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It was more than a dozen years ago that UPenn grads Troy Madres and Andrew Hohns met over coffee at La Colombe to discuss Philadelphia’s unmet potential. Young people weren’t being engaged in the civic dialogue at the time, they complained, and that, they felt, was a lost opportunity.
That turned into a regular Sunday night gathering, with five of their closest friends — either at Madres’ Rittenhouse Square apartment, or at Hohn’s place in Old City. The intent behind their initial conversation wasn’t to create a group, or a vehicle for young people to express their voice.
But that is, eventually, what they did. And now, years later, the organization they built, Young Involved Philadelphia, has grown into a kind of connective tissue for engaged young people, a social incubator for anyone with an itch to help build a better Philadelphia. Many of its members have gone on to build bright careers and hold positions of influence, and it continues to attract large numbers of ambitious young Philadelphians.
“Philadelphia now is very different from Philadelphia then,” Claire Robertson-Kraft, past board chair of Young Involved Philadelphia, said in an email. Robertson-Kraft was the organization’s first intern and served as chair from 2007 to 2012. (Since leaving YIP, she started PhillyCORE Leaders, a coalition of education leaders working toward the improvement of Philly schools.) “Back then, YIP was one of few like-minded organizations; contrast that with today, when it’s virtually impossible to map the landscape of ‘young friends groups’ doing good work in the city.”
YIP now has more than 50 organizational partners, more than 5,000 young professionals on its email list, and has trained more than 100 members to serve on non-profit boards throughout the city. The result? Every year, more and more organizations reach out to YIP to recruit young leaders for their boards, Robertson-Kraft said, and more young professionals are running for – and in some cases, being elected – to public office.
“YIP has been building the next generation of leadership in Philadelphia, and there has been a growth in the number of young professionals entering into leadership roles,” Robertson-Kraft said.
All this is good news for the city, which young people had been leaving in large numbers just a short number of years ago.
But it also highlights stubborn problems. Like why it is, for instance, that groups like YIP show that young people do want to be engaged, but don’t come out to vote.
Zack Stalberg, CEO of the government watchdog group Committee of Seventy, said he was surprised by the very large crowd of young adults that YIP was able to turn out for the city controller debate, which it recently co-sponsored with both Committee of Seventy and Newsworks.
“I really didn’t expect many people there at all, but YIP clearly had influence and people turned out for them,” Stalberg said. Even so, he said, the dismal eight percent voter turnout for that election proves that “the civic engagement picture generally is not wonderful.”
And then there’s the inevitable draw of suburban school districts. YIP is particularly concerned about this. As a result, one more subtle aspect of its mission has become getting young adults to stay long-term.
“One of the big problems that the city has is we’re bringing in young professionals and then they have kids and leave,” said Josh McNeil, current YIP chair. “If you’re invested in an organization, if you’re tied in to a local non-profit that’s a big part of your life, if you’re a volunteer or serving on a board of directors you have a greater stake in the city and you’re less likely to leave. That’s the theory anyway.”
When YIP began, its focus was advocacy. Members lobbied for skateboarding in Love Park, organized a campaign that ultimately led to the Real World staying in Philadelphia amid union intimidation, and circled City Hall in moving trucks for two hours to protest then-Mayor John Street wanting to stop decreases in the city wage tax.
Now, YIP’s focus is less on civic engagement, and more on building connections among young Philadelphians and ensuring their representation in the decision-making of the city. YIP’s members also promote the city: The all-volunteer board has helped design programs like ‘Why I Love Philly’ (#whyilovephilly), and the annual State of Young Philly event.
“YIP does a good job of making different parts of the city feel accessible. We’ll break it down. We’ll explain it. We’ll connect you with the individuals who know, or the groups that are already doing that kind of work,” said Sophie Hwang, YIP’s vice chair for outreach. Hwang first got involved through the organization’s board prep program. “It was the people that really, really impressed me,” she said. “They were striking. They were young. They were passionate.”
Perhaps YIP’s vitality and potential for growth should have been clear from its first public meeting at the Polumbo Recreation Center on 10th and Fitzwater in late March of 2001. Out of that meeting came a whole group of people, Hohns said, “beyond the seven of us at the initial dinner table” — Hohns, Madres, Miller Brownstein, Eva Churchill, David Simons, Job Itzkowitz and John Christner, the youngest member, a senior getting ready to attend Penn in the fall.
In many ways, Hohns said, the city has achieved progress in the areas that the founding YIP members thought it was lacking: A 24-hour environment, café culture, homegrown businesses and college students staying in the city after graduation.
But for Hohns, who left the group in 2005 and is now working on international investment deals for major infrastructure projects at the Mariner Investment Group, the most personally satisfying aspect of founding the organization has been its longevity. While sitting in the library of the Union League of Philadelphia, still somewhat jet-lagged from a recent trip overseas, he reflected on the organization and its growth.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said. “But every few years now a new group of young people take the reins of the organization to take up relevant issues for young people today.”
|Susanna Greenberg||Clinical Superviser and Lecturer||UPenn Law School|
|Lea Kleinman||Teacher||Mastery Charter School|
|Niel McDowell||Associate Director of Academic Advising and Assistant Dean for Advising||UPenn|
|Claire Robertson-Kraft||Board Chair||Philly SEED|
|Claire Robertson-Kraft||Education Policy Consultant|
|Dasanj Aberdeen||Investment Manager||KPMG|
|Andrew Hohns||Managing Director||Mariner Investment Group|
|Troy Madres||Vice President||First Southwest Company|
|Christina Arlt||Planner||Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission|
|Ariel Ben-Amos||Planner/Analyst||Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities|
|Matt Goldfine||Political Director||PA House Democratic Campaign Committee|
|Job Itzkowitz||Deputy Chief of Staff||Office of Councilwoman Cindy Bass|
|Alain Joinville||Public Affairs Coordinator||City of Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation|
|Maura Kennedy||Director of Strategic Initiatives||Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections|
|Marisa Waxman||Deputy Chief Revenue & Collections Officer||City of Philadelphia|
|Ned Rauch-Mannino||Government relations Specialist||The Ridge Policy Group|
|Sophie Hwang||PolicyLab Research Associate||Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia|
|Tarik Khan||Nurse Practioner||DC Government|
|Nick Marzano||Senior Manager, Education||Society of Hospital Medicine|
|Patrick Dougherty||Head of the R&D Programme Management Office||GlaxoSmithKline|
|Marlon Satchell||Evaluation Scientist||Nemours Health and Prevention Services|
|Michael Fabius||Associate, government relations, regulatory affairs||Ballard Spahr LLP|
|Jim Saksa||Associate in Corporate and Nonprofit Law||Fox Rothschild LLP|
|K. Catherine Rooney||Deputy to the Legal Personnel Partner||Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP|
|Michelle Freeman||President||Witty Gritty Marketing & Events|
|Sulaiman Rahman||Blue Diamond Consultant||Organo Gold|
|Michelle Freeman||Publisher||Flying Kite Media|
|Farzin Khan||Director of Communications and Program Development||National Association of Securities Professionals|
|Clio Mallin||Communications Coordinator||John Templeton Foundation|
|Josh McNeil||Executive Director||Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania|
|Salas Saraiya||President||Network of Indian Professionals-Philadelphia Chapter|
|Ben Stango||Campaign Program Manager||United Way of Greater Philadelphia & Southern New Jersey|
|Thaddeus Squire||Founder and Managing Director||CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia|
|Kate Houstoun||Program Officer||The Barra Foundation|
|Michael Kaiser||Community and Content Strategist||Generocity.org|
|Meghan Mallouk||Marketing and Membership Manager||Fairmount Parks Conservancy|
|Josh Sevin||Deputy Director||Economy League of Greater Philadelphia|
|Uche Ojeh||Managing Partner, CEO||UAO Enterprises|
|Matt Rader||Senior Associate||McKinsey & Company|
|J. Rudy Flesher||Community Curator||Here’s My Chance|
|J. Rudy Flesher||Resident Mxtress of Ceremonies||Liberty City Kings Drag and Burlesque|
|Meredith Edlow||Visual Assets Manager||Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Coporation|
|Brian Stevenson||Business Representative||IBEW Local 98|
|Josh Warner||Doctoral Student in City Planning||UPenn|
|Sara Doelger||Senior Associate||Argosy Real Estate|
|Jason Wolfson||Marketing Manager||Comcast|
|Salas Saraiya||Principal||Shindig Mobile|
|Bruce Marable||Chief Marketing Officer||Defined Clarity|