“One of the great things about POP is that everyone is welcomed and accepted, at all skill levels and abilities.”
-Brian Olszak, 2010 POP Golden Persimmon Volunteer
In honor of the Philadelphia Orchard Project’s 10th anniversary in 2017, we’re looking back at a different year in our history every month. We’re also designating Golden Persimmon Awards for each year in recognition of the extraordinary efforts of our volunteers.
POP VOLUNTEER HIGHLIGHT: Brian Olszak
In March of 2010 I was working in a private school library, looking forward to any students who might swing by and need assistance—unfortunately they were few and far between. I soon realized that having the four walls of a library be your entire world may not have been the right path for me. In my desire to find and try out some new and interesting things, I stumbled across POP’s website and fell in love with their mission of planting community orchards in the city.
One of the great things about POP is that everyone is welcomed and accepted, at all skill levels and abilities. To volunteer with POP there are no tests, no applications to fill out—just show up at a planting, pick up a shovel (or bring your own), and literally just dig in! Of course, you may need to find out where to dig in, what you’re planting and why, as I certainly did, but Orchard Director Phil Forsyth and the more-experienced volunteers were more than willing to show the ropes. If you kept showing up at more and more plantings like I did, you learned quickly. After volunteering at multiple orchard plantings in 2010 including the Village of Arts, SHARE Food Program, and Woodford, Phil asked me to be on the Orchard Committee and I jumped at the chance to do more. I then joined POP’s Board of Directors in 2011, later serving as Secretary, President, and lastly Treasurer before I “retired” from the Board at the end of 2016.
POP was the first nonprofit that I’d ever become involved with outside my day job. Personally, I didn’t think I had an obvious role to fill with POP: I was no horticulturalist or orchardist by any means, and I’d had no experience with fundraising, event planning, or nonprofit management. I just loved the work, and I’d try anything once (including leading the writing of POP’s first Strategic Plan—but not without a how-to manual to help!). What I may have lacked in initial knowledge or skill-set I learned through doing, but I’ve gained so much more through my experiences with POP. There are many partners and individuals throughout Philadelphia’s neighborhoods who make POP’s work a success, and knowing many of them continues to inspire me. It’s a humbling experience to see how community organizations and neighborhoods value and rally around an orchard that they own outright, a permanent fixture which bears many benefits beyond the fruit.
Even today I still can’t believe how far POP has come—and in so little time! When I first started volunteering, we only had a part-time Orchard Director (Phil), and now there’s a full-time Executive Director in Phil and three part-time employees. I’m so honored that I could be a small part of the great work POP has done over the last 10 years. Hope to see you at one of those orchards soon!
SUPPORT US! If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate.