Ever wonder what it’s like to be a member of Philly Fellows? In the ‘Meet Our Fellows’ series, we’ll introduce you to our current fellows, their projects, and how they are benefiting from the Philly Fellows program. This post features Olivia Ortiz, who is serving as the Community Outreach Coordinator at the Philadelphia Parks Alliance.

Name: Olivia Ortiz

Hometown: Canton, Georgia

University: Swarthmore College

Major: Mathematics (minor in Environmental Studies)


How did you decide to become a Philly Fellow?

I had initially applied to the program because I didn’t quite know what I wanted to be doing after graduation, so staying nearby and doing something vaguely environmental or food related (the overarching thematic interests of my life) seemed like a good choice. I was placed on the waitlist and assumed that was that, and I began looking for other work. I was all set to move to a farm after graduation when I found out I was off the waitlist! The suddenness felt like fate, so I ran with it. So far, it seems like I made the right choice.

A recent community dinner at Towey Recreation Center, which was the first in a series of dinners Olivia's site is hosting there to re-engage members of the community with the rec center.

A recent community dinner at Towey Recreation Center, which was the first in a series of dinners Olivia’s site is hosting to re-engage members of the community with the rec center.

Let’s talk about your project. What’s your site like? What are you working on?

I’m at the Philadelphia Parks Alliance (http://www.philaparks.org/ in case you want to check us out). We’re a small operation (read: my director, myself, a few part-time staff, and an ever-changing number of interns), so I’m doing some of everything. Mostly outreach to and for recreation centers in the city– we want to know how the buildings, staffing, and programming could change to better serve surrounding neighborhoods. Right now, that means touring different rec centers and flyering for events we’re hosting there. In a few months, I suspect it will grow into something more.

Community living is one of the most important aspects of the Philly Fellows program. What’s this like? How have you benefited?

I live in the biggest house in the program, out in West Philly. I’ve lived in similar situations before, so it’s both a familiar set-up and a comforting one. I like knowing other people are around! It means you can just about always find someone to talk to. Plus, our house is older and kind of rickety; having other people there definitely keeps the monsters, ghosts, mice, etc. in the basement and generally out of sight.

What’s your favorite part about being a Philly Fellow so far?

At the time of me writing this, it hasn’t been a full month yet, so I can’t say for certain, but something I’m enjoying a lot right now is that my work requires me to understand the city in a way I haven’t had to before. I mean both geographically– living in DelCo doesn’t allow for as much time in Philadelphia as one would hope– and politically. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t paid as much attention to PA politics as I should have in the past, but I think this year will change that.

Is it difficult to live on an AmeriCorps VISTA stipend? How do you manage?

At the time of writing this, I have yet to receive my first paycheck (it takes them a moment to enter everyone in the system), but so far it’s fine. I’m vegetarian, so I tend to spend less of food (no meat) unless I’m splurging on cheese. I’m hoping I can start paying off my loans and also put some money away, and it seems possible. This likely won’t be a year where, say, I go out to brunch all of the time, though, and that’s fine.

The question everyone’s probably asking: any idea what’s next? What do you hope to do after Philly Fellows?

I’m toying with the idea of grad school, but that means I need to start studying for the GRE asap. I also don’t know what kind of program I would enter– it’s all very up in the air. If not that, I’ll likely choose to continue living in Philadelphia, doing some kind of anti-poverty work after this year.

What’s your favorite hobby?

Other than sleeping? I recently remembered I really love biking. I’m also excited to have time to read and write for myself now.

Do you hang out with other Philly Fellows in your free time?

The fellows I live with all cycle through the kitchen most evenings, so seeing them is unavoidable. And my house just threw a party last night! Or perhaps I should call it a kickback? People have different definitions of ‘party.’ At any rate, a lot of the other fellows (and also non-fellows) came over. It was a good time.

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I’m feeling nostalgic right now, so I’d say Puerto Rican rice and beans. My family makes a version, but I’m curious to know how other folks do it! So I would definitely eat rice and beans for the rest of forever.

What three items would you take with you on a deserted island?

I’m over-attached to a stuffed animal I’ve had since I was a toddler, so he (his name is Huckle) would definitely come. I’d also take a book–maybe One Hundred Years of Solitude or People of Paper. Something a little eccentric. I think I should be practical, though–can I bring a survival kit? Or a boat to get off the island with? I prefer being with people.