1. Home
  2. /
  3. Newsroom & Events
  4. /
  5. Newsroom

  1. Home
  2. /
  3. About
  4. /
  5. Stories

First hearings for proposed APM Charter School

December 21, 2017


SEE FULL STORY: http://thenotebook.org/articles/2017/12/19/first-hearings-held-for-nine-proposed-new-charters

THE NOTEBOOK (December 19, 2017)-

First hearings held for nine proposed new charters

Eight management companies seeking to open nine new charter schools in Philadelphia made their initial pitches on Monday to a hearing officer for the School Reform Commission.

Among the companies was ASPIRA. Just last week, the SRC voted to close two of ASPIRA’s charter schools — Olney High and Stetson Middle.

ASPIRA wants to expand two charter schools and move one, despite evidence that it has been unable to operate its existing charter schools without running deficits. The Charter Schools Office has found, among other irregularities, that ASPIRA uses money meant for the education of students at Stetson Middle and Olney High —both of which are former District-run schools— to guarantee loans that the organization took out to purchase other buildings offering different services. The SRC voted 4-1 on Thursday not to renew those charters, and it is making plans to return the schools to District control.

The company’s finances were further hurt by payouts from sexual harassment lawsuitsagainst CEO Alfredo Calderon.

“The SRC continued to fund these Aspira schools despite serious allegations of fraud, ghost contractors for painting Olney high school, admitted misuse of taxpayer dollars, failure to make PSERS payments, and other serious financial transgressions,” Lisa Haver said during her public comment at the hearing. Haver is the co-founder of the Alliance for Public Schools (APPS), an activist group that considers itself a watchdog of the SRC and charter expansion. “After following the Aspira financial and academic scandals for over two years, it’s hard to believe that they believe they are in line to open more schools.”

ASPIRA wants to relocate the Antonio Pantoja Preparatory Charter School to 4322 N. Fifth St. in the Hunting Park neighborhood of North Philadelphia. The building now houses ASPIRA’s corporate headquarters. The K-8 school would also expand its enrollment cap, serving up to 925 students at full enrollment, and would open with 425 students in the 2018-19 school year. It’s unclear what this would mean for some of the existing students because the school’s enrollment is now 700.

Most of the charter school presentations compared academic metrics between the charter company’s existing schools and the public schools in the neighborhood where they would open.

But ASPIRA did things a bit differently. It compared Antonio Pantoja to the 9th-grade and 5th-grade classes at Olney and Stetson respectively — their own schools now slated for closure. And it showed that its students who spent four years at Antonio Pantoja for middle school were outperforming 9th-graders at Olney.

The assumption was that all students entering the 9th grade at Olney came from one of the neighborhood public schools, and so their poor performance was implied to be a reflection of those schools. But North Philadelphia has a high concentration of charter schools, and Olney also accepts students through a lottery — factors that were not cited by ASPIRA.

ASPIRA did not offer direct comparisons with neighborhood public schools. State data show that Antonio Pantoja is struggling with standardized test scores and is in the second-lowest of five tiers, although it is making growth expectations in math and English language arts.

The school’s last evaluation from the District Charter Schools Office showed that it is the guarantor of a $5.4 million mortgage on its current building, though that loan is in forbearance. The evaluation found that the school’s short-term and long-term financial health was “significantly below standard,” and the school is more than $14 million in debt.

Last year, the school had $9.8 million in revenue and just over $11 million in expenses.

ASPIRA also wants to expand Eugenio Maria de Hostos from its current 440 students to 850, starting with 750 in the 2018-19 school year.

De Hostos ranks in the lowest tier of the state’s school performance profiles and is meeting testing growth goals only in math. The District, which has its own school performance measure,  has evaluated the school more favorably than the state, putting its academics in the second-lowest category and giving the school an overall rating of “reinforce,” the second-highest tier.

The charter office’s annual evaluation found that the school’s short- and long-term financial health is significantly below standard and that the school is more than $9 million in debt.

Last year, the school had $9.1 million in revenue and $8.8 million in expenses. At that rate, without expanding, it would take the school roughly 30 years to pay off its $9 million in debt.

De Hostos is located in the massive old Cardinal Dougherty High School building, which is the source of most of ASPIRA’s debt.  The organization has used state funds meant for operating Olney and Stetson to guarantee the mortgage on the Dougherty building. Those loans are also now in forbearance, and the organization plans to secure new short-term bridge loans to begin paying again — a financial practice that is frowned upon.

