Welcome to the second edition of Billy Penn’s “Who’s Next” — our effort to spotlight Philadelphia’s next generation of leaders who are shaping our city every day.
Last time, we named 18 up-and-coming young people who are changing politics. This time around, we’re showcasing young neighborhood leaders — people whose work so often goes unrecognized.
Take Aine and Emaleigh Doley, the Germantown sisters who co-created an effort to revitalize their block after the foreclosure crisis in 2008 left some of their neighbors without homes. Or Lamar Thomas, a 22-year-old student who spends his time as the executive director of the Strawberry Mansion Learning Center mentoring boys as they grow into men. There’s Jamie Moffett — he’s the Kensington-based filmmaker who started an organization that fights blight and turns low-income families into homeowners.
And remember, people who start as community organizers can rise to unexpected places — like leader of the free world. So read on to see who the next Barack Obama might be. But before we dive into the list: we want to continue featuring some of the most impressive young people in this city, and we have ideas for how to do that. But we want your feedback, too — reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Who’s Next” in the subject line, to suggest other career paths or nominations you’d like us to consider.
Without further ado, here’s the Community Leaders edition of Who’s Next:
1. Aine Doley
Title: Co-founder, West Rockland Street Project
Who’s Next because: Along with her sister, Emaleigh, Aine co-created the West Rockland Street Project, an effort in Germantown to revitalize one city block through community organizing and small-scale urban interventions. The sisters and longtime block residents run RocklandStreet.com, which shares stories from the block as well as Germantown news related to planning and development. Aine is an experiential and event marketer and is behind the Grow this Block! greening initiative that’s part of the West Rockland Street Project’s goal of avoiding blight. Read more about the project here. Find her on Twitter at @ainedoley. (Photo by Neal Santos).
2. Emaleigh Doley
Title: Co-founder, West Rockland Street Project
Who’s Next because: Emaleigh co-created the West Rockland Street Project in Germantown with her sister, Aine, in 2008 after the foreclosure crisis changed their neighborhood. She’s a graduate of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission’s Citizen’s Planning Institute. Find her on Twitter at @emaleigh. (Photo by Neal Santos)
3. Michelle Feldman
Title: Executive Director of Keep Philadelphia Beautiful
Who’s Next because: Michelle was the Commercial Corridor Manager and Communications Director for the Frankford Community Development Corporation for two and a half years, where she worked to assist existing small businesses along the corridor, and to attract new ones to the area. She did everything from helping business owners to apply for grants and loans, to helping with promotional materials and keeping them up-to-date on community news and happenings. She currently serves as the Executive Director of Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, the local affiliate of Keep America Beautiful. The group works on community building through community greening like recycling education and promotion, litter abatement, and waste reduction. She’s been with KPB for a year and a half. Find her on Twitter at @michelle92486.
4. Asdrey Irizarry
Title: Director of Education at Taller Puertorriqueño
Who’s Next because: Asdrey, a native of of San Germán, Puerto Rico, promotes the importance of teaching multiculturalism to inner-city students and amplifies the awareness of the Puerto Rican culture and heritage in Philadelphia as the Director of Education at Taller Puertorriqueño. The group, which has been around since 1974, works to foster community development through art. Asdrey is also a Girl Scout leader, and a mentor and program implementer for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania. In that role she develops and delivers educational programs for at-risk, young girls in Philadelphia, fostering community development and leadership through the arts.
5. Seth Kaplan
Title: Chief of Staff for state Rep. Kevin Boyle and President of the Somerton Civic Association
Who’s Next because: This Philly-native grew up in Bustleton, and moved to Somerton in 2009 when he joined the Civic Association. He became president of the organization earlier this summer, and since then, he’s helped move the group into the 21st century by starting a website and a Facebook page. Seth was featured in this Daily News piece highlighting his “door-to-door quest” to recruit new members to join the Somerton Civic Association. During the day, Seth works as the chief of staff for state Rep. Kevin Boyle. He’s also a board member at the Northeast Family YMCA, the Northeast Victim Services organization and vice president of the advisory board for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program at the Klein JCC. For the past three seasons, he’s also coached baseball for the Somerton Youth Organization.
6. Albert Lee
Title: Community and Content Manager at Independence Visitor Center
Who’s Next because: Just call this guy “Mr. Philadelphia,” even though he prefers to be known as a “Philly evangelist.” Albert was born in raised in Chinatown and serves as the city’s go-to guide for anything — and we mean *anything* — Philadelphia. Albert’s worked at the Independence Visitor Center for eight years and is super active on social media, highlighting history and little-known facts about our city. Among his proudest accomplishments are convincing a couple to move to Philly, and showing a Make-A-Wish child and his family around town. Lee says he just wants everyone to know how great this city is, and how amazing it can become. But don’t you dare wear an “I <3 New York City shirt” around him. He says Philadelphia is his girlfriend, and “that kind of upsets her.” Find him on Twitter at @urphillypal.
7. Stephanie Michel
Title: Assistant Director of the North 5th Street Revitalization Project
Who’s Next because: Stephanie’s role as a commercial corridor manager is to serve Olney by giving tech support to business along the North 5th Street corridor and holding community events. Stephanie served North 5th Street as an Americorps VISTA Volunteer from October 2012 to September 2013. Previously, she worked as the Civic Engagement Intern with Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, an Assistant Director with Grassroots Campaigns, and she taught kindergarten in the Bensalem School District. She’s also held leadership positions including African American Representative of the Albright College Student Government Association from 2008 to 2009, as well as President of Gamma Sigma Upsilon, a volunteer organization.
