Michelle Feldman
Everyday Philanthropist

Michelle Feldman, Policy Director, Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania

What are 3 organizations or causes people should know about in 2019?

There are so many wonderful ways to get involved in Philly and throughout Pennsylvania, but here are some that I think are particularly important in our current political climate.

  • The Philly Community Bail Fund is working to end cash bail in Philadelphia, and in the meantime, they are incredibly successful at raising funds to bail out residents who cannot afford to pay.
  • The Nationalities Service Center does amazing work throughout Philadelphia to support our immigrant and refugee communities with comprehensive services including legal protections and health and wellness programming. They have two beautiful community gardens in South Philly, too.
  • Philly is so lucky to have incredible hyperlocal organizations such as Community Development Corporations, civic associations, and Parks Friends Groups. They are a great way to give back to your neighborhood and make an impact right outside your front door.
  • Last, there are municipal elections coming up in Philly in 2019 - including for Mayor and City Council, as well as other local offices like City Commissioner. Local elections shape the future of the city, so get involved with a campaign or nonpartisan voter registration and education effort if you can!

If you look at philanthropy as social currency – contributing not only dollars, but your time and talent, how have you made philanthropy a part of your everyday life?

Over the last few years, I have tried to give back to the Philadelphia community through my Board service - which has mainly been focused on increasing civic engagement among millennials. I was on the Board of Young Involved Philadelphia for three years, and currently serve on the Mayor’s Millennial Advisory Committee. Both experiences have been incredibly meaningful; I’ve made some of my best friends through board service, and learned so much about being an effective advocate and leader.

Has an act of philanthropy ever changed your life? (done by you, for you, in front of you)

My father has run a Holocaust education and awareness museum in Northeast Philly since before I was born. Getting to know the survivors he works with, and to hear their stories, has been a life-changing experience on many levels. It is incredibly inspiring to watch them educate thousands of students about tolerance and love every year by sharing their stories again and again.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to make a difference, but isn’t sure where to start?

I think it’s important to start by asking yourself some questions.

  • What causes do you care about the most? (What articles do you read all the way through, or click to read first when you’re looking at the news?)
  • What action(s) and level(s) of involvement would make you feel like you’ve made an impact? Why are you looking to make a difference, and what will make you feel like you have done so?
  • If you’re looking to give back with your time, what types of tasks do you enjoy? Or what types of skills might you want to develop through volunteering?

After answering some of those questions, I’d start googling to find organizations that seem like they are working on the issues about which you are most passionate. If you’re looking for a consistent volunteer or leadership opportunity, I’d see if they have a volunteer coordinator to contact, or upcoming events where you might be able to meet a staff member to learn more (bring a friend if you can!).

I’ve found that, for me, the trick to a rewarding volunteer experience where you feel like you’ve made a difference is making the effort to show up regularly: offering to help when you can, following through with what you’ve agreed to do to the best of your ability, suggesting an idea

What is something people might not know about the cause you’re devoted to? 

Most of my career has been devoted to community and economic development in Philadelphia. People may not know all of the programs and services city government provides, and how to access them on your block and in your neighborhood. You can read about many of them in the latest version of Keep Philadelphia Beautiful’s Community Cleanup Resource Guide at keepphiladelphiabeautiful.org/resources

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