potential. Less than two years later, he is enrolled in college and serves as a Crew Leader on staff with PowerCorpsPHL, mentoring and coaching young men and women who, once like himself, are searching for, and creating, a better future.
PowerCorpsPHL is a City of Philadelphia AmeriCorps initiative operated by EducationWorks. Launched in September 2013 as a Governor & Mayor Initiative, PowerCorpsPHL has served over 250 young adults disconnected from school and work.
Nicole Simonsen is an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with PowerCorpsPHL as the Communications Coordinator bringing to the team a deep commitment to the environment and uplifting the unique experiences of women and girls living in poverty.
Follow #citychat on Twitter from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST on Tuesday May 31st to learn more about how green infrastructure can contribute to community resilience and wealth. Even if you don’t have a Twitter account, you can watch the conversation unfold here.