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Next week inaugurates the third year of the teen mentoring program. Meanwhile, its first class heads to college

Next week inaugurates the third year of the teen mentoring program. Meanwhile, its first class heads to college

When Monica Volodarsky applied to be part of the first Germination Project class in 2015, she knew she wanted to have an impact on the world—through words, as a journalist or a writer. Then she went to the GP bootcamp at Wharton’s Social Impact Initiative. And, as she puts it, “A light bulb went off.”

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The bootcamp—a modified version of an executive leadership program—served as Monica’s introduction to the Germination Project, which brings together about a dozen promising students from around the region for programming and actions that introduce them to issues—and solutions—to problems facing their city. Started by lawyer/philanthropist Ajay Raju—a Citizen co-founder and board member—GP is a civic engagement promise. Through GP, the students are introduced to cultural, academic, scientific and artistic power here and elsewhere, often brought to them through the power of Raju’s impressive rolodex. And in return, they promise to use their talents and relationships to shape Philadelphia into a world-class city, both now and into adulthood.

Monica Volodarsky

The GP fellows are selected through a rigorous application process, and are immediately set to work learning and doing. They’ve built a playground, lobbied Pennsylvania legislators on behalf of the American Heart Association, taught CPR in poor neighborhoods. And each summer, they spend time at Wharton, learning about social impact.

For Monica, that session alone was a life-changer. “I started to rethink what impact is and how I can make an impact in the world,” she says. “I realized that pursuing business would be more difficult for me, but something that would have more gratification because it would have a more direct impact on my world.”

Next week, at GP’s Draft Day Gala at the Union League, a new crop of juniors will be drafted into the program. Meanwhile, Monica and the fellows from the first cohort have started college at an impressive array of universities around the country. Monica, who went on to intern at the Social Impact Initiative and to facilitate subsequent GP bootcamps, is back where it all began: Wharton. “I have an intense passion for social impact investing,” she says.

Below, a snapshot of some of the GP’s first fellows:

Monica Volodarsky, University of Pennsylvania Wharton School

The Citizen: What sort of impact do you see yourself having on the city?

Monica: Although I have always desired to have an impact on Philadelphia, I never thought that I would have the chance to influence the city in any long term, systems-level way. The Germination Project empowered me to step up and have the audacity to see myself as a prospective leader not only in my community, but in the city at large. I no longer have any doubt that this organization and I, myself, will change Philadelphia in a meaningful fashion.

I am confident that all of us will eventually return to Philadelphia because we are inexplicably and irrevocably tied to this city. Philadelphia is ingrained in each of us. We don’t feel obligated to help Philly become the Emerald City it will be– it’s our ultimate, collective goal. All of the actions we are individually taking right now are strategic decisions in a game plan that will lead us back to where we started, ready to transform our home into something greater than it is.

Caleb Clothier, Yale University

Caleb, who graduated from The Haverford School, is studying physics and computer science.

The Citizen: How has your perspective on Philly changed through GP?

Caleb: I don’t actually live in the city of Philadelphia; my house is about a 25-minute drive from Center City. Because of this, I used to hear about the triumphs and struggles of Philadelphians at a distance. Being a part of the GP has brought me closer to my city and made troubling statistics about health or literacy more than a number in the news. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to interact with the countless dedicated community members across Philadelphia who are working to improve their city, and through these experiences I have learned that—above all—Philadelphians are proud and resilient.

I have gotten the chance to meet fellows from all parts of the Philadelphia area, lobby with the American Heart Association at the PA State Senate, work with community members in West Philadelphia, and meet some of Philadelphia’s most successful leaders. Hearing their stories has been a life-changing experience that has made me a more open-minded and empathetic person and has inspired me to help Philadelphia realize its full potential.

The Citizen: What sort of impact do you see yourself having on the city, and/or the broader world?

Caleb: I am passionate about consumer technology and alternative energy, so perhaps I can help the world transition to more efficient and sustainable power sources in a novel way or give the world a product that makes life more enjoyable. As for Philadelphia, I’d love to help forge a startup tech community that rivals those in San Francisco, Seattle, and New York. This may all be lofty thinking, but you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

Alexa Bartels, University of Virginia

Alexa, who graduated from Baldwin School, participated in the Germination Project’s work with the American Heart Association, spearheading the group’s campaign to teach CPR to 10,000 underserved Philadelphians.

The Citizen: How has your perspective on Philly changed through GP?

Alexa: Before GP, I definitely saw myself leaving Philadelphia for college and never moving back. However, I now see the potential in my city and realize the impact my voice will have on my community.

The Citizen: What sort of impact do you see yourself having on the city?

Alexa: I am looking forward to reinvesting my own efforts back into the city. The Germination Project provides me with a network that I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. One of my greatest strengths is my ability to talk and connect with people. I have always been passionate about education, so I definitely could see myself advocating for the Philadelphia public school system in the future.

Dean Manko, Stanford University

Dean graduated from The Haverford School. When he expressed an interest in medicine, GP secured him an internship with Jefferson ALS researcher Lorraine Iacovitti, where he worked in the lab for several weeks.

The Citizen: How has your perspective on Philly changed through GP?

Dean: I don’t think I really understood Philly until I was a part of the Germination Project. We’ve explored and helped different parts of our city. We’ve worked closely with the president of the Zoo and researchers at Jefferson University; we’ve trained underserved communities in heart health and CPR with the American Heart Association. Whether I’m learning about Philadelphia’s problems—such as one in five Philadelphians being unable to afford health care or our city’s 40,000+ vacant lots—or learning about Philadelphians’ solutions, the people have been the most eye-opening part of the Germination Project.

The Citizen: What has been your favorite thing about GP?

Dean: Until I was part of the Germination Project, I hadn’t truly been involved with the city I call home. But within the Germination Project I’ve had the opportunity to not only interact with such a diverse group of fellows from across the city, but also to come together as a team of leaders for Philadelphia. Working with this group that now almost feels like a family—whether it’s lobbying state senators in Harrisburg to pass pro-CPR legislation for high schools or standing on the NYSE floor—is inspiring and gives meaning to being a leader. I look forward to being a fellow until I become a mentor myself.

Photo: Nell Hoving Photography

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