Author: katlin-hess


Talking to Jeaninne Kayembe, the Co-Executive Director and Co-Founder of Urban Creators was one of those conversations where as soon as it was over I couldn’t wait to share what I had learned with everyone I talked to. Since that call, I’ve told co-workers, friends, other Sprucer’s and even the cashier at the grocery store about Urban Creators. And everyone’s reaction is the same — that’s so cool.

Urban Creators was founded in 2010 by a group of young people who upon returning from service work in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina looked around and realized there was work to be done in their own neighborhood. “We came back and realized where we lived didn’t look all that different from what we had seen in New Orleans,” Jeaninne explained, “so, we brought together members of our community to brainstorm creative ways to make a positive change.”

Where we lived didn’t look all that different from what we had seen in New Orleans.

Through their work, they’ve been able to provide the community with what Jeaninne referred to as a “safe space and urban oasis” in the form of an urban farm and creative space. The farm itself supports the community in two ways, first in providing good, whole foods in a neighborhood that’s considered a food desert, and second, it gives the young people in the community the opportunity for meaningful employment. “One of our main goals is to employ as many young people in our neighborhood as possible.” Jeaninne explained, and this model has paid off, “in the three-block radius surrounding the farm, the Part 1 violent crime rate among 18 – 24-year-olds has dropped 40% since we’ve started.”

Beyond the farm, the “Creators” part of their name is also a main focus. Kayembe shared, “We strive to create opportunities for our community to become affluent in the arts. We bring in artists from Philadelphia and around the country for shows in our space.” But shows like this are just one of many things Urban Creators is bringing to the neighborhood. Each year Urban Creators host a community event that brings local musicians, artists, and other creatives together for their annual HoodStock Community and Arts Festival. The event also offers something super unique to them — a graffiti invitational. Jeaninne explained, “We want to ensure young, marginalized people have a platform for whatever their passion is — this event gives graffiti artists a safe place to pursue their passion.” They also offer First Friday Art Gallerys at the farm and a variety of other events throughout the year.

We want to ensure young, marginalized people have a platform for whatever their passion is.

But if you’re looking for other ways to get involved, they offer Second Saturday volunteer days, where anyone is welcome to come help, opportunities for corporate giving days, and through a brand new partnership with Airbnb experiences, you can now participate in their Art in Urban Farming experience where you’ll take have the opportunity to take a tour of the farm, check out the graffiti art and murals, get your hands dirty (literally) helping with daily farm maintence projects and even learn tips for growing vegetables in an urban setting.

I think what makes Urban Creators so special is that it’s essentially an effort to improve the community — by the people who live there. When I asked Jeaninne what’s next she shared, “Like the farm our group is a living, breathing organism. We’ll continue to grow and change based on the needs of our community.” and I for one, can’t wait to see what they do next.

From my very first interaction with the Center for Grieving Children, I could tell this was a special place. I had the opportunity to talk to Malia Neal the new Director of Development & Communications at the Center and Jack Small, their Development & Communications Associate last week to learn more about what the Center for Grieving does and the children they serve.

The Center for Grieving Children was founded in 1995 out of a growing need to “help children grieving a death to heal and grow through their grief while strengthening families, communities and professionals’ understanding of how best to respond to their needs.” Neal explained, “Philadelphia as a city is unique and has a complex set of needs when it comes to children suffering the loss of a loved one. We’re working to bridge that gap.”

The Center works directly with school counselors to identify needs and offer free grief groups in schools throughout the city. Aside from ensuring these students are learning the skills they need to grieve in a healthy way, they also make sure students are keeping up with their education. “Schools don’t have resources to help students stay connected to school while grieving — that’s where we can help.” says Neal.

Outside of schools, the Center for Grieving Children offers community support groups across the city for children and their caregivers, as well as training for professionals who interact with these children like teachers or school counselors. “A child needs a community to help them through their grief journey, so it’s important that adults know how to respond.” Neal says.

The Center for Grieving Children is the only organization of its kind in Philadelphia, and they are currently working with over 500 kids directly with multiple groups in nearly 70 schools, and affecting even more through their training services.

When I asked how people could get involved with the Center, Neal suggested people attend their third annual Art Night, on May 4th at DNB First in Old City, hosted by their Young Professionals Board. For the event, “children will create a swing, decorated as a tribute to their experiences in memory of their loved one.” Neal explained. Attendees will have the opportunity to engage with the children and families who are grieving their loved ones and learn more about the Center and it’s mission.

For more information and to learn more about the Center for Grieving Children check out their website at:


By day, Joshua Schwartz is a project manager for TargetX, a higher education technology company; by night (at least some of them), he’s an adjunct professor at two different colleges.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that Joshua is passionate about education: “I am a huge believer in education and life-long learning,” he says. I believe every person, young or old, can learn something new every day – and should equally be offered the opportunity to do so.”

