Fords in Philly
This story originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2013 issue of Haverford magazine
When Michael Froehlich graduated from Haverford in 1997 and moved to West Philadelphia, his was a decidedly outlier choice. The Ohio native says he could count on one hand the number of Fords whose post-commencement plans involved living and working in Philadelphia.
“People went to New York City, to D.C., or California,” says Froehlich, who spent two years in the city before heading to the West Coast and eventually law school at UC Berkeley.“No one thought of Philadelphia as a viable option. It was seen as a city with a chip on its shoulder, as a cultural backwater.”
That's no longer the case, says Froehlich, who returned to Philadelphia in 2005, took a job as an attorney with Community Legal Services, and started a family.“Now, there are about 80 Haverford grads living within three blocks of my house in West Philly.”
In fact, more than 160 Haverford alumni live in West Philadelphia, where one section is so thick with Fords that some have begun referring to it as“the Haverhood.” And that's not the only Philadelphia locale attracting Haverford grads. More than 250 of them have made their home in Center City and its satellite neighborhoods to the north and south. Add those residing in areas such as Germantown and Mount Airy, as well as up-and-coming Fishtown and South Kensington, and it turns out that more than 650 Fords currently claim a Philadelphia zip code.
The draw for many appears to be a calling to public service and nonprofit workâ€”long a Haverford strength. Fully one third of Fords who are Philadelphia residents are in fields such as health care, public education or public interest law, or are involved in the arts or in quality-of-life businesses here.
These largely younger Haverford alums (more than 500 of them hail from classes that graduated between 1990 and 2012) are part of a bigger trend that has reversed Philadelphia's once lamented“brain drain” and turned the city into a“brain magnet.” In 2011, a study by NewGeography.com that looked at metro areas with populations over five million ranked the city No. 1 for growth in the number of residents with college degrees. And Campus Philly, a nonprofit focused on attracting, engaging and retaining college students, reports that the percentage of nonnative college students who stayed in the region after graduation grew from 29% to 48% between 2004 and 2010. (With research increasingly showing that a city's fortunes are directly tied to the educational attainment of its residents, that's good news for Philadelphia.)
“When I came back, Philadelphia was a completely different place,” says Froehlich.“There was a new bike and jogging path along the river, people were eating dinner at sidewalk cafÃ©s, there was all this creativity.”
“If you had told me in the mid-1990s that I would someday prefer to live in Philadelphia and commute to work in New York, I would have said you were crazy,” says digital privacy expert Mark Naples '84, the founder and managing partner of strategic communications firm WIT Strategy, who lives with his family in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square neighborhood and spends three or four days a week in New York, where his company is based.“There is something about Philly that enables you to exhale,” he says. (Naples is just one of many Philly-based Fords, of course, whose careers are in the private sector.)
Also witness to the change is Heidi Warren '92, who was a rarity among her fellow grads, she says, when she moved to the city to work with the Village of Arts and Humanities, a North Philadelphia nonprofit she discovered while doing her senior thesis research on how the arts can strengthen cities.“If I had not gotten involved with the Village, it would not have occurred to me then to look to Philly as a place of opportunity,” says Warren, now executive director of Starfinder Foundation, an afterschool and summer youth enrichment program based in the Manayunk section of the city.“But there is a lot more now to keep Haverford students here. Philadelphia has become a much more attractive and interesting place to be.”
That's what Taylor Goodman '09, development director at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia until recently when she left to start an MBA program, has found.“Philadelphia is walkable, it's manageable, and it has all these cool neighborhoods,” says Goodman, who was development director at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia until recently, when she left to start an MBA program.
“The cultural community here is fantastic,” says John Frisbee '03, managing director of Pig Iron, an Obie Award-winning experimental theater company founded by Swarthmore graduates that has a new space in South Kensington.“You can make a living working for and with artists, and there is a really large audience for challenging work in Philadelphia,” says Frisbee, who bought a house in South Philadelphia in 2008 with his wife, Jill Garland '02, a private-school teacher.
“The move to Philadelphia was a natural for all of us,” says Ben Diamond '11, a native of San Diego, who shares a house in South Kensington with Emily Letts '11, an actress and women's health clinic counselor; Donald Letts '08, a software engineer and sometime model; and Dan Harvester '11, an AmeriCorps Vista member who works with a community organization in the neighborhood. Diamond, who plays with Harvester in the band Zen Diagram and teaches music part time at a public high school in Center City, credits the city's rich music and arts scene, its bikeable streets and reasonable rents for making Philadelphia such an easy choice. And, he says,“It is full of friends, including many Haverford folks.”
While Philadelphia's emergence as a hip locale has been a major draw, many alumni cite the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship's Haverford House program as key to getting the city on Haverford students' radar. Launched in 2002, Haverford House provides yearlong fellowships to six graduating seniors, who live together in a spacious West Philadelphia row home and work four days a week for nonprofit service organizations in the city. The fellows devote the fifth day to projects that directly engage current Haverford students with urban issues.
