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The AmeriCorps Member Guide to Philadelphia

AmeriCorps members pose in front of the “I Love Philly” sign at , 2019.

 

Making the decision to move to a new city can be difficult. You may worry about the cost of living, securing housing, transportation, or wonder if Philadelphia and city living is the right fit for you.

These are questions that other AmeriCorps members and I all considered when first relocating to Philadelphia for our year of service with 黄色视频. Though I grew up in the Philly suburbs and had visited the city before, I had to move from my college town near Baltimore and stressed over the best way to find housing when I was two hours away from Philly. Other Corps members had similar experiences, in some cases moving from hundreds of miles away to serve without ever having visited the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.

I spoke with five 黄色视频 Philadelphia AmeriCorps members (ACMs) and staff about their experiences as Corps members living and serving in Philly. Some of the ACMs I spoke with were born and raised in the city, while others relocated here within the last year.

Whether you are moving from across the country or from the Philadelphia suburbs, you will find that your year of service in Philly is filled with opportunities and adventures. Take a look at what our Corps members have to say!

Interviews with ACMs and staff have been edited for length and clarity.

 

Section #1: Moved to Philadelphia for Service

Stephanie Dennis, First-Year AmeriCorps member at Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary
Johnny Hartmann, First-Year AmeriCorps member at Kensington High School

Left: Stephanie Dennis, First Year AmeriCorps Member
Right: First Year AmeriCorps Member, Johnny Hartmann (pictured right), helping to mix and run paint on 黄色视频鈥檚 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

 

Where did you move from and what made you choose Philadelphia as a place to live and serve?

SD: I moved to Philly from Hudsonville, Michigan. Honestly, Philadelphia wasn鈥檛 in my top choices, but I was interested in serving wherever 黄色视频 needed Corps members most. The recruiter mentioned that Philadelphia might be a better location for service because the site often pushes for new, innovative ideas. The way that my recruiter described 黄色视频 Philly changed my mind [about serving in Philadelphia].

 

How did you secure housing in Philadelphia, particularly as folks moving from out-of-state?

JH: City Year initially sent me some information about a . It was made up of college students and people in their early 20s looking for housing all over the city. I didn鈥檛 really get any leads on that, so I followed up with 黄色视频 and they shared the name of a realtor, or a landlord, who has housed Corps members in their properties before. I connected with the realtor, and that鈥檚 how I ended up in the place that I鈥檓 renting out now for the year.

 

What was the most difficult part of securing housing moving from a different state?

JH: I didn鈥檛 run into too many difficulties finding housing. I was worried about it at first, but once I contacted that realtor, I was pretty much set. However, I had never visited Philly before moving here, so I wasn鈥檛 familiar yet with the neighborhood. I think what was more difficult was the actual moving part. I didn鈥檛 want to spend money on a U-Haul, so I had to pack everything into my car.

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Are you moving to Philadelphia for service and need to secure housing? Check out our comprehensive housing guide to learn more about Philly’s many neighborhood, how to find roommates, and much more.

 

Can you tell me about your adjustment to the Philly lifestyle? What was the most unexpected thing that you experienced?

SD: I鈥檇 say there was a cultural shock when I first moved here. Coming from the Midwest, there鈥檚 this thing called 鈥淢idwest niceness.鈥 People from the Midwest are just too kind! And Philadelphians are very direct, and I had to learn that. But I would say that through the months I鈥檝e lived here, I do appreciate the directness. I鈥檓 still constantly learning how my lifestyle and upbringing is a little bit different from people on the East Coast.

JH: Public transit took some time to get used to. But once I downloaded the Google Maps app, it was super easy to navigate. And I think overall just living in a big city was a major adjustment for me.

 

What do you appreciate most about Philadelphia?

SD: I like how close you are to other East Coast cities, especially New York, which is a place that I would like to live someday. I also have family down in Washington, D.C., and it鈥檚 very easy to go visit them on a weekend.

I also appreciate the subway system. Detroit doesn鈥檛 really have a subway system, so you鈥檙e really just relying on buses there. It鈥檚 nice having more flexibility and freedom of movement that come from having subway trains.

 

Is there anything that you wish you knew about Philly before moving here?

SD: I wish I knew that Philly is unique with its own cultural aspects that don鈥檛 really fit into the same box as other East Coast cities鈥攆or instance, how enthusiastic the sports fans are. Detroit really only has the Red Wings who are good in professional sports, so most people root for the Green Bay Packers or Chicago teams. That is an aspect to Philly that I had not experienced before, which I like. This year, I rooted for a team that made it to the Super Bowl, which felt really new and exciting.

 

What are your favorite things about Philly that may be different from your hometown?

JH: I love the number of museums here. I鈥檓 from Richmond, VA which has a great art museum, but the is ginormous. You can spend hours there and leave without having explored everything.

Corps members pose for a photo outside of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2019.

 

What are your tips for living in and enjoying the city on a low budget?

