Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. Each with its own personality, rich traditions, and cultures – the things that bring people together and create a sense of shared values and responsibilities, a sense of community.
For many millennials like us, that sense of community we get from our neighborhood is integral to our experience. Whether we’ve lived on the same block our whole life or came to the city for a job and chose to stay because of the affordability and lifestyle that Philadelphia offers, more and more of our generation are putting down roots in one of our neighborhoods for the long term.
In some communities, we are able to create extended families on our blocks. We welcome neighbors as friends.
More often than not, our parks are our backyards. Our recreation centers have the potential to become community gathering places. Our local library branches can become a window to a bigger world for our children, nieces, nephews, and mentees.
These public spaces are gems and can be part of what makes living in a neighborhood so attractive; and they have only survived for so long because of the commitment of those few neighbors, many seniors, who are dedicated volunteers, advocates, and members of friends of groups or recreation advisory councils.
Now, it is our turn to take up carrying that torch.
If we are going to maintain the benefits afforded to us by the generations before us and make our communities stronger, safer, and more vibrant places, we need to ask ourselves what we can do to contribute. How can we give back?
There is no better time than now for that question. Mayor Kenney’s vision for a Philadelphia with revitalized parks, playgrounds, pools, libraries, and recreation centers that serve the whole community – seniors, children, and everyone in between – is coming closer to a reality. In 2016, City Council passed the Philadelphia Beverage Tax, which will fund Rebuild, a plan to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in these community spaces.
But, even with that investment, our public spaces need more support. Even with rebuilt facilities, community volunteers often help the city make sure that sites remain clean and safe, and provide programs our communities need. Just as generations before us have done, it’s important that we also do our part.
As current and former members of the advisory council at our own respective recreation centers, we can speak to the value of getting involved and attest to how critical it is that we pick up the torch. Through our work we have built new relationships, worked with longtime volunteers, brought important programs and resources to our community, and discovered other opportunities to serve our neighborhood and city.
As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we encourage all our fellow young adults to think about what else you can do to give back to your neighborhood. As the city prepares to make a historic investment in neighborhoods; we have a chance to help make sure that Rebuild’s impact lasts for years to come.
Reaching out to your local recreation advisory council to find ways to volunteer or connecting with the friends group for your local park or library are all great ways to build new relationships, support the work of longtime volunteers, and invest in our communities.
Regardless of how you choose to give back, the more we are all involved in improving our neighborhoods, the more our city will benefit.
Evelina Bodon is the founding president of the Towey Playground Recreation Advisory Council in Kensington.
Felicia Harris is the chair of the Philadelphia Commission for Women and a former member of the Finley Playground Recreation Advisory Council in Mount Airy.