Joshua, now pursuing an Ed.D., started his higher education at Montgomery County Community College as an older adult student, and is particularly inspired by the mission and philosophy of community colleges.

“Even after graduating from Montgomery County Community College I remained involved. I wanted to ensure every person that I could help would receive the same opportunity to a college education that I received,” Joshua explains. “I decided to get involved because I know how life changing a community college can be – and the impact they have not just on a student, but on that students’ family too.”

You could say Joshua puts his money where his mouth is, since he’s donated funds to support student scholarships – or, in some cases, even form them – through both the Montgomery County Community College Foundation and the Schenectady County Community College Foundation.

Joshua also counts the American Cancer Society, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, and the New England Aquarium among causes he supports.

“The American Cancer Society is huge for me,” Joshua says. “I’m a cancer survivor, so I know firsthand the support the ACS offers to survivors and their families.”

Joshua’s support of ACS goes beyond financial contributions. “Back in 2011, I was named the American Cancer Society’s Rookie of the Year for the Northeast PA Region for my contributions in chairing the most successful first-year community college Relay for Life in the country. In a matter of four months, we raised over $28,000 for the ACS. I have lost too many friends and family to cancer, so the ACS holds a very special place in my heart.”

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation also hits home for Joshua.

“As a member of the LBGTQ community, I feel every person deserves to have basic equal rights. This organization has done a lot for the LBGTQ community in advocating and educating individuals, corporations, and even local, state, and federal governments on the importance of ensuring all people are treated equally. I back this organization because I know there’s still so much additional work that needs to be done.”

And the New England Aquarium?

“I walked in as a tourist and fell in love,” Joshua explains. “I could spend hours there (and have), but learning the impact they play on research and the programs they offer in educating our youth inspired me to generously donate to this organization.”

The aquarium also has a lot of penguins, which Joshua happens to love.

“I know it won’t happen, but I secretly hope one day they name a penguin after me,” he jokes.

What’s Joshua’s advice for millennials looking to start giving back, but in search of the right cause for them?

“Remember your roots in life,” he says. “Remember what brought you to be the person you are today — be it your high school, religious institution, or an organization that offered you or your family support. Donate time, resources, or monetary support to organizations that mean something to you – you’ll know in your heart which is the right organization.”

Joshua also recommends paying attention to family and friends’ passions. “If you see a friend or family member posting something on Facebook, or whatever social media outlet, reach out to them. Find out more about their organization, and learn why it matters to them,” Joshua suggests. You may find that it speaks to you, too.

“As millennials, we have the power to make such an amazing impact in our community today, tomorrow, and a year from now,” Joshua says. He encourages our generation to draw on their time, talent, and financial resources to give back now. “The reward is a personal feeling that never gets old.”

This month we sat down with Casey McGuigan, a corporate accountant for Advanced Depositions and Trial Technologies. Casey is a Philly girl through and through — she was born and grew up in northeast Philadelphia, went to Drexel for college, and now lives in South Philadelphia.

When she’s not working, Casey can most often be found volunteering for her favorite local organization, PAWS. PAWS is Philadelphia’s largest animal rescue partner with a mission of making Philadelphia a no-kill city where every healthy and treatable pet is guaranteed a home. They pull at-risk animals out of the city’s shelter and place them in loving adoptive and foster homes. Last year they rescued and adopted out over 3,000 animals while serving another 33,000 at their low cost clinics.

Casey started volunteering and giving to PAWS in 2014. “Working in finance can be boring at times so having something I’m passionate about to dedicate some of my free time to makes my life more fulfilling.” She also understands the benefits of giving back financially and encourages others to give back too. This year for her 30th birthday she asked everyone who was planning to give her a gift to make a donation to PAWS instead. “It made me so happy receiving cards and emails that week letting me know that people were donating in my name to help a mission that I’m so passionate about.”

Throughout her time at PAWS Casey has learned that no donation amount is too small. “I think a lot of the time people think that they can’t do enough so they do nothing at all. They forget that even small donations quickly add up. Something as small as $10 will vaccinate and animal waiting for adoption, $25 will pay for an animal to be spayed or neutered, and $50 will pay to house and shelter an animal for a full week.”

So what is Casey’s advice for getting involved? “Non-profits are able to run because they rely heavily on donations and volunteers. No amount of time or money that you are able to donate is too small. Knowing that you are helping to make Philadelphia a better city in any way will bring you more than you are actually giving. If everyone that does nothing because they don’t think it’s enough just did something to help or donated a small amount, this city would be a much better place in a lot of ways!”