SD: Relying on to get around the city is so helpful when you鈥檙e on a budget. For food shopping, I write out my grocery lists in advance and rotate the different items that I need each week. For fun, I love to try out new coffee shops and restaurants. I recently just found , which I really like since bagel shops are not big in the Midwest.

JH: I highly recommend applying for /, if you can. All Corps members are eligible to apply. But if you have a second job outside of service, it may not be accessible to you because of the maximum income limit. Also, try to limit ordering food or eating out too much. When you do want takeout, avoid delivery fees by ordering from places nearby where you can walk and pick up your own order.

I also learned about here. If you need a lamp, a toaster or something random, look into joining your neighborhood鈥檚 Buy Nothing group on Facebook.

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If you’re enrolled in SNAP or EBT benefits, you’re eligible to attend dozens of museums, theaters, gardens, and cultural sites in Philadelphia for just $2! .

Do you have any last tips to incoming Corps members who are moving to Philadelphia to start their year of service?

JH: If you鈥檙e looking for housing, definitely ask City Year if they know of any realtors or landlors who have rented out to Corps members before. That鈥檚 how I found housing, and I think it鈥檚 one of the easiest ways to secure a place.

Also, if you鈥檙e moving here and aren鈥檛 familiar with Philly, get out of your apartment and explore. Get to know your surroundings, find nice little shops and cool activities you can do. That鈥檚 something I wish I did earlier in my year of service.

 


Section #2: Moved to Philadelphia for School and Stayed to Serve

Matt Valenti, Senior Development Operations Manager at 黄色视频 Philadelphia (CYP alum 鈥15, 鈥16)

Left: Matt Valenti as a First Year AmeriCorps Member at Grover Washington Jr. Middle School on Pi Day, 2015
Right: Matt in his current role as Senior Development Operations Manager, 2023

 

Where did you move from? What school/team did you serve at? How long have you lived in Philadelphia?

MV: I moved to Philadelphia from Bethel, Connecticut, and I moved here for college at . I served two years at Grover Washington Jr. Middle School in the Olney neighborhood in North Philly, first as an AmeriCorps member in 2014-15 and then as a Team Leader in 2015-16. I鈥檝e lived in Philadelphia for 13 years now.

 

What neighborhood do you currently live in? Have you ever lived in any other neighborhood(s)?

MV: I鈥檝e lived in the neighborhood in West Philly since 2014. I lived in that neighborhood for both of my Corps years and continue to live there today. When I was a Temple student, I lived just outside of campus near 10th and Cecil B. Moore and then near 16th and Montgomery.

 

What was the most confusing or overwhelming thing in navigating a new city when you first moved here, and what tips would you give to someone just moving to the city?

MV: I would say having to transition from a very car-centric lifestyle to a car-free lifestyle. I didn鈥檛 have a car for the first three years that I lived in the city. Moving from a small town where you have to drive everywhere to a city with no car was an adjustment.

But you no longer have to worry about things like finding parking. You just hop on the bus and go! Being car-free opened me up to the whole city, I took advantage of it.

 

How did you first make friends when moving here? How about when starting with CYP?

MV: I first made friends in college through my freshman year roommate. Moving down here from Connecticut, I didn鈥檛 know anyone in the Philly area. My roommate was from the Philly suburbs and knew many students at Temple, so he introduced me to a lot of people. I also got to be pretty good friends with people in my dorm.

But after graduation when I started 黄色视频, I was kind of back at square one where I knew no one again. Most of my friends from Temple had moved out of the city. But I made some really strong friendships with people on my 黄色视频 team. When you spend nine hours a day, five days a week with each other, it鈥檚 hard to not build a relationship with them. When I was a Team Leader, my whole Senior Corps cohort really bonded over the summer and stayed super close throughout the year.

 

What are your tips for living in and enjoying the city on a low budget?

MV: I think there鈥檚 always something going on in the city during the warmer months that are little to no cost. Be open to those opportunities and try new things. Maybe you normally don鈥檛 want to go to attend a parade because it isn鈥檛 your typical vibe, but since it鈥檚 free and something to do, just go and do it!

I had very outdoorsy parents, so I had a lot of hand-me-down hiking and camping gear. This may not be super accessible for everyone living the stipend life, but if you have access to a car, there are great camping spots just 90 minutes outside of the city. Other Corps members and I would take a mini-vacation and go camping for the weekend.

 


Section #3: Lifelong Philadelphians

Jianna Frei, First-Year AmeriCorps member at Roxborough High School
Sean McClendon, First-Year AmeriCorps member at Southwark Elementary

Left: Jianna Frei, First Year AmeriCorps Member
Right: Sean McClendon, First Year AmeriCorps Member

 

How long have you been living in Philadelphia? What neighborhood do you currently live in, and have you lived in any other neighborhoods?

JF: I鈥檝e lived in Philly my whole life, all 20 years of it. I was raised in South Philadelphia, but I went to school in different neighborhoods. I went to elementary and middle schools in South Philadelphia and to in North Philadelphia.