8. Jamie Moffett
Title: Filmmaker and founder of Kensington Renewal
Who’s Next because: Jamie moved his filmmaking to Kensington in 2007 when he started to notice heavy drug activity in a vacant property next to him. When his efforts to buy the building failed, he started the Kensington Renewal Initiative as a model for decreasing crime and drug activity in the low-income neighborhood. Since then, the efforts have grown into an all-out blight-fighting approach that works with investment partners to connect low-income families with loan opportunities so that they can buy homes. As part of the efforts, the group also organizes neighborhood cleanups and other activities to improve the look of the neighborhood. Find him on Twitter at @.
9. Katie Monroe
Title: Bike Share Outreach Manager at Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia
Who’s Next because: Katie believes passionately in the power of the bicycle for social change, community improvement and personal health and well-being. In 2013, she founded Women Bike PHL, a growing community of women encouraging women to ride bikes in the city. She has also worked for Gearing Up, a local nonprofit getting women who are transitioning from addiction/incarceration/abuse riding bikes. Her current work at the Bicycle Coalition focuses on making Philadelphia’s bike share system, coming Spring 2015, as equitable and inclusive as possible. She also writes a column on biking for Philly.com. Find her on Twitter at @cmon_roe.
10. James Robinson
Title: Temple adjunct professor and organizer of Philly MASS – Mutual Aid and Sports Society
Who’s Next because: A Philadelphian since age 14, James worked or volunteered with the Wooden Shoe from 2000 through this year, co-founded the Oregon Ave Octopi softball team in 2011, and now works to help put together amateur community sports in Philly MASS, the Mutual Aid and Sports Society. He also teaches the history of baseball at Temple and is a block captain for his Point Breeze community. According to a friend who nominated him, “James really works hard for the community and to get to know his neighbors, not (to) change the soul of the neighborhood, but to become part of it. With tensions over gentrification in Point Breeze running high, he really doesn’t get the recognition he deserves for these efforts.” Oh, and he also does some trap-neuter-release work with local feral cats. We’re sure that is *much* appreciated.
11. Amara Rockar
Title: Board President of West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools
Who’s Next because: Amara has been the leader of the West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools nearly since its inception in 2010, and serves as its board president. WPCNS, which currently focuses on Lea Elementary, supports the school with projects as small as Kindergarten Open Houses and as large as the six-figure, multi-stage “Greening Lea” project to transform the school’s large asphalt play yard into a green and active play space for both school and community. Her 2012 online petition helped bring popular local detective Joseph Murray (@ppdjoemurray) back to Twitter, and in May she received a commendation from the Philadelphia Police Department for her assistance with an investigation. She is treasurer for her local neighborhood association, Cedar Park Neighbors, and documents new businesses coming to Baltimore Avenue on its Facebook group. Find her on Twitter at @arockar.
12. Lamar Thomas
Title: Executive Director of the Strawberry Mansion Learning Center
Who’s Next because: A Strawberry Mansion native, Lamar has served as a mentor for young men he says have gone astray from seeking out an education. He’s worked at the center for the last four years as a role model for students, and this year, he took over as executive director. In that capacity, he works to form partnerships with other community-based organizations and lead programming for the students who use the learning center’s services. He’s also currently a student studying liberal arts at the Community College of Philadelphia and wants to be an intellectual property lawyer.
13. AJ Thomson
Title: Criminal and civil attorney working with Alan J. Sagot
Who’s Next because: This Fishtown native has started several community organizations, but he and his wife, Megan, have become known in the community for their work in fighting to keep St. Laurentius open and operating — it’s the last remaining Catholic school in the neighborhood. Together, they started the St. Laurentius School Development Committee which helps the school and the parish raise money while working toward sustainability. AJ started several community programs including the Annual Fishtown Spelling Bee and the Annual March Madness Competition. He served on the Fishtown Community Development Corporation and the New Kensington Community Development Corporation for several years, and is currently the president of The Friends of Penn Treaty Park.
14. Megan Thomson
Title: Development Director at La Salle Academy
Who’s Next because: Along with her husband AJ, Megan, a Mayfair native, co-created the St. Laurentius School Development Committee — a group to support the Catholic school in Fishtown where three of the couple’s four daughters attend school. Over the last three years, the group has kept St. Laurentius School open and operating by raising about $125,000.
15. Lauren Vidas
Title: President at Hazzouri & Associates and Chairperson of South of South Neighborhood Association
Who’s Next because: As a SOSNA board member, Lauren chaired the Clean and Green committee for two years while the group held neighborhood clean-ups. In addition, she helped to start the Big Belly Initiative, which worked to take advantage of the city’s bulk purchasing power and buy Big Belly cans at a discounted rate while working with the Streets Department. She also leads the Carpenter Green project in which SOSNA entered into an Urban Garden Agreement for an empty lot at 17th and Carpenter Streets. Lauren knows how the city works, as she spent four years working for the city as an aide to both City Council and Mayor Nutter. She now owns a local public strategies firm focused on state and local policy and legislative issues, business development and public strategies. Find her on Twitter at @BroadandMarket.
This story has been updated to reflect that James Robinson co-founded the Oregon Ave. Octopi Softball team.