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These Citizens have Solutions – Part 2

By David Sherwin, President at Pivedite

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this article, click on this link to get caught up: These Citizens have Solutions – Part 1 of 2.

In Part 1, I talk about a nonprofit organization called the Citizens Campaign. They provide training and resources to local community members so they can create solutions to problems in their city. The Citizens Campaign originated in New Jersey, but they have expanded to other cities including Philadelphia in 2019. The group in Philadelphia is called the “Philadelphia Civic Trust.”

In Part 2, I summarize interviews I had with 4 “Trustees” from the Philadelphia Civic Trust. Each Trustee is working on a solution to a social problem in Philadelphia. In our interviews, we discussed their backgrounds, why they joined the Philadelphia Civic Trust, the issues they are working on, their proposed solutions, and how their stories can inspire others to take action.

For more information about the Citizens Campaign and the Philadelphia Civic Trust, check out their website at

If you have any questions, want to learn more about the progress of the Trustees, or want to get involved, email Russell Hicks at

The 4 Trustees

  • Lola Olodapo
    • Issue: At-Will Employment
  • Emma Tramble
    • Issue: Access to Voting
  • Omar Hendricks
    • Issue: Job Training for Youth
  • Wendy Simeonson
    • Issue: School-to-Prison Pipeline

Trustee: Lola Olodapo

Issue: At-Will Employment

Lola’s Background

Lola Olodapo is an Early Care and Education Management professional who is the Founder of Ed + Care, a company dedicated to providing quality early childhood education. She has lived in West Philadelphia for nearly 20 years and has been a Trustee since early 2019.

Why did you join the Philadelphia Civic Trust, and how is this group different than other organizations?

Lola believes we are “losing our democracy” because people are disengaged from the political process. Fortunately, she thinks the Philadelphia Civic Trust provides an opportunity for people to get engaged. Lola joined the Philadelphia Civic Trust because she liked:

  1. The mission.
  2. How “everyday people” work on the issues.
  3. Their “no blame approach.”
  4. The collaborative work environment.
  5. Because “she is a natural problem solver and this group seemed like a good fit for her.”

Lola also mentioned the Citizens Campaign is different because:

  1. They educate you about the political process.
  2. Provide training.
  3. Help push your agenda.
  4. Prepare you to stay civically engaged.

The Issue: At-Will Employment

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “At-will means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without incurring legal liability. Likewise, an employee is free to leave a job at any time for any or no reason with no adverse legal consequences.”

Advocates against At-Will Employment argue that it is unfair for employers to have the legal right to fire someone for any reason. They argue At-Will Employment leads to unjust firings where employees have no mechanism to fight their termination.

One of the primary reasons Lola decided to focus on At-Will Employment is because she experienced it in her workplace. Lola believes racism or bigotry can sometimes be reasons someone gets fired. In addition, she explained that “too many benefits are tied to employment,” so how can someone just lose those benefits without a fair review? During our conversation, I learned the vast majority of states have At-Will Employment laws. Some companies have internal policies like Employee Reviews, Performance Improvements Plans, or union protections that make it harder to fire a person. However, many workers in this country are not protected.

So far, Lola has spoken with her local representatives, met with other local workers’ rights organizations, and conducted research. Regarding the Citizens Campaign’s “10-step process,” she is currently on STEP 3: CONDUCT EVIDENCE-BASED RESEARCH. Lola read the Citizens Campaign’s book Citizen Power & The Art of No-Blame Problem Solving: A 21st Century Citizens Manual. Lola said the book taught her:

  1. A “better sense of how to put the steps together.”
  2. How to “drill down” on the issue.
  3. To understand what is doable.
  4. How not to “recreate the wheel” and use solutions from other cities in Philadelphia.

What solution are you proposing?

Lola is brainstorming on what solution she can propose to city council. Since this issue is connected to other workers’ rights initiatives, she may want to join an existing coalition/campaign. Lola informed me there are several organizations developing workers’ rights legislation to propose to the city. She might be able to include an At-Will Employment piece to an existing proposal.

Since there are so many workers’ rights issues, Lola believes a “workers’ bill of rights” may be needed. Lola explained that At-Will Employment laws have been in the US for nearly 100 years, so “it’s important to develop a law that could serve as national model.” One idea Lola has is for local municipalities to get rid of At-Will Employment rules for government jobs/contacts and then move to private business. For Lola, “it comes down to treating people with respect and having a fairer system.”

Lola is hoping to propose a solution to the Philadelphia City Council in 2021.

How can your story inspire others to get involved?

Lola believes people feel hopeless because they don’t know how to address problems in their community. In addition, “when politicians don’t respect people,” she feels people can get even more frustrated. However, she believes her story can give people hope that they too can make a difference in their community.