SM: I鈥檝e lived in Philadelphia my whole life. I was born in Hahnemann Hospital off of Vine Street and lived very briefly in North Philly when I was young. For most of my life, I have lived in South Philly. I went to Children鈥檚 Village for preschool in Chinatown, then to General George McCall Elementary by South Street. I went to for both middle and high schools.

 

What are some common misconceptions that newcomers might have about Philadelphians or the city itself?

SM: I think some first misconceptions are about safety concerns in the city, rather than on our close-knit neighborhoods. There are a lot of positive things going on in our neighborhoods and in the way that our communities support each other.

 

In your opinion, what are the hidden gems that just don鈥檛 get enough hype?

JF: I feel that is definitely a hidden gem. And the place that we鈥檙e doing this interview now, the , is another beautiful spot that more folks should visit.

Race Street Pier (photo courtesy of R. Kennedy for )

 

SM: , honestly. So many cultures are represented in the neighborhood. For me, it always felt like the heart of the city, where a lot of people who live there actually reflect the city鈥檚 diversity. There are so many restaurants, shops and vibrancy in South Philly that a lot of people don鈥檛 get to experience because they鈥檙e so focused on Center City, Chinatown, or Old City. Same goes for , too; not as many people explore the areas outside of University City.

I鈥檓 of half-Indonesian descent, and one particular restaurant that I want to shout out is in South Philly. As for shops, I recommend the thrift shops on . South Philly also has the , and has many other Asian restaurants and markets.

 

What is the most convenient way to get around the city?

SM: I think it depends on the part of the city that you鈥檙e traveling from or heading to and how much access each has to public transportation. Some places out in Northeast Philly or West Philly require a lot of transfers between buses or trains, whereas if you鈥檙e just traveling north/south or east/west, it鈥檚 pretty straightforward. I鈥檇 say the subways are more reliable when you can take them, but it depends on where you鈥檙e going. You probably will take a bus at some point, which can be a little slower, but they are nice when you time the commute right. I have also taken the trolleys before, and they鈥檙e fine; they just don鈥檛 move as fast and are less frequent than the subways.

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Whether you’re interested in food, arts & culture, sports, history, or exploring the outdoors, there’s plenty of reasons to love calling Philadelphia home for your service year. Read more about the top reasons to live in Philly.

 

Do you have any tips for finding housing within the city? Are there any neighborhoods that you think are particularly affordable or wallet-friendly for ACMs?

SM: I think for affordable neighborhoods, generally look toward places outside of Center City. I would look just outside of that area like in South Philly. There are less expensive housing options, all while remaining accessible to other parts of Philly that you鈥檒l love.

If you’re near Philadelphia already, like in the suburbs, pick a neighborhood you like and walk around. Look for 鈥渞ent鈥 signs and opportunities to talk to current renters in the area.

 

What are your favorite things to do in the city on an off day?

JF: The is a huge one for me, because they always have events going on, such as the annual and . Right next door is the , which has the mall, bowling, and a movie theater all in the same building. It鈥檚 perfect for date night or for a fun night out with friends. As I said earlier, Penn鈥檚 Landing is also great, especially during the summertime when they have the hammocks out at . They also have a great selection of food trucks!

Spruce Street Harbor Park (photo courtesy of )

 

SM: In the warmer months, it鈥檚 so nice just to be outdoors. Go to a park and have a picnic with friends, or take a walk along Martin Luther King Drive or the . There are other parks too, like (FDR Park) way down South Philly. On warmer weekends, FDR Park has a bunch of different food vendors selling Cambodian and Indonesian dishes. In the fall or winter, there鈥檚 ice skating and a winter village at . It鈥檚 also nice to catch more indoor activities like bowling or karaoke.

If you or your friends have a car, there are great places outside of the city, too. is nice, and you can also go further into Pennsylvania, and even into New Jersey, for shopping and exploring.

 

What are your tips for living in and enjoying the city on a low budget?

JF: Take advantage of . On the first Sunday of every month and every Friday night, you can pay what you want to get into the Philly Art Museum.

There鈥檚 also a lot of open scenery in Philadelphia where you can just look at the city skyline and take in the views, like walking across the . Do a lot of these free activities that are easy on your wallet, so you can save up for other things like going to a Philly sports game!

View of the Ben Franklin Bridge from Penn鈥檚 Landing (Photo by Taryn Painter)

 

Are there any other tips that you would like to give to incoming ACMs on how to navigate Philadelphia or their 黄色视频?

JF: Things change all the time. As long as you have an open heart and mind and are willing to adjust to anything that happens, this year will be a great experience for you.

SM: Explore what the city has to offer and talk to people who live here. Have a point person who can answer your questions or can show you around. Even then, solo exploration is also fun. You鈥檒l build your own little insights that even native Philadelphians haven鈥檛 even found, since everyone has different interests. Just throw yourself into the city, and you鈥檒l find that it gives back. It鈥檚 a wonderful place to live that will feel like home. Philadelphia is filled with so much鈥攋ust seek it out!

 

Are you considering a year of service, or do you know someone who is? 黄色视频 Philly is hiring full-time Student Success Coaches to serve as tutors and mentors in Philadelphia schools. Start your journey today.

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