PHENND Fellows Spotlight: Mattie Cohen

Posted by PHENND on September 18, 2017


Name: Mattie Cohen

University: Temple University

Major(s): Geography & Urban Studies and Spanish, Political Science minor


Where are you from? Do you have a fun fact about your hometown?

I’m from the Washington, D.C. area and grew up in Takoma Park, Maryland. Affectionately called the “People’s Republic of Takoma Park” and “The Berkley of the East,” my hometown is known for its progressive activism and creative community. The city of Takoma Park is a designated Tree City USA, a “Nuclear-Free Zone”, features an annual Folk Festival, a corn silo, and has a popular natural foods co-op. To illustrate this even further, there is a statue of Roscoe the Rooster on Main Street in homage to a locally adored, “free-range” rooster that roamed my neighborhood for over a decade until he was the victim of a hit-and-run in 1999. When it gets cold people dress up the immortalized Roscoe in gloves and scarves.

“Roscoe during the Great American Eclipse”
Photo by my friend, Patti Mallin


How did you hear about PHENND and why did you apply?

I knew I wanted to do anti-poverty work but I (ironically) hadn’t thought much about staying in Philly. I was seriously considering doing Peace Corps abroad. I also thought that a fellowship sounded like a good option for me in between college and grad school and the Office of Scholar Development and Fellowships Advising at Temple recommended checking out an AmeriCorps year of service that operates under the auspices of Philly Fellows (now PHENND Fellows). The inclusion of professional development opportunities and having an extra stipend for housing made this program stand out to me. During this year the fellows have the opportunity to work towards a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from La Salle University, for example. Strategically, I thought it would be a good stepping-stone for me; the combination of community service, professional development, and experience in community organizing would let me walk away with something more unique than your average entry-level position on my resume.


Where are you working? What do you do?

I do organizing around recreation centers and public space! I’m serving as the Community Outreach Coordinator at the Philadelphia Parks Alliance where I lead the Recreation Community Initiative. Our goal is to use recreation centers as a tool to improve neighborhoods. One of the ways we do this is by supporting, strengthening, and even creating Advisory Councils at every rec so that community input is incorporated into the space. We empower community members to work with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation staff to develop more individualized programming that meets the need of that neighborhood. We are expanding how people view and use recs, parks, and playgrounds– moving beyond recreation centers as athletic facilities and recasting them as true centers of community.

What is your office and daily schedule like?

It’s my first time working at a nonprofit this small—only three full time staff! The office culture is very laid-back and the staff is young. My work is very dynamic because each recreation center and Advisory Council has unique needs, which means my capacity building can change from day to day! I’m out of the office a lot, meeting with folks at rec centers and having community engagement meetings. It’s been a good opportunity to see parts of the city that I’ve never been to.

What is your favorite memory so far during your VISTA term?

I have enjoyed living in a house with some of the other fellows in my program. We have a great cohort. But best of all was learning that our house came with an unofficial pet: we have an adorable, affectionate alley cat named Posey who has adopted us!

Talk about a challenge and a success you have had at your position already within the first month:

The adjustment of going from working at a bigger, national nonprofit with a large operating budget and a set infrastructure to working at a very small organization that is going through a period of realignment has been challenging for sure! There’s no HR department, no tech support team, and our office isn’t glamorous. One challenge I faced was that because I have to bring in my personal computer to work off of, my productivity was stunted when my laptop died. There aren’t back-up desktops just lying around the supply room in case of emergency!

One specific success I’ve had, in addition to just generally navigating a new workplace and adapting to post-grad life, was successfully putting on a large event at City Hall that drew a couple hundred guests. The Parks Alliance partnered with Next City to host ‘Building Community Through Play,’ a public panel conversation about the vital role that rec centers play in changing neighborhoods and a program/resource fair, and I coordinated most of the event planning. (Here’s a link to the Next City article that covers what the event was all about!)


Would you let Parks Alliance hook up your ‘Recently Played’ list on Spotify to the office speakers?

I probably wouldn’t subject my colleagues to that! My Spotify consists of a weak assortment of instrumental music for studying (Balmorhea) and then some arbitrary Bachata and old Taylor Swift thrown in… because I don’t really use it and never splurged for Premium. I still primarily use iTunes for my music library. Does that make me old school?

Some advice you have for someone considering applying for a PHENND fellowship?

My advice for seniors in college who are embarking on the job/fellowship/other-next-step search is to stay organized! Get a good planner that suits you. I was addicted to The New York Public Library’s Student Planner for years but I just got a Passion Planner that has been revolutionary in helping me articulate and stay true to my personal and professional goals.

Also, read up on the goings on in Philly! I can’t tell you how useful it is to know what’s happening in local politics, nonprofit news, and who the major power players are. I subscribe to City & State PA, Plan Philly, Billy Penn, Philadelphia Neighborhoods WordPress, Generocity, etc. and dedicate my morning bus commute to getting my daily news in.


Shameless plug:

Follow my adventures as a PHENND VISTA on Instagram @mattinglyyy

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