Trustee: Emma Tramble

Issue: Access to Voting

Emma’s Background

Emma is a consultant with expertise in data-driven solutions and process improvement. She currently works as a Community and Voter Engagement Strategist for a consulting firm called Wiser Strategy. Emma has lived in West Philadelphia for the majority of her life and was one of the first Trustees to join the Philadelphia Civic Trust in 2019.

Why did you join the Philadelphia Civic Trust, and how is this group different than other organizations?

Emma respects the strategy behind the Citizens Campaign’s “no blame approach.” She believes “there is enough blame to go around” and focusing on solutions is a better course of action. Emma also likes how:

  1. They provide you with the resources you need to develop a solution.
  2. Community members do the work.
  3. The organization has a “flat hierarchy so you don’t have to rely on one leader to get things done.”

The Issue: Access to Voting

As a Community and Voter Engagement Strategist, Emma is well aware of the issues surrounding voting. Emma thinks voting is just a “hiring process” and community members need to hold elected officials accountable. She is concerned because “voters are not issue oriented” and do not know how candidates stand on certain issues. Overall, Emma believes voters need to “vote for something” and should not be “button pushers.”   

Leading up to the June 2nd Election, Emma worked on several initiatives to improve access to voting. Emma lobbied to get “drop boxes” for mail-in ballots, communicated voting concerns to city council members, posted voting updates on social media, and provided community members with credible information on how to vote.

Despite the efforts of many voting advocates like Emma, COVID-19 disrupted the June 2nd Election and it was difficult and confusing for community members to vote. Unfortunately, even before COVID-19, there were a lot of issues with access to voting. Some of these issues include:

  • Confusing voter ID laws.
  • Strict voter registration laws.
  • Having only one day to vote.
  • Lack of proper notifications for election dates.

The newly enacted “PA Mail-in Ballot Law,” allowing anyone to vote by mail, did provide a safe method for people to vote. However, according to Penn Live, there were many issues with the recent election including:

  • Mail-in ballots not getting received by the June 2nd 8:00pm deadline.
  • Difficulties finding designated “drop boxes” so people didn’t have to mail their ballot.
  • Polling places closing or changing locations.
  • Polling workers not working due to COVID-19.
  • An 8:30pm curfew which forced people to skip voting.
  • Long lines at the polls.
  • Reports of the National Guard at polling places which intimidated people.

Emma is between steps 3-5 in the Citizen’s Campaign’s “10 steps process.” These steps are STEP 3: CONDUCT EVIDENCE-BASED RESEARCH, STEP 4: SHAPE YOUR SOLUTION, and STEP 5: MAKE SURE IT IS COST-EFFECTIVE. Even though Emma is a seasoned consultant, the Citizen Power & The Art of No-Blame Problem Solving: A 21st Century Citizens Manual has helped her better understand how the city council operates.

What solution are you proposing?

Emma will evaluate data from the previous election and will review reports on COVID-19’s impact. Important data to review will be the effect the PA Mail-in Ballot Law and drop boxes had on voter turnout. In addition to reports, Emma is waiting to review the City of Philadelphia’s 2020-2021 budget. The city’s budget is negatively impacted by revenue losses due to COVID-19 and vital social services may be cut. Emma needs to understand how certain departments are funded so she can make sure her solution is cost-effective.

Emma sees “gaps to fill” in the voting process. Her proposed solution may revolve around early voting. One idea is that certain people could vote early on planned days, therefore, creating less of a frenzy and long lines on election day. Emma doesn’t have a timeline for her solution because she is waiting to see how COVID-19 will play out, what the city’s 2020-2021 budget will be, and how the November 2nd election will be handled. However, when she is ready, she knows her solution must be able to “get the city’s attention.”

How can your story inspire others to get involved?

Emma believes that despite living in tough times, “you can always find people who care about the same issues that you do.” Emma thinks the Philadelphia Civic Trust is a great place for people to get engaged and learn from other Trustees. In addition, whether you’re working with the Philadelphia Civic Trust or another organization, according to Emma, “you have more power than you think.”

Trustee: Omar Hendricks

Issue: Job Training for Youth

Omar’s Background

Omar is in his early twenties and graduated from high school in 2015. He has experience volunteering for nonprofit organizations and has had various jobs after high school. He recently accepted a position to become a Community Health Worker with Drexel University. This position was created to help local communities negatively impacted by COVID-19. Omar lives in Darby, PA and became a Trustee in October 2019.

Why did you join the Philadelphia Civic Trust, and how is this group different than other organizations?  

Omar was introduced to the Philadelphia Civic Trust by the group’s leader Russell Hicks. Since Omar had volunteer experience, he believed the Philadelphia Civic Trust would be a good opportunity to help his community. Omar likes that the organization is actioned oriented and “actually does what they say.”

