By: Kyle Shenandoah
Michelle currently serves as Executive Director of Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB), a nonprofit organization dedicated to community building through community greening. Prior to her time at Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, Michelle served as Commercial Corridor Manager and Communications Director for the Frankford Community Development Corporation, where she primarily worked to assist small businesses along the Frankford Avenue commercial corridor as well as attract new ones to the area. A Philadelphia native, Michelle holds a B.A. in Political Science from Brandeis University, and a Masters in Public Policy from Drexel.
K: what is your greatest accomplishment as an organization?
M: So we’ve been around for 32 years, we were founded by the city in 1985. So I can’t speak for all way back 85*laughter*. I’ve been with keeping Philadelphia beautiful for four years now. One of our proudest accomplishments is building programming and outreach. We’re still in the process of defining what our role should be, given that there are so many wonderful folks working on these issues. For us, it has been carving out programming. I am proud of that and pushing issues to the forefront. We’ve been working very hard to push the media presence but also a personal presence. We want to be there, we want to be in schools, we want to be in communities. I want to be a constant presence in the neighborhoods.
K: okay, is there a specific programming field is having a bigger impact in the community?
M: I would say our quarterly convening and neighborhood meetings. On the education side, I am proud of our presentations at schools. When I first started, I was getting emails all time teachers “do you do presentations?” At first I was doing them. And I was like this “okay this is awesome” but then I was like, ”wait a second. *laughter*this is a program. This is something I should be doing!” So we built a volunteer teacher corps that we sent out to give these presentations. We’ve been able to steadily grow from just me giving presentations to now having five presentations available in the fall. Also, this would improve the quality of our presentations. We’ve also been able to organize some focus groups with teachers to ask how we can make our presentations better address the needs of the community. We’re also pushing for action steps after our presentations. I’m happy with the growth of our organization.
K: so do you have programming in every neighborhood or are there particular targeted areas?
M: so we try to adapter programming to specific neighborhoods and specific needs as much as we can. For example, we give presentations, on different education resources and try to talk to the neighborhood leaders. We ask important questions like what charges are you facing right now. I always try to talk to the leader or organizer beforehand, so that if we have a big problem with illegal dumping or other problems we can address presentation to match those needs. So while we have a workshop that focuses on specific issues, we can still tackle the bigger issues. Litter and trash is so much more complicated than what think what might think. It is incredibly complicated
K: yeah when we think litter dumping you don’t think it’s a big issue
M: Yes, we try to drill down on that. We also push for big cleanups for example on earth day I’m going to point breeze for a site visit. I want to tour the space again, I haven’t been there in a few months. I want to see the service center especially if were bringing out volunteers. I want to know what projects are most useful for my volunteers. The main issues may not be littering, it might be mulching or garden beds. I try my best to tailor programming to the needs of the neighborhood.
K: What you think is a key element in running a smooth grassroots organization like KBP? Was does it take for you as a leader to make the organization run smoothly? What advice would you give to new organization trying to make change?
M: I think a couple things. First, leading through listening. I think oftentimes we assume the needs of others without actually listening to others. I worked as a commercial core manager for different companies; different business owners had wildly different needs. I had to figure out those different needs and put them into a program. I had to start by listening and not making assumptions based on what you think you might need but really listening is really important. I also think following through and follow-up, is really important. You have the best idea and world but if you can’t implement it, your best idea is only your best idea *laughter*
I think people get very excited about an innovative idea that they want to try and that’s a great. But sometimes what may seem like a boring idea can be more impactful. I would start by talking with your community.
For more information, feel free to check out Keep Philadelphia Beautiful’s 2016 annual report here (http://bit.ly/2nklXOl) and their latest Community Cleanup Resource Guide here (http://bit.ly/2fb9I1t).