UC REVIEW • UCD Announces Major Grants Totaling $895,000 To Expand Workforce Development Citywide

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Originally published by the University City Review



UCD Announces Major Grants Totaling $895,000 To Expand Workforce Development Citywide

January 8, 2020


Investments from the Connelly and William Penn Foundations allow the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative program to serve more Philadelphians and provide real solutions to unemployment and poverty

On December 27, 2019, the University City District (UCD) announced two new grants to sustain its efforts to improve the quality of life for families in West Philadelphia and beyond. The organization is dedicated to community revitalization, in part by connecting unemployed and underemployed residents to careers and promoting job growth and innovation.

In 2011, UCD created the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI) to close the opportunity gap and address unemployment in West Philadelphia. WPSI acts as both a talent consultancy for University City’s largest employers and a bridge to opportunity for disconnected jobseekers. A cohort-based training model, WPSI is unlike any workforce approach in Philadelphia. The initiative goes beyond traditional training to place graduates with employer partners, co-design training solutions and placement strategies, and create pathways to family-sustaining wages and career growth.

Since its inception, WPSI has served more than 1,000 Philadelphians. WPSI program participants who had previously been unemployed for an average of 33 weeks have gone on to earn $37 million in collective wages, while increasing employers’ productivity and excellence.

Now, as WPSI expands to serve more Philadelphia residents, both the Connelly Foundation and the William Penn Foundation have announced significant investments in the program. The funding, totaling $895,000, will help to expand WPSI’s reach and support career growth and pathways out of intergenerational poverty, with a particular focus on University City District’s Green City Works (GCW). GCW, a landscaping social venture which employs West Philadelphians, provides high quality design-build-maintenance landscaping services while transforming the way the industry trains, advances, and supports its workforce.

The Connelly Foundation has granted WPSI $450,000 over three years to support its expansion. Specifically, the funding will help WPSI pursue three separate and interconnected growth strategies: partnering with citywide employers that hire at scale; creating a neighborhood-based Skills Initiative network; and growing its employment-driven social enterprise.

“WPSI has done significant work to build partnerships with employers across the city, and we know the employers benefit just as much as the graduates who go on to become employees,” said Tim Durkin, Vice President for Grantmaking at Connelly. “We’re looking forward to seeing the results as WPSI forges new partnerships with organizations like SEPTA and the Philadelphia Fire Department.”

The expansion also includes work with Temple University’s Lenfest North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative (LNPWI) and Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) to build a place-based network of employer-driven workforce programs in West, North, South, and Southwest Philadelphia.

“Until 2018, the Skills Initiative was only available to residents of West Philadelphia. But beyond the Schuylkill River, we know the opportunity gap is just as pronounced,” said Sarah Steltz, Vice President for Workforce Solutions at University City District. “Expanding our footprint will allow us to support more jobseekers and employers and transform how communities tackle poverty.”

WPSI will also work to serve more graduates by scaling its training capacity and alumni services. Additionally, the grant will provide funds to Green City Works (GCW).

The William Penn Foundation has also committed $445,000 to support University City District’s commitment to economic opportunity and community placemaking. WPF’s support will enable a partnership between UCD’s Green City Works and the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation to improve conditions at five West Philadelphia parks while also establishing a new model for parks maintenance that creates and sustains growth-oriented jobs that pay living-wage for neighborhood residents.

“As high-profile public spaces in core business districts proliferate, we need to ensure that neighborhood parks are developed and maintained to the same standard,” said Matt Bergheiser, University City District President. “Green City Works is a proven model that creates beautiful green spaces while simultaneously creating good jobs for neighborhood residents.”

The William Penn Foundation’s investment will create three new full-time positions and bolster the efforts set forth by GCW. Since its launch, GCW has paid $1.4 million in wages to 16 crew members who are employed full-time and year-round in jobs with a sustainable wage and generous benefits, and an emphasis on professional development and growth. GCW’s landscaping clients include Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Brandywine Realty Trust, uCity Square, the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, and University of the Sciences. Altogether, GCW maintains more than 1.5 million square feet of green space.

“Research shows that poorly maintained parks can have negative impacts on a neighborhood,” said Judilee Reed, Director for Creative Communities at the William Penn Foundation. “Through this project, William Penn Foundation’s investment in local employment and enhanced maintenance will spur increased positive effects of public spaces, including increased usage and overall stewardship of these parks by residents moving forward.”

In collaboration with Parks and Recreation stewardship staff, UCD will work to provide supplemental landscape maintenance services to five neighborhood parks. Nearly 37,000 West Philadelphia residents live within 1,000 feet of these parks. The William Penn grant will also support Parks and Recreation’s Stewardship Team to deepen resident engagement. At the same time, the grant will allow Parks and Recreation to advance new research exploring the connection of resident involvement and maintenance.

The grants from the Connelly Foundation and the William Penn Foundation come on the heels of two major investments from Citizens Bank and JP Morgan Chase, both announced in Fall 2019. Together, the four grants total more than $2.5 million.