The Issue: Job Training for Youth

Omar’s experience becoming a Community Health Worker helped him understand how job training programs begin, how young people can get jobs, and how a job can turn your life around. Regrettably, Omar sees people his age who don’t have skills and are unemployed. According to, the unemployment rate in Philadelphia is around 16%. Unfortunately, Opportunity Nation estimates the unemployment rate for ages 16-24 is usually double the rate for the city. There are many reasons why youth unemployment is high, but many advocates believe inner-city youth do not have the training or skills to get employed. COVID-19 has made this situation even worse.

Omar is researching what job training programs the city has for the youth, and what specific issue he can focus on. Recently, he contacted the Urban League of Philadelphia to get resources. Regarding the “10-step process,” he is between steps 1-3, which are STEP 1: IDENTIFY YOUR ISSUE FOCUS, STEP 2: SUBMIT A PUBLIC RECORDS ACT REQUEST, and STEP 3: CONDUCT EVIDENCE-BASED RESEARCH. Omar just started reading the Citizen Power & The Art of No-Blame Problem Solving: A 21st Century Citizens Manual, but he is hopeful the manual will help.

What solution are you proposing?

Even though COVID-19 is having a negative impact on the city, Omar sees an opportunity for youth to get training and new jobs fighting the pandemic. He believes his story can be a positive example for others his age. Since Omar is still researching which specific issue to focus on, he doesn’t have a solution to propose yet. However, he does have some ideas.

One idea Omar has is to conduct more job training programs via video conference. He got the idea while watching his brother teach an art class via video. Omar believes COVID-19 could force the city to create more job training programs via video. Another idea Omar has is to create mandatory volunteer or job training programs for students in high school. He believes these mandatory programs could help prepare students for the workforce. In addition, Omar believes in order to “spread the word” about job training programs, volunteers should hand out flyers and knock on doors in their communities.

How can your story inspire others to get involved?

Omar believes everyone has the responsibility to contribute to helping their communities. If someone “as young as him can get involved,” then anyone can do it. Omar also believes the Philadelphia Civic Trust can provide opportunities for youth to solve problems in their communities.

Trustee: Wendy Simeonson

Issue: School-to-Prison Pipeline

**** This article was done in close collaboration with Wendy in order to accurately highlight her extensive educational background.

Wendy’s Background

Wendy’s family came from Norway and none of her relatives spoke English when they arrived.  They did not go to school; they went to work. Even though many of Wendy’s family members weren’t educated, her parents made sure Wendy received a good education. Wendy and her sister were both tutored in reading by the local high school reading teacher Mrs. Fried. Wendy’s parents could afford to pay.  Most of her students in remedial classes could not afford tutoring.

Wendy really enjoyed getting tutored and soon become very passionate about education. When Wendy attended high school, she tutored daily in Mrs. Fried’s classes to help teach students to read. Wendy’s experience in high school would serve as the foundation for her career as an educator. Since high school, Wendy has completed all coursework for a Master’s in Bilingual Multicultural Education, has a Secondary Teaching Credential in English, and also a Language Development Specialist Credential in K-12.

She has trained 1000 tutors in reading, writing, math, and study skills.  She has started and run learning centers at a high school, junior high, and elementary school. She trained 3rd-5th graders to tutor each other in an after school tutoring program in Oakland, California.  She trained 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders to tutor their peers at Powel Elementary in Philadelphia, Pa. She trained 600 plus future teachers to tutor. She also trained: AmeriCorp Volunteers, Bilingual Educators, parents, students in the teacher education program, and high school seniors who needed community service hours.

For 10 years, she trained her more advanced students to tutor her low-level English, English as a Second Language, and Learning Center students. Every student got one-on-one tutoring once a week and her advanced students earned elective credit for tutoring. The school paid no additional fees for her students to advance in: reading, writing, math, and study skills.

Her tutoring career also includes helping out her son’s kindergarten class about 3 times a week, working in numerous tutoring centers at her university and at a private program, tutoring several international students that had been in her after school tutoring program, and tutoring students a few days a week in exchange only for their mother’s to prepare lunches. 

Wendy also was the co-advisor for 10 years for the West High I- Teach (future teachers club), coordinated international student programs in 8 San Francisco Bay Area cities, was the Director of ELS at UCLA (the largest language institute in the world), and taught public speaking at both Bakersfield Community College, and California State University, Bakersfield.

Internationally: She volunteered in a Mexican orphanage for 10 1/2 months, and trained over 20 teachers in Mozambique, Africa to tutor their students in English.

Why did you join the Philadelphia Civic Trust, and how is this group different than other organizations?  

Wendy has always enjoyed volunteering for political campaigns. Some of her experience includes helping 2 friends run for city council and working for Barak Obama when he was running.  She even went on an Obama Tour with her son when he ran in 2008. They heard him speak about 5 times and even sold Obama T-shirts. They also bought a signed copy of Obama’s book, and were both interviewed about their experience by local newspapers.

