Introducing the 2014-15 VISTA Community Partnerships Coordinators Cohort

Posted by on August 24, 2014

By Eden Kainer

In the last week of July, we welcomed some of the newest members of the PHENND family! Approximately two thirds of the 2014-15 Community Partnerships Coordinator VISTA cohort enjoyed a bang-up week of activities, including lots of great meals, after their initial AmeriCorps Pre-Service Orientation (PSO). Their peripatetic week reflected the myriad partnerships that define PHENND’s work. We first met with the PHENND Steering Committee in the carriage house of the newly renovated Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships at Drexel at 36th and Spring Garden Streets. There the VISTAs also got to meet several of the VISTAs from last year’s cohort, to hear their reflections about the world of community partnership building.

The next day, we met with the K-16 Partnerships Network Advisory board at the new Netter Center office located at 111 S. 38th Street. On the following day, the Office of Strategic Partnerships at the School District hosted an orientation to the structure of the School District for the VISTAs at the Central Office. Finally, we had an overnight retreat all together at the Center for Environmental Transformation in Camden. Here we dug in deep to explore the idea of building organic community relationships, did a little bit of urban farming with Camden Eco-Interns,  discussed community school strategies, and ate even more great food. More orientation activities are planned right after Labor Day when we welcome five more VISTA members. They will complete our cohort of 16 fabulously energetic VISTAs who have wide ranging experience in schools, community activism, and student leadership. Below are the individual bios of the first group of our 2014 VISTAs.

Vivian Chang is the Strategic Partnerships Coordinator serving at the District’s Office of Strategic Partnerships. Vivian is passionate about social justice, environmental conservation, and making a deep impact. She recently finished serving as a VISTA in Illinois working with the Latino community, and is a 2013 graduate from Carnegie Mellon University in biophysics and Hispanic Studies. She plans to effect systemic change for the students of Philadelphia through this year’s work with PHENND and the Office of Strategic Partnerships, and is excited to work alongside the previous Strategic Partnerships VISTA, Devon Hawkins-Anderson, among the OSP staff.

Ethan Copperman is serving as the Special Programs Coordinator at the Office of Student Support Services at the School District of Philadelphia. A Brooklyn native, he graduated from the University of Vermont with a B.A. in History. He served last year in Philadelphia as a City Year corps member, where he was the Attendance Coordinator at Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences. In that role, he coordinated and facilitated events with parents, students, and community members to promote and strengthen attendance of the student body. He will build upon that work this year in his new position by working system-wide to strengthen the truancy network of district partner organizations. He is an avid tennis player and reader.

Maggie Hart, a Northern Jersey native currently living in West Philly, is the community partnerships coordinator at Kensington Creative and Performing Arts high school. This is Maggie’s second year in Philly, as she previously served as a City Year Corps member at Overbook High School. Maggie is a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, where she studied English, Philosophy, Creative Writing, and German. At her time at Amherst, she did social justice organizing namely centered around women’s rights and reproductive justice. She was also the editor of Amherst’s literary and Arts magazine and an RA at the college. When she’s not doing totally awesome social justice work, Maggie can be found running, reading or writing.

Cynthia Jones was raised for the most part in Central Pennsylvania, although she identifies strongly with California, where she lived for the first six years of her life. A licensed barber, she went on to receive her B.A. from West Chester University where she majored in International Relations and minored in Youth Empowerment and Urban Studies. Her multifarious and extensive experience in the field of community organizing includes interning with the Nationalities Service Center and working with Youth United for Change. Her capacity to engage enthusiastically with others is reflected in her commitment to the arts. Most recently, she has been cultivating her talent as a spoken word poet. In the future, she hopes to continue her unending pursuit of arts and culture in addition to community organizing within urban education initiatives.

Margaret McLaughlin is serving as the VISTA Leader of PHENND’s Community Partnerships Initiative. She graduated in 2012 with a B.A. in Linguistics from Temple University’s Honors Program, where her focus was language contact and bilingualism. She became interested in this work after spending a semester studying abroad in Nicaragua where she examined how youth organizations work together across the country to strengthen civil society.

Last year, she served as PHENND’s Community Partnerships Coordinator VISTA at Kensington Health Sciences Academy where she promoted the vision of the principal, coordinated programs, and strengthened relations between the school & the surrounding community. This year, she will support the incoming VISTA Cohort by connecting them to citywide resources, organizing events, and assisting them with specialized trainings. In the future, she hopes to continue to examine cross-sector communication & coordination in support of public education.

Anup Misra is serving as the Community Partnerships Coordinator at Sayre High School. He recently graduated from Lincoln University with Bachelors in Biology and was involved in the collaboration of different student organizations to bring various events to his campus community. He’s passionate about biomedical research and chess.

A native of Harrisburg, PA, Elyse Irvis graduated from Syracuse University with BA in Sociology and International Relations. She then served as a City Year Corps member at W. D. Kelly Elementary
School where she’ll return as the Community Partnerships Coordinator. Committed to idea of bringing organizations and institutions together for social change, she aims for a career in corporate social

Griffith Ridgway, originally from Roanoke, Virginia, is a recent graduate from James Madison University where he studied Philosophy and Biology. During his time at JMU, Griffith served on the Academic Affairs Committee and Student Government Association, and was a facilitator for various leadership development projects on campus. Griffith developed an interest in service while coordinating a volunteer trip to Louisville, KY where he and his peers worked to assist with TESOL programs for local refugees. He will be serving as the Community Partnerships Coordinator at Henry H. Houston Elementary School where he hopes to enhance the capacity of the school to empower young minds. Griffith, with strong interests in the power of the liberal arts, plans to eventually continue his education in curriculum development.

Caitlin Roman is a Philadelphia native and graduate of Temple University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Sociology. She developed an interest in public education and service while volunteering with the AVID College Readiness Program at South Philadelphia High School in 2012-2013. As a tutor and site coordinator, she worked to promote a college-going culture among students in the “academic middle”. Following the completion of her undergraduate studies, Caitlin worked briefly with Urban Roots, a local community development organization seeking to transform blighted urban spaces into dynamic and multi-purpose community hubs. Caitlin is excited to be returning to Penn Treaty School for her second VISTA term as Community Partnerships Coordinator. Over the course of the past year she has worked to promote collaboration among Penn Treaty’s Community Partners, and she looks forward to continuing to build on these relationships over the course of the next school year. Caitlin recently applied to the Peace Corps and hopes to take the skills she’s gained at Penn Treaty abroad in 2015.

Justine Vargas is a North Jersey native and has just recently moved to Philadelphia. She graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in history.  During her studies at Rutgers, Justine served in an AmeriCorps program that allowed her to create youth art programs with local nonprofit partners and the Zimmerli Art Museum.  Now living in Philadelphia, she is going to be the community partnership coordinator at Powell Elementary.  Justine’s dream is to work in museum education and this opportunity to serve again will help pave the path for her.

Natalie West is the Community Partnership Coordinator at C. W. Henry School in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. She has previously served with AmeriCorps as a City Year Corps member at the Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Northeast Philadelphia. With a BS in education from Temple University, she is excited to apply her skills to facilitate partnerships which will benefit the school and students as well. For the past five years, Natalie has worked in multiple student educational programs. Not only is she passionate about students but she also loves animals and is a huge sports fan.

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