In the days before Philadelphia elections, 250 subscribers receive “The Devor Report,” a detailed list of recommendations for Democratic voters intended to ease confusion about the voting process and ballot questions.
The report’s author, Jen Devor, works as director of partnerships for Campus Philly, an economic development organization focused on retaining college students to the city. With a retention rate of 67 percent, Philadelphia is leading the country in this pursuit.
Devor has become well known in her Point Breeze neighborhood as a passionate public school advocate. When she, her husband and now 5-year-old daughter moved there in 2010, they consistently heard negative things about public schools, like the local G.W. Childs.
“I started to ask the kids more about their school, their teachers, curriculum, the books they were reading, and the perception and reality did not add up,” she says.
Devor concedes that, yes, the school is strapped for resources and that Philadelphia is still desperately in need of a fair funding model.
“But the kids, teachers and surrounding community were making the most with what they had and graduating really great, smart kids,” she says.
Devor teamed up with other neighbors who were also interested in supporting the school, including Megan Rosenbach, who founded Neighbors Investing in Childs Elementary (NICE) in 2012. NICE has provided grant writing and assistance to bring new partnerships to the school, secured $115,000 for capital renovations, restored the school’s historic auditorium and laid the groundwork for a play space project on the school’s roof.
In a neighborhood like Point Breeze, where there is tension around gentrification, Devor has found it rewarding to find common goals and interests that unite the community.
“In my neighborhood almost everyone cares about public education, either because they are a product of the school district, currently have family members attending a public school or want to send their children to the school around the corner from their houses.”
Devor says organizing neighbors in favor of her catchment school has been successful, but there are so many schools across the city that could benefit from this type of support.
“I started to become more aware of what legislation could be created to make real change, along with identifying which politicians were in support of public education and which ones stood in the way,” she says.
To mobilize voters, she became a Democratic committeeperson in 2014. She says seeing the election process at a neighborhood level has been incredibly interesting, and she has witnessed how empowered voters can be when they hold their elected officials accountable.
Devor credits motherhood with positively influencing how she approaches solving political problems.
“Being a mother informs my work through understanding what kids need to thrive from first-hand experience,” she says. “It encourages me to innovate and to be more creative through the unique perspective of my daughter and the community she is developing through school and the neighborhood.”
“When it comes to politics, it’s important to remember that kids are constituents, too,” Devor says. “Just because they can’t vote doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be represented and served.”
Paige Wolf is the author of “Spit That Out!: The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy Kids in the Age of Environmental Guilt.” Follow @paigewolf on Twitter.