Expanding enrollment at its existing charter schools would help it make those payments because it would receive per-pupil amounts from the state and District for the additional students.


Another well-known operator that is applying for more seats is Mastery Charter, which proposed to open a new K-8 school at 900 W. Jefferson St. in North Philadelphia. The school would open in the 2019-20 school year, serving grades K-2, and would then expand, serving all grades with 672 students by the 2022-23 school year.

“Assessment and data are really the backbone of our program,” Mastery CEO Scott Gordon told hearing officer Allison Peterson. “We look not only where the student is, but at where they were previously. … That information is translated into a visual dashboard for teachers and administrators.”

Gordon added that Mastery plans to incorporate “social and emotional programming” into its elementary school curriculum and that it now trains all its staff in “trauma-informed care.”

The school would have a catchment area of one mile around, making a perfect circle on the map. It would be located in the building that formerly housed Wakisha Charter School, which closed in the middle of the school year after it failed to get enough students and teachers to sustain itself.

Gordon said Mastery has already raised $1.3 million in start-up costs. The company has a long history of successful private fundraising, including millions from the Philadelphia School Partnership.


Franklin Towne, which currently runs a national blue-ribbon charter high school, is proposing to open its own middle school at 5301 Tacony St. in Frankford — in the same building as its high school. It would link Franklin Towne’s elementary school to its high school, acting as a feeder. The school would serve grades 6-8 and open in the 2019-20 school year at its maximum enrollment of 450 students.

“If granted, we would be able, capable, willing and anxious to open a middle school to better serve the students in the 19137 area,” said Patrick Field, chief academic officer of Franklin Towne.

Franklin Towne has a solid academic record at both its elementary school and its high school.

However, the company is also known for running schools where the vast majority of the student body is white — 71 percent at its high school and 86 percent at its elementary school.


The Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha (Association of Puerto Ricans on the March), which runs four Head Start programs in the city, is applying to open a K-8 charter school at 405 E. Roosevelt Blvd. in the Olney neighborhood of North Philadelphia. The school would enroll 312 K-4 students when it opened in the 2018-19 school year and 624 K-8 students in the 2021-22 school year at full enrollment.

APM would also use the building as a hub for other community services that it already offers: financial counseling and behavioral health. It also constructd affordable housing in the same neighborhood.

“Our satisfied preschool parents have constantly asked us — particularly when it comes time to transitioning into kindergarten — for a charter school,” said Don Price, APM’s vice president for education and training. He called his vision for the school a “true community charter school.”

There will also be an emphasis on Spanish, with students beginning to learn the language in kindergarten.


MaST has proposed opening a K-12 school that, if approved, would be the biggest charter school in the city. It would open with 1,000 K-4 students in the 2018-19 school year and would reach a full enrollment of 2,600 students in all grades. The school would be located at 1 Crown Way, near the Northeast Philadelphia Airport.

The original MaST won national blue-ribbon designation.  The second school was founded in 2016, so no academic data are available from the state or city.

The new school would receive support from several school-choice advocacy groups: the Charter School Growth Fund, the Philadelphia School Partnership, Coalition of Charter Schools and the Keystone Alliance.

John Swoyer III, CEO of MaST’s first school, said the new school “won’t give preference to any zip codes” unless the District otherwise specifies, in which case he would be willing to give up to 50 percent of the seats to zip codes specified by the District.

Like Franklin Towne, MaST is one of just a handful of schools in the city that are majority white.

Swoyer said he thinks the school’s proximity to union headquarters in  Northeast Philadelphia would make it easy to create partnerships with trade unions. The school plans to offer courses in the trades as well as 3D design and manufacturing.

Swoyer also plans to build a Drone Zone, a space used for students to fly and design their own drones — like those that may be used as delivery vehicles in the future.


A national charter operator called Hebrew Public proposed opening a school at 3300 Henry Ave, in the East Falls neighborhood. The school would open in the 2019-20 school year with 156 students in grade K-1. By the 2026-27 school year, it would reach full capacity of 702 students in grades K-8.

Students would get daily instruction in the Hebrew language and extended daily instruction in math and English.

