In our most recent Journal of Change issue, we feature six leaders who are making a difference in community health in Philadelphia and across our region. These dynamic individuals were named Future Leaders because, although each one has a unique cause, they all share a dedication to the people and communities they serve. Over the next few months, we’ll be interviewing each leader to find out more about their passion, their vision, and their impact.
Empowering Philadelphia Youth Through Rowing
Catherine Reddick currently serves as vice-chair of Philadelphia City Rowing (PCR), an organization that empowers youth to reach their greatest potential through the sport of rowing. Through PCR, Philadelphia public school students learn the importance of commitment, dedication, and discipline. They also receive academic support and mentorship opportunities.
IBC Foundation: What inspired you to create Philadelphia City Rowing?
Reddick: I was inspired to get involved because when I started rowing in college, as a person of color, I was one of only a few people like me on my team. That said, being a part of rowing really exposed me to a different group of people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and I really benefited from the connections I made. Because of rowing, I met professional mentors through my teammates’ parents and I heard about career options that I hadn’t previously entertained. I think the rowing community certainly has a unique set of economic characteristics that has the potential to help the population we serve.
IBC Foundation: Out of all the sports available to you, why did you choose rowing?
Reddick: That’s a great question and I think it really speaks to what we are all about. We’re a part of an organization called Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative (PYSC), which is an umbrella organization for sports-based youth development programs. The organizations that are part of PYSC offer comprehensive development programs anchored around a particular sport, and so in that way we are not unique. People are running similar programs for squash, tennis, basketball, and a multitude of other sports. What I think is unique about rowing is two-fold: first, there is certain level of dedication that is required for our sport. Our kids are with us six to seven days a week (whereas other athletic programs are typically after-school only), so rowing requires a deeper commitment from the participant. Second, both the rowing community and the city of Philadelphia create a very close-knit community, so you really get a community for life when you row in this city.
IBC Foundation: I also noticed that besides rowing, mentoring and tutoring the students is a big part of the organization. Tell me more about that.
Reddick: Yes, we have a guidance counselor on staff, we offer tutoring, and we closely monitor all the students’ grades and measure their academic progress. Our organization is very much centered on the whole child. We offer nutrition education, workshops around environmental sustainability, and opportunities for civic engagement in the form of volunteer days. We really work to integrate the students into their community and their natural environment to become better students and advocates for their community. So, it’s more than just a rowing program. Rowing is just one component that gets kids involved, interested, and committed. But our objective is much bigger than athletics.
IBC Foundation: Besides your organization, how else are you involved in the community?
Reddick: I’ve served on the boards of other organizations within the rowing community, including the Fairmount Park Conservancy. When I was in graduate school, I got involved in the Philadelphia public school district, initially, as a math and science teaching assistant. That’s when I first started to understand the challenges that Philadelphia students face as well as the challenges that the School District of Philadelphia faces. I think it created a lifelong desire to make a difference, to improve the opportunities that are available for kids that are just like me in Philadelphia.
IBC Foundation: Tell me about a time you faced adversity while starting Philadelphia City Rowing?
Reddick: We have been working with the city of Philadelphia to renovate our boat yard. For the past several years, we have been lobbying for this because we have outgrown our space. We were pushing for this for a while and the City finally agreed. We have experienced roadblock after roadblock throughout the renovation, including delays, the contractor going out of business, and more. Meanwhile, we are still running all our programs, our staff is going above and beyond, and the kids are making it work with whatever we have on a given day. We are finally finishing up the renovation and I would say that it was incredibly frustrating for everyone.
What kept me focused is the fact that the kids are always there and watching how I handle challenges. When things aren’t going how I want them to or everything seems to be falling apart, I remind myself that this a teachable moment for my kids.
IBC Foundation: What is your favorite aspect of Philadelphia City Rowing?
Reddick: I love coaching, although as vice-chair, most of the time I’m working very actively with our executive director so I spend a lot more time doing staffing and administrative work. Sometimes, when I am very well-behaved and get all my work done, they let me coach once a week. (Laughs.) That’s my reward for everything.
IBC Foundation: What is one of your biggest goals for the organization?
Reddick: I think all of the board members share the same idea that we want the organization to be stable. If PCR is able to sustain itself and continue to transform the lives of young people long after we are gone, then I will consider it successful.
IBC Foundation: Where do you see Philadelphia City Rowing in the next ten years?
Reddick: If we meet the goal which we set out for ourselves — which is to reach the students that need us most — then I would consider PCR to be a success. We strive to truly serve students who are at risk, to penetrate the schools that have the most needs, and to provide the services that those kids need to be successful. We want to support kids who have experienced trauma, those who are struggling at home, or have academic issues, and help them be successful academically, physically, and emotionally as citizens and community members.
In ten years, I still want to be helping kids, but I want to be doing it better than we are today. This is a very rower mentality: it is said that you can teach 75 percent of rowing in 15 minutes, but the last 25 percent takes 15 years to learn. You are doing the same thing over and over again, but you are doing it better each time. Each stroke is better than the stroke you took before, each practice is better than the practice the day before, each season better than the last. My vision is a very incremental route to success.
IBC Foundation: Is there any advice you can give to someone who is aspiring to make a positive impact on their community?
Reddick: I would say to act locally and start with the things you care about most. We teach our kids to start with the things you love. PCR is concerned about the environment in the Schuylkill watershed, because this is our home, so we are learning about what we need to do to take care of our natural environment. Sometimes, when you think about the problems in the world holistically, it can be daunting. But we are all a part of these smaller communities that we are passionate about. So, if you start by changing things there, you can make the most profound difference in your community.