Mayor’s Office Takes Leadership Role in Coordinating Public Service
There is a sense today that we cannot simply rely upon government or industry to supply all our needs or support all the people that require assistance in society. The good will and efforts of those that volunteer with nonprofits are alive and more widespread than ever. The nature and variety of their tasks may vary in the fields of health care, environment, education and social work, but there is a place for everyone to do their part for the less fortunate. Some bring skills they have mastered in their careers, while others will be trained for specific duties, but the spirit is the same. Here in Philadelphia, we are blessed with a multitude of folks with a big heart, and our series can help them find their niche in the scheme of things.
The Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement & Volunteer Service (SERVE Philadelphia) exists to increase impact volunteerism in Philadelphia. Stephanie Reid, chief service officer of the city of Philadelphia, says, “We help Philadelphians find their path to long-term community engagement by providing access to volunteer opportunities, as well as resources to help them make meaningful change in their neighborhood. We have also created a space where the public can speak about engagement strategies in a common language.”
SERVE is the home of the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program—AmeriCorps members that fight the injustices and causes of poverty facing individuals and communities in Philadelphia by serving in city departments full-time for one year.
In 2010, Mayor Michael Nutter received a grant from Cities of Service, a national nonprofit organization that helps mayors build stronger cities by changing the way local government and citizens work together. “SERVE Philadelphia was created with the specific goal of engaging Philadelphians through community education, volunteer service and civic participation,” notes Reid. “In 2018, SERVE Philadelphia joined the mayor’s office under the [Jim] Kenney administration, thus reinforcing Philadelphia's commitment to civic participation and elevating the value of volunteerism and civic engagement in the city.” SERVE has since added extensive programming, special events and consulting to its body of work.
SERVE Philadelphia helps residents get involved in their own communities by connecting them to volunteer opportunities, trainings, workshops and exclusive programming. Reid advises, “We do not employ volunteers, we deploy volunteers! Residents come to SERVE Philadelphia as a first stop on their journey to serve. We have a multitude of partners in the community who host our volunteers!” Many available service opportunities align with education/literacy, food/housing security, political awareness and involvement, clean shared spaces, immigrant affairs and much more.
“At SERVE Philadelphia, our mission is to lower the barriers to service for all Philadelphians,” notes Reid. “That being said, we strive to offer opportunities and programming that is curated for the individual. We are all about meeting people where they are.”
SERVE offers Philadelphians a wealth of training and workshops. “Some of our most impactful programs, the Civic Engagement Academy and Civic Engagement Academy Learning Series (Serve.phila.gov/comm-ed), are spaces for residents or organizations to learn from city agencies and industry experts about the most effective ways to get involved in their respective communities,” says Reid. “If service is already a huge part of your life, we would love to have you join the Mayor’s Volunteer Corps, a program that connects volunteers to high-quality, impactful, rewarding service opportunities that are aligned with the mayor's initiatives.” In the Civic Engagement Learning Series, participants receive essential training in community organizing.
Reid cites one of her mentors: “Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others.’ No truer words were ever spoken. If each day, we can help one Philadelphia answer the call to serve, then we’ve done our part.”
For more information, visit Serve.Phila.gov. To search volunteer opportunities, visit Serve.VolunteerMatch.org.