Students would learn the language “accompanying the study of the history and present reality of the state of Israel,” according to Jon Rosenberg, CEO of Hebrew Public. The non-profit also organizes and fundraises for a 10-day trip to Israel for interested students.

The organization already runs several charter schools in New York state.


Qor Charter School proposed to open an elementary school at 4290 Penn St. in Frankford. It would open in the 2019-20 school year, serving 72 students in grades K-1. It would reach full enrollment of 312 students in the 2024-25 school year.

The school would use a project-based learning curriculum, although it would still include traditional assessments. Teachers would also use kinesthetic learning, the use of physical activities during academic coursework. Special education students would be included in every classroom, as opposed to learning in a separate special education classroom.

Teachers would help design personalized student learning plans, then periodically re-evaluate them as students are given new personal goals.


Roundball Education Inc., located in Texas, wants to open the Pennsylvania Institute Academy Charter School, a high school, in the 2019-20 school year with 320 seats.

The CEO of Roundball, Ronald Ravenell, said the school would “serve students who have been sent to alternative education programs or are at risk of academic failure.”

The school’s curriculum would be part of the Jesuit College Preparatory Model.

“The national dropout rate is high, and our prisons are full to capacity,” Ravenell said. “The outcome after experiencing academic failure tends to be a life of crime.”

Roundball’s 990 form, last filed in 2011, shows that Ravenell is the only person associated with the company, which raised a little over $16,000 between 2007 and 2011.


“Aspira had to settle several suits brought against the company because of the sexual harassment perpetrated by Aspira Philadelphia CEO Alfredo Calderone. Unbelievably, he is still CEO… [Dawn Lynn Kacer, head of the CSO] testified that the financial improprieties had not only not been resolved, as promised by Kenneth Trujillo in May 2016, they had actually gotten worse,” Haver said in her public comment. “For the SRC to agree to put the education of more young people into the hands of Aspira would be a clear dereliction of duty.”

She ceded the floor to several other activists from the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS), familiar faces to anyone who regularly attends the SRC.

“Corporate charter schools continue to fight the SRC even today challenging the District’s right to oversee our public school students’ academic progress in their schools,” Lynda Rubin said during her public comment. “The SRC was put in place to purportedly shore up the financial supports for real public education in Phialdelphia. Not to hold a fire sale, selling or giving away its parts to private companies masquerading as public education stakeholders.”

Karel Kilimnik took issue with the argument made by SRC commissioners like Bill Green, that the SRC is not legally allowed to consider the financial impact that authoizing new charter schools would have on the District, since students take state dollars with them when they leave to attend a charter.

Kilimnik read from the 2015 SRC testimony of David Lapp, who was then an attorney with the Education Law Center:

“I testified to the District that, when reviewing new charter school applications, the factors the District should consider cut against approval of new charters in the current fiscal and educational climate. This is especially true given the dearth of evidence that the charter sector has achieved superior results.

“There have been recent public comments that suggest a mistaken belief that the charter law requires the SRC to approve new applications without considering the impact on District students. To the contrary, since the District has been declared to be in fiscal distress and the state constitution still requries that there be a ‘thorough and efficient system of public education,’ the impact of charter expansion on all students should be the most important consideration of all. But since questions have been raised, I wish to briefly clarify why such considerations are also legally valid.

“The bottom line is that there has never been a [Charter Appeals Board] or court holding that a fiscally distressed school district is prevented from considering the educational impact on all students, including students in District schools and existing charter schools, when deciding whether to approve a new charter school application. In addition, no cases have addressed these issus since the charter reimbursement was eliminated. As you identify problems with the merits of a partricular charter application, you should be sure to also include, in the alternative, evidence and findings that approving the charter would negatively impact the educational experience of all students, including District students.”

APM Sugarcane Festival 2017

June 3, 2017

A photo collage of the images of our 2017 Sugarcane Festival. June 3, 2017

Music by Funk Salsa Urban




Four housing leaders honored during PHFA’s Housing Forum

May 12, 2017

Kuam News | Click here to view article

Information contained on this page is provided by an independent third ­party
content provider. Frankly and this Site make no warranties or representations in
connection therewith. If you are affiliated with this page and would like it removed
please contact pressreleases@franklyinc.com

SOURCE Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency
Awards applaud their exceptional work and inspire others to lead housing

HARRISBURG, Pa., May 12, 2017 /PRNewswire-­USNewswire/ ­­ The Pennsylvania
Housing Finance Agency today recognized four leaders in the affordable housing
field during its biennial Housing Forum at the Hilton Harrisburg.