Last year, Wendy was looking to get involved with a local political/social change organization in the city. Luckily, her friend told her about the Philadelphia Civic Trust. Since members of the Philadelphia Civic Trust propose legislation and speak at city council meetings, she was excited for an opportunity that matched her interests.

Wendy was one of the first members of the Philadelphia Civic Trust to become certified. She enjoys how the Philadelphia Civic Trust “didn’t just talk about the problems.” They actually create public policy to change your community. Wendy was also impressed by the number of laws the Citizens Campaign helped enact in New Jersey.

The Issue: School-to-Prison Pipeline

Wendy is on the Philadelphia Civic Trust’s Education Committee, and they are focusing on reducing the “school-to-prison pipeline” in Philadelphia. According to the Education Law Center:

  • The school-to-prison pipeline is where “large numbers of youth are pushed out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”
  • Some of the policies that create this problem are “zero-tolerance policies, aggressive policing in schools, and other extreme school discipline practices lead to high rates of suspensions, expulsions, and arrests of students.”
  • “These policies and practices also fuel systemic inequalities and disparate educational outcomes based on race, gender, perceived sexual orientation, disability status, and other categories.”

Wendy realizes there are many reasons that students are pushed from schools to the juvenile justice system and prison pipeline. One of her students had 9 family members in prison by the time he was in the 10th grade. He had already dropped out; but the school decided to go knock on doors and bring him and about 30 students back to high school. Wendy was involved in bringing them back and became their English and Physical Education Teacher. According to Wendy, rich students and middle-class students always had parents who hired tutors when they fell behind. This is just one more way that students of color and in lower economic situations are shortchanged by schools.

Wendy also taught pregnant girls, young mothers, and students who had to work to support their families. Most of the girls that had gotten pregnant had 2 children by the time they graduated. Two of the girls had 3 children. One woman had gotten pregnant for the first time when she was 15, and had 6 children when she became one of Wendy’s students. Students who have been in foster homes are also often behind. According to Wendy, it is not realistic to think that students can go through so much trauma and not need extra help.

Americans can go anywhere in the world and study in English at American Schools. When Wendy was in college, she went with 300 American students to study in Vienna, Austria. She had studied German for 3 hours before her trip. All of the classes were in English except German. Wendy and most of her classmates would have flunked all of their classes if they had been in German. Yet, according to Wendy, “we have high schools in California where 95 % of the students are native Spanish speakers. Their books are all in English. No wonder they dropout!” 

What solution are you proposing?

Wendy is conducting research on educational systems and the school-to-prison pipeline. In the Citizens Campaign’s “10-step process,” Wendy is on STEP 3: CONDUCT EVIDENCE-BASED RESEARCH. She has finished reading the Citizen Power & The Art of No-Blame Problem Solving: A 21st Century Citizens Manual. She enjoyed the manual’s explanation of the “no-blame approach” techniques, information about how to make solutions cost-effective, and insights on how solutions from other cities can be implemented in Philadelphia.

Wendy has several ideas for solutions and will be working with the Education Committee to propose a solution by the end of 2020.

One solution that Wendy is proposing is that all schools have learning centers in grades K-12. Harvard, Temple, the University of the Pacific, and probably every community, state college and university offers tutoring. She believes it is incredibly expensive to retain students who are behind. Plus, it is socially and academically damaging to students. Tutors need to be trained to assess the needs of each student. After COVID 19, Wendy believes “this is our only hope of catching all of our students up.”

Another idea she has is for students and teachers to be able to make their own schedules. There should be early morning, late morning, and evening classes available. Incorporated with flexible scheduling, Wendy believes students should also have classes where they can learn to start their own businesses.

Regarding students with “special” needs, Wendy’s idea is that most students should not be labeled and put in Special Education Classes. Wendy used to have up to 5 Special Ed. students in each of her low-level classes. According to her, they caught up just fine with one-on-one tutoring and lots of love and support. 

Overall, Wendy believes schools are not meeting the students’ needs. In order to address these needs, Wendy thinks vocational programs or clubs should be available. In her high school, Wendy was on a racecar club that drove on a NASCAR track. It took only 2 days to have enough students for the club. One 15-year-old girl in Independent Study was a d.j. at the local community college. Journalism students also got to intern at local tv stations. Her video newspaper club was also popular. According to Wendy, if there were more clubs/programs, students would be excited for school and could obtain more skills needed for the workforce.

How can your story inspire others to get involved?

The Philadelphia Civic Trust is exciting for Wendy. She believes that we can make a big difference for the people of Philadelphia. Since it was easy for her to get started, her story can be used as an example of how quickly you can start working on solutions to change your community. According to Wendy, “If you are tired of seeing problems that are not solved. Please join us, roll up your sleeves, and let’s improve the lives of our fellow citizens, and neighbors!”

Pivedite Team

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