Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love

What is the goal of a VISTA (Volunteer in Service of America)?
To aid in eradicating poverty by building capacity for communities in need through the transfer of resources, skills, and relationships.

I took the train to Philadelphia last week to attend my Pre-Service Orientation for AmeriCorps this year. I’ll be living in Maryland for a year, serving the Asian Pacific American community through work with the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC). Thanks to President Obama, a former community organizer, AmeriCorps received extra funding this year.

Over 4 days, we had the above mission statement ingrained in our heads through workshops, teamwork exercises, and other training. At the end of it, we were sworn in as VISTAs. Surprisingly, it was the same as the military oath. Either they were too lazy to write a different one, or someone really felt the duties were equally relevant in both fields.

So I will protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic!

These are my impressions:

  • The people are incredibly down to earth. Everybody says “hello” to each other while walking down the street. People make eye contact when they talk, and lord forbid, they smile every once in a while. Incredibly different dynamic than D.C., where most people are attuned more to their work than each other (excludes happy hours, Fridays, and weekends).

one of our lego creations, as done in between workshops
  • American history has been through Philadelphia I don’t know how many times. Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted & signed, can be found here. The Liberty Bell herself, cracked at least three times, melted, and recast, is also here. Benjamin Franklin and George Washington used to worship at a church that can be found in downtown Philadelphia. Philly is particularly proud of Franklin. There are statues and streets named after him everywhere. The steps where they filmed Rocky are right in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (yes, we ran up all of them).

This is the room depicted in Trumbull’s famous painting of the Declaration of Independence

Liberty Bell

in front of Christ Church

Philadelphia Museum of Art, where they filmed Rocky

post-step aerobics

what triumph looks like!

history meets present: Macy’s in an old building with a full-sized pipe organ.
more like retail meets Phantom of the Opera!

Monopoly in front of City Hall?

Check.

From what I’ve seen, Philly lives up to its nickname.


The workshops prepared us, and the prospect of our year to come energized us, but the people there are the ones who inspired me most. For the first time, I was in a room full of people who genuinely care about others.

People I met at PSO and will never forget:

  • Janice, former NASA employee, columnist for a newspaper, mother of two. I met her on the shuttle to the hotel and we became instant friends, despite all age differences.
  • Keila, my roommate from Florida who will be serving in D.C. area. Her drive and commitment to her work before she even started her position propel me to dedicate myself even moreso to this year.
  • Emilio N. Williams, my teacher throughout the week, once homeless, now living a life dedicated to service. Words cannot describe how much he has given us.

Keila, me, Ali
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