Honored with the agency’s Housing Pioneer Award were:

  • Nilda Ruiz, president and CEO, Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha
  • Rose Gray, Senior Vice President, Community and Economic Development,
    Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha
  • Keith B. Key, president and CEO, KBK Enterprises
  • Jeffrey Woda, principal, The Woda Group

“PHFA is grateful to these four housing leaders for all they’ve done to expand the
availability of housing in Pennsylvania and to be champions for affordable
housing,” said PHFA’s Executive Director and CEO Brian A. Hudson Sr. “They often
work tirelessly in the background, and today we wanted to take the time to
recognize their considerable contributions in our state. They are an inspiration to
the rest of us who work alongside them.”
PHFA’s biennial Housing Forum provides professional development opportunities
for people working in the housing field. Attendees participate in focused
educational sessions and hear from nationally recognized speakers. The 2017
program of events included 35 educational sessions, four keynote presentations, a
walking tour of a nearby affordable housing development, and a popular
networking event. The conference ran May 11­12 and drew more than 650

About PHFA
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency works to provide affordable
home ownership and rental housing options for older adults, low­ and moderate income families, and people with special housing needs. Through its carefully
managed mortgage programs and investments in multifamily housing
developments, PHFA also promotes economic development across the state. Since
its creation by the legislature in 1972, it has generated more than $13.1 billion of
funding for nearly 167,400 single­ family home mortgage loans, helped fund the
construction of 132,531 rental units, and saved the homes of more than 48,800
families from foreclosure. PHFA programs and operations are funded primarily by
the sale of securities and from fees paid by program users, not by public tax
dollars. The agency is governed by a 14­member board.

Scott Elliott
717­649­6522 (cell)

To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/newsreleases/four­housing­leaders­honored­during­phfas­housing­forum­300457017.html

©2017 PR Newswire. All Rights Reserved.


Food Buying Club facilitates better access to fresh fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices

May 11, 2017

The Produce News | Article by Christina DiMartino | Click here to view source



A Philadelphia non-profit is helping to feed the souls as well as improve the nutrition of area residents.

Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, commonly referred to as APM, was founded as a Latino community-based health, human services, community and economic development nonprofit organization serving the Philadelphia area. Its mission is to help families achieve their greatest potential.young-volunteer-jamar-checks-orders A young volunteer checks orders.

Among its lengthy list of services, the organization operates the Food Buying Club, which enables members to purchase fresh produce at affordable prices. Although they’re called members, there is no membership fee, and everyone in the community is invited to participate.

The produce distributed by APM on behalf of its members is purchased from the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market.

Angel Rodriguez, vice president of economic development for APM, explained to The Produce News how the organization got its start.

“Before the creation of APM, basic social services were largely unavailable to Philadelphia’s Latino residents, which was the case in most major cities that had an influx of people from Hispanic countries,” said Rodriguez. “In 1970 a group of Puerto Rican social activists sought to energize the community and help bring to it a fair share of resources. The success of APM is the result of their efforts.”

After more than 44 years, the organization has grown from a staff of five working out of a storefront to offering a broad network of social services offered at sites throughout Philadelphia. Today, APM employs close to 300 staff members, as well as having many volunteers. It affects thousands of people annually through direct service and outreach.

“APM services are grouped into three program areas: Behavioral Health Services; Supportive, Human and Education Services; and Community and Economic Development,” Rodriguez said. “APM does not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, race, sex, sexual preference, national origin or ability to pay. It offers community residents a full spectrum of bilingual and culturally sensitive behavioral health services, supportive and human services that cover a very wide spectrum.”

Bridget Palombo is the director for community economic development, and Food Buying Club coordinator for APM. She explained how the club functions.

“The Food Buying Club is a way to help organize the purchase of food for members,” she said. “We had a need for higher quality produce, but at wholesale prices. With the help of several of the companies located on the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, we organized a system where we place bulk orders and buy at wholesale prices.”

Copies of APM’s order sheets, with the order date, are shared with the community by volunteer distributors. They are collected and compiled into a large bulk order every two weeks. The order is sent to its suppliers at PWPM, picked up on a Tuesday morning and taken to APM’s hub site at Paseo Verde Community Room.

