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University City partners receive $5 million grant from Lenfest Foundation to accelerate career opportunities for local residents

(February 15, Philadelphia, PA) – University City District (UCD), the University City Science Center and Drexel University have been awarded a $5 million grant from the Lenfest Foundation. The three-year grant will support a unique partnership that leverages University City’s explosive economic growth to train and place unemployed West Philadelphia residents in family-sustaining jobs today, while equipping the community’s workforce with the skills and certifications needed to connect to the jobs of the future.

Through a unique collaboration anchored by UCD’s nationally-acclaimed job training program, the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, the partners plan to connect nearly 600 previously unemployed residents to careers over three years, resulting in over $16 million in wages generated in the community. In addition, over 200 adults and high school students in West Philadelphia will attain credentials, certifications, and exposure to STEM careers, setting them on meaningful pathways to employment.

Not only does this grant allow each partner to scale its own programs in order to serve more individuals, but it will create a new collaborative infrastructure that strengthens economic opportunity in West Philadelphia. The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative connects local residents to living wage, life-changing jobs with University City’s premier employers; the program has served over 800 jobseekers and generated $15.4 million in wages for previously unemployed local residents. Lenfest’s support will enable UCD to build new training programs with the Science Center and Drexel University, along with other employers in University City.

The Science Center will expand its nationally recognized FirstHand program to guide more local high-school students towards STEM-related careers, while working with the Skills Initiative to train and place local residents into the science and technology companies that are proliferating across University City.

Drexel will expand its long-standing commitment to the Skills Initiative to train residents for specific jobs across the University while enhancing its adult education programming and credentialing at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships.

“University City is at a unique moment of economic possibility. How we connect talented West Philadelphians to the opportunities afforded by growth will shape the future of our community as much as the buildings rising along our skyline,” said Matt Bergheiser, President of University City District. “We are grateful to the Lenfest Foundation for its transformative investment. We look forward to working with long-standing partners through the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative to close the opportunity gap in West Philadelphia.”

“At the Lenfest Foundation, we work every day to ensure that Philadelphians can gain the education, knowledge, skills and opportunities that lead to a fulfilling, productive life, and we are proud to support three dynamic entities who have a history of providing those services to the West Philadelphia community,” said Keith Leaphart, Chair of the Lenfest Foundation. “We know this investment will accelerate their efforts, and make it possible for more talented local residents to serve as the workforce of the future.”

“We are grateful for this funding from The Lenfest