This year, the fellows' efforts to link campus and city have included coordinating student volunteers to help people who have been convicted of a crime navigate the paperwork of seeking a pardon; enlisting a group of Ultimate players to staff a physical education program for fourth and fifth graders at a North Philadelphia school; and creating a self-guided walking tour focused on issues around homelessness for the Urban Policy class of Associate Professor of Political Science Steve McGovern.
Haverford House was the idea of Kaye Edwards, an associate professor of independent college programs who teaches courses on social justice, public health and Quaker faith and practice.“My original intention was to help connect Haverford students to the city,” she says.“It actually has done more than I envisioned. I feel like it has become a part of the Haverford culture, and that is reflected in the number of seniors who apply for it.”
The program also inspired Class of 2003 grads Tim Ifill and Matt Joyce, a former Haverford House fellow, to launch Philly Fellows, which aims to develop the next generation of civic leadership by providing graduates from area colleges with yearlong placements in the nonprofit sector. Haverford typically has a strong presence in the program, which also offers shared housing. This year, four of the 15 fellows are Fords.
Ifill, the organization's executive director, estimates that about half of the 100 fellows who have completed the program in the past seven years have remained in Philadelphia. He says Philly Fellows and Haverford House, which has also seen many of its participants stay on, have been game changers in positioning the city as an appealing option for new grads.
“I think they make a difference because Haverford is such a small school that if you start to know a handful of people that are staying in Philly, that seems like a lot,” says Ifill.“I think the Haverford students now are having this experience where they're still in touch with friends who are living in the city and carving out lives for themselves, and they are seeing that as a great pathway to take.”
Jenny Rabinowich '08, a Haverford House fellow whose placement at the Drexel School of Public Health's Center for Hunger-Free Communities turned into a long-term position, agrees.“Haverford House and Philly Fellows mean people will have a friend base and connections in Philadelphia,” she says.“They make it more appealing, even for people who aren't involved in those programs, because they see this community in Philadelphia that they can be a part of.”
“Philadelphia is big in the sense that there are a lot of opportunities,” says Prarthana Jayaram '10, a Portland, Ore., native who worked in research and communications for the Philadelphia Education Fund as a Philly Fellow and currently does grant writing for the theater company 1812 Productions.“But Philadelphia is also really small in other ways. People who work in nonprofits all know each other. People working in education all know each other, and so do people working in the arts. And that is definitely helpful in getting jobs.”
Ileana Garcia '08, who last year became City Councilman At-Large David Oh's liaison to the Latino community, says the contacts she established through Haverford House and her placement at Philadelphia Legal Services helped her greatly as she launched her career, which included a stop at the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Garcia, who grew up in New York City, says the kind of work trajectory she has enjoyed in Philadelphia would be unlikely in her hometown.“There is more of an opportunity here to network, meet people, find opportunities and really develop yourself,” she says.
As they settle in and commit to urban life, Haverford alumni are also finding ways to improve the city, and those efforts come at any number of levels. Froehlich, for example, not only works for Community Legal Services but is president of his local civic association. He's also one of the founders, along with Morgan Riffer '01, of the West Philly Tool Library, whose approximately 1,500 members may borrow hand and power tools, ladders and other equipment crucial to home and garden renovators.
Nick Kerr '04 is altering the fabric of the city in his own way as co-founder of Quad Investments, a real estate development company that buys and renovates rental properties. The company, which now has 80 units, mostly clustered in an area just south of Center City, has helped transform marginal blocks by rehabbing derelict properties and giving them the distinctly modern look that is Quad's signature.“From the start, we decided to try to find deals where we could build it the right way,” says Kerr, who lives in a Quad property with a posse of fellow Fords (Jesse Isaacman-Beck '04, Matt Rosen '05, Scott Sheppard â€˜06 and Nicholas Mirra '06). Over the years, Kerr says, the company has evolved its own approach to real estate:“We're thinking about community, trying to make nice places for people and trying to create sustainable relationships with our tenants.”
Lots of Fords are doing good in the city in the nonprofit realm. Ben Cooper '05 directs the chess program at the After School Activities Partnership, which has 3,000 kids playing weekly in 230 clubs across the city. Matt Joyce, who left Philly Fellows for graduate school at Harvard University, returned to launch the Philadelphia office of the Boston-based GreenLight Fund, which focuses on the needs of low-income families. And Jenny Bogoni '88, who previously worked with the Philadelphia Youth Network, where she directed a project aimed at reducing the high school dropout rate, recently opened the first East Coast outpost of a San Francisco organization called Spark. In Philadelphia, Spark will address the dropout problem with a workplace apprenticeship program for middle school students.
In the small, intertwined worlds of Philadelphia service organizations and Haverford connections, Bogoni, (a one-time Philly Fellows board member), Joyce and Ifill occupy neighboring cubicles in a nonprofit incubator space in the Philadelphia Friends Center. The trio has lunch together once a month and, for its 2013-14 cohort, Philly Fellows will include Spark Philadelphia on its list of placements.“Philadelphia is a very networked place,” says Bogoni, a native of Iowa who first fell in love with the place as a fresh-out-of-school Cities major and is now raising her two young children in Center City.“We all look out for each other, and we make sure we have what we need to keep trying to make the city a better place.”