That day, staff and volunteers, some of which are students at Temple University and some from the Department of Labor Job Corps, help to sort and pack the bulk produce into individual orders, which are then distributed to seven satellite-spoke sites throughout Philadelphia.

“The members pay us in cash, and that cash is used to pay the suppliers at the PWPM,” Palombo pointed out. “This is a win-win for everyone. The members save from 60 to 75 percent on the cost of the freshest high quality produce. In turn, the merchants at PWPM receive cash which helps them with cash flow in their operations.”

Some of the merchants at the PWPM worked closely with APM to develop a system that works efficiently for everyone involved.

Today approximately 700 families are on the food buying club list, and about 100 of them place orders at any given time.

When the club first formed, members asked for a lot of fruit items because of the savings, but as it evolved they also started requesting commodity items like onions, potatoes, carrots and apples. They also request ethnic items. Today the orders combine a mix of nearly everything.

The companies at the PWPM are very generous and helpful to us,” stressed Palombo. “They taught us how to navigate the market in order to make produce accessible to our members. They explained how pricing sheets work, weight versus volume, and what items sell and pack best. We are very grateful. They helped to make the Food Buying Club the great success it is today.”


City Council’s Transit-Oriented Development Bill Is A Great Start. Here’s How To Make It Better.

March 2, 2017
Philadelphia 3.0   March 2, 2017
Original Article: http://www.phila3-0.org/transit_oriented_development


(Paseo Verde, Philly’s first LEED for Neighborhood Development project, near Temple| Halkin Mason Photography)

City Councilmembers Blondell Reynolds-Brown and Bill Greenlee introduced City Council’s best economic development idea in years last week, and it won’t even cost the city any money (except for some Planning Commission staff time.)

The proposal (Bill 170162) would create a series of transit-oriented development (TOD) zoning overlays around various subway stations on the Broad Street and Market-Frankford Lines. Inside those zones, taller buildings with lower parking requirements would be allowed by-right, and there would be requirements for active ground-floor uses (storefronts), and prohibitions on certain uses like surface parking lots, all with the goal of creating more housing for transit riders within walking distance of stations.

TOD zoning has been catching on in progressive cities around the country as a way to boost the share of transit-accessible housing, grow transit ridership, reduce car traffic congestion, and support more walkable retail corridors in neighborhoods near transit stops.

A TOD Overlay provision was created in the 2012 zoning reform push, and the Planning Commission has recommended several TOD overlays for various subway stations, but City Councilmembers have so far declined to create any. This bill aims to get that conversation started again, and there are several good reasons why now is the right time to prioritize this.

(TOD overlays recommended in the Philadelphia 2035 Plan | Philadelphia City Planning Commission)


SEPTA recently reported a decline in ridership for 2016 and it wasn’t only due to the regional rail mess or the transit strike. Bus ridership declined by 7%, resulting in millions of dollars in lost revenue that will ultimately be carried by the City and state. Creating generous TOD zoning overlays around subway and regional rail stations costs the public nothing, while growing transit ridership and strengthening SEPTA’s finances–all without a fare increase or increased subsidies from the City.


The TOD bill also has an important tie-in with affordable housing policy. As organizations like the Center for Neighborhood Technology have pointed out, it doesn’t make any sense to think about housing affordability in isolation. You can buy an inexpensive home in the middle of nowhere, but blow all your house savings on higher transportation costs because you have to drive everywhere.
CNT came up with an H+T Index showing the “location-efficient” sweet spots where housing and transportation costs are both reasonable. They suggest a definition of affordability for Philadelphia where combined housing and transportation costs are under 43% of Area Median Income. The lighter areas of this map are the location-efficient areas of Philadelphia where the cost of living is lower, and the darker areas are places that need some policy attention (like this transit-oriented zoning bill) to bring H+T costs down.
(Image: Center for Neighborhood Technology)

Land values near frequent transit service have been growing in Philadelphia in recent years as new arrivals have been more likely to prioritize transit access in their housing choices, and one way to keep transit-accessible housing affordable is to spread those land costs across more dwellings through upzoning.Unfortunately, some Councilmembers have been doing just the opposite. With little fanfare, Mark Squilla and Kenyatta Johnson irresponsibly allowed the South Broad Street Neighborhood Association to downzone most of South Broad below Washington Avenue for single-use single-family residential, despite oodles of unused transportation capacity on the Broad Street Line to serve a mid-rise, mixed-use corridor. The transit-oriented development overlay bill is a perfect opportunity to revisit that short-sighted decision.


