The truth still stands: Anyone can afford to give.
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Philly Fellows encourages local college graduates to stick around—for the sake of the city.
By J.F. Pirro
Tim Ifill and Matt Joyce are sitting on a park bench outside Philadelphia City Hall, half a block from their downtown office for Philly Fellows. For the moment, the 2003 Haverford College alums are focusing on the five-year reunion they’ll celebrate that weekend back on the idyllic suburban campus.
“It will be fun to get back,” Ifill says.
As students and roommates, they had so many on-campus activities that, despite being within striking distance of Philadelphia, they never really experienced the city. “We would go into the city for Sixers and Phillies games, but we didn’t really get to know Philadelphia,” Joyce says.
“With such a great resource as Philadelphia, to not take advantage of it, you’re really missing out,” adds Ifill.
Such was the thinking behind Philly Fellows, a yearlong post-graduate fellowship program offering new college graduates the chance to engage in the city’s neighborhoods and diverse nonprofit agencies. By encouraging young local graduates to remain in the city, they hope to bolster Philadelphia’s cultural, educational and social services sectors.
The timing is terrific. Philadelphia’s youth movement mirrors a national trend that increasingly finds young people involved in nonprofit, civic and political activities. “There’s definitely a lot of energy in Philadelphia,” Ifill says. “Our program wouldn’t work half as well without all this energy.”
The tarnished image of Philadelphia that was prevalent through the 1980s is behind the city, the two say—though Ifill admits the negativity was frozen in many minds until recently. “Largely, its image was as a crime-ridden, unsafe place plagued by urban blight—and you can probably throw in culture-less for good measure,” he says. “Back then, it was much more reasonable to say, ‘Philly? Why would anyone want to move there?’ Now, with pride, we say we live here. The city has come around in incremental steps, and we’re feeding on that.”
Once the co-founder and co-director of Philly Fellows, Ifill has become executive director since Joyce announced his resignation at summer’s end to begin a fellowship studying public policy at Harvard University.
Joyce arrived on the Main Line from Freeport, Maine. Ifill is from Abington. At Haverford, both were active with the Eighth Dimension Office of Community Service, spearheading the Street Outreach program that takes students into Center City once a week to distribute food to the homeless. Joyce also volunteered with Philadelphia Habitat for Humanity.
After graduation, Joyce spent 15 months as a policy analyst for the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness on a Haverford House Fellowship and another year coordinating the Haverford House program. In that same time span, Ifill spent two seasons working for the U.S. Forest Service in California’s Eastern Sierras. Once he returned to Philadelphia, he worked for After School Activities Partnerships, coordinating the Philadelphia Youth Chess Challenge.
Ifill and Joyce were roommates for seven years, all four at Haverford, then three years in a West Philly apartment. One summer, they even worked together on the campus grounds crew at Haverford. Earlier this year, the two 27-year-olds separated—though they moved within two blocks of each other in the Queen Village section of the city.
“I hardly even like this guy,” Joyce jokes. “We have the same sense of humor, and that went a long way.”
Joyce’s parents are teachers, so he grew up understanding public service. Ifill’s parents never used the word “service” as it’s used today, but rather “community” or just “helping the neighbors.” “I definitely absorbed some of that,” he says.
It’s not 1960s activism, though. While 40 percent of its budget (up to $752,000 this year) is funded by AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), Philly Fellows hardly has an anti-powers-that-be philosophy. “We don’t think that way,” Ifill says. “We have the same spirit in the form of service, but that [’60s] movement has matured and evolved over the last four decades.”
There’s a different attitude, says Joyce. The Philly Fellows perspective is to make activism a career, rather than simply making a stink and moving on.