While it’s great to see Council revisiting this idea, the execution leaves some room for improvement. For one thing, 500 feet is way too stingy. TOD overlays in our peer cities are typically somewhere between 1,300 and 2,700 feet. Philadelphia can do better than the nation’s weakest TOD policy.

The Temple subway station illustrates the problem well. Just a few years ago, Cecil B. Moore station near Temple and 46th and Market in West Philly were both targeted for potential Transit Revitalization Investment Districts, and Interface Studio actually won an award for their plans–plans that were never implemented.

As you can see, the 500-foot radius (the smallest circle) doesn’t even extend to the end of the block, and there are approximately zero development opportunities within this zone. This was planned to be the city’s premier transit-oriented district, but nobody would actually be able to build anything because the overlay is too meager.

The 1,300-foot circle (middle ring) opens up some more opportunity sites, and the half-mile (outer ring) offers the most. Ideally, Council would consider walking distance as the metric. A 10-minute walk is generally the rule-of-thumb for the distance people are willing to walk to the train station, pointing to a half-mile radius being the best choice.

Here are a few other station areas that the Planning Commission recommended for TOD overlays in the Philadelphia 2035 plan, which Council so far has not acted on.
(46th and Market)
(Snyder Ave)

Screenshot_2017-02-23_12.23.22.png(Girard Ave, El Station)


Another problem with the bill as written is that the TOD overlay only cuts minimum parking requirements in half, instead of fully eliminating them. Progressive cities across the country have increasingly been eliminating parking minimums in their base zoning, recognizing that they are regressive, increase housing costs, and act like fertility drugs for car dependence.

Parking minimums don’t belong in our base zoning, but they especially don’t belong in our TOD overlay, which should prioritize space for people who will mainly be using transit. Councilmembers could remedy this problem by increasing the Gross Square Footage exemption for parking minimums, or even better, they could just eliminate any parking requirements within the zone.


Finally, this bill addresses a series of citywide problems and opportunities, and it deserves citywide legislation. Since zoning is involved, there is a temptation to leave it up to District Councilmembers to choose stations on an ad hoc basis, and that’s exactly what the bill does. The actual TOD stations are left blank, and it will be up to Councilmembers to opt-in certain stations.

Recognizing that there’s no dislodging Councilmanic Prerogative from this, the bill should automatically opt-in stations for transit lines with a dedicated right-of-way (Market-Frankford Line, Broad Street Line, Regional Rail) and let District Councilmembers make the case for opting-out some specific stations if they wish. The legislation should start with the assumption that all of our heavy rail infrastructure deserves ridership-friendly zoning, and District Councilmembers should have the opportunity to publicly make the opposite case for certain stations if they feel strongly about exempting certain stations.

If the point is to do something good for the whole transit network, that’s not going to happen if it’s effectively left up to individual civic associations whether they want to volunteer their local transit stop for some taller buildings with less parking. It’s important to keep the citywide interest in focus throughout the process, otherwise the bill isn’t likely to do much about the problems Council is trying to solve.

APM Sugarcane Festival 2016

June 20, 2016

A photo display of the 2016 APM Sugarcane Festival.

Photos by Simon Bolivar and music by Franco Olivo Y Alto Voltaje.



APM’s Bridget Palombo Receives First National Harkin AmeriCorps Award

September 21, 2015

Contact: Rick Olmos 267.296.7363


In a green cargo van, three people pull into a large warehouse in South Philadelphia with two hand carts and long list in hand.  This is a regular bi‐weekly visit for this group, and many of the vendors recognize

the young lady leading the pack.    Bridget Palombo has a presence that naturally earns respect and loyalty. With an expert eye, Bridget moves around the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market selecting the best fruit and vegetables to fill the list she carries. This week the team is there to choose over 1600 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables to bring back to Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha’s (APM) Food Buying Club (FBC).

The APM Food Buying Club utilizes the Produce Market to distribute affordable, quality produce through its scalable bulk buying club model. Every two weeks, through the work of volunteers and paid Community Connectors, families are able to access fresh, quality food within their own neighborhood from one of our pop‐up Pick‐up/ Drop‐off Centers.

Thanks to all her hard work, Bridget Palombo, was recently selected as the first ever winner of Thomas Harkin Excellence in AmeriCorps Programming and Service Award in the category of most compelling member experience in building an ethic of civic responsibility from AmeriCorps State and National Corporation for National & Community Service.

The FBC began as an idea of the Community and Economic Development Department (CED) of APM.  This idea sat for many years, but like any non profit; timing, financial limitations and lack of available staff always kept it on the back burner.  This past year, an opportunity was presented that allowed the FBC to finally get its chance to shine.    The Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Organization (LISC) approached APM with the opportunity to have an AmeriCorps service member be placed for the summer.

Bridget was interning at APM for a few months through Bryn Mawr College, and was about to leave when it was suggested she take on the AmeriCorps position.  As a first step, several objectives that were critical to the project’s success in the first three months of implementation were decided on. This proof of concept phase had Bridget implementing a small food buying club pilot program.  Little did anyone know how fast this project would take hold and blossom.  In the last 48 weeks, the APM pop‐up food distribution system has now served over 440 households, with savings to those households in excess of $81,000 and distributed over 32,000 lbs. of affordable, quality produce.

“For decades AmeriCorps members, like Bridget, have made an impact on some of the toughest challenges in their communities,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “I applaud Bridget for her dedication to improve access to affordable, healthy foods for Philadelphia residents and families and thank her for her leadership in service with the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha.”

According to the AmeriCorps website, the award is presented to an outstanding AmeriCorps member, or alumnus, to encourage the development and expansion of best practices in national service programming, improved project development, and increase the value of the AmeriCorps member experience to help tackle the country’s most pressing human and environmental needs through service.

With emphases on engaging individuals with disabilities in service, best program innovation and enhancements, and compelling AmeriCorps member experience, the awards reflect the depth of impact of the national service field on the communities served and the individuals serving.

“I am very proud.    This award is thanks to some great mentors at APM,” Palombo stated. “They introduced the project idea to me, and really let me take the reins.  I was surprised to be nominated by two separate individuals in the community that I respect and cherish.    I recently was shown their nomination letters and both were very passionate and moving.”

The APM FBC was designed as a model that could be duplicated in other neighborhoods.  When asked what the future of the Food Buying Club, Palombo was quick to bring up two projects that are designed to raise funds to continue the FBC.    “APM has created a Kickstarter campaign to help fund our next stage, which is to create a toolkit for other organizations interested in starting their own food buying club,” stated Bridget. “We are also working with our current FBC members to create a cookbook of local recipes that were made possible due to the great fresh foods available thanks to the FBC. We also hope that some local chefs will consider adding some recipes as well.”

“Bridget is a strong leader with exceptional skills and intelligence; her drive made her stand out from the first day she walked through our doors,” said Nilda Ruiz, President & CEO of APM. She is a strong advocate for a sustainable community, and has shown that AmeriCorps members can use their knowledge, skills and initiative to improve the landscape of our community.”

In addition to the AmeriCorps recognition, the APM Food Buying Club has been recognized by other awards including a Philly Stake award and Social Innovations Lab scholarship.

“AmeriCorps has provided me with the tools I need to be successful, and APM has helped me in moreways than I can count,” Bridget said. “They have guided me, challenged me, and provided opportunities to me that most people could only get in a lifetime of work.”

For more information, please contact us at info@apmphila.org or visit the APM website at www.apmphila.org.  And be sure and Like Us at the APM Food Buying Club on Facebook.


# # #


APM is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia area. APM’s vision is “A community where all families are self reliant; where children are protected and nurtured to become future leaders, and where residents are engaged in their community.”

APM’s mission and vision are as multifaceted and diverse as the people we serve. Through a comprehensive array of life-improving social services, APM quickly assess and institute meaningful remedies for societal problems prevalent in today’s world. We create job opportunities, aid people with debilitating illnesses, revitalize neighborhoods and support families and individuals with our caring and compassion.

Philly wins HUD Grant

July 3, 2014

Philadelphia Awarded $30 Million HUD Choice Neighborhoods Grant Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha will play major role in the relocation process and social services provided to residents

Philadelphia has been awarded a Choice Neighborhoods Grant. This is a $30 million grant from the United States Department Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and is targeted to help transform North Central Philadelphia.



Build Your Future

Open Your Heart

Balance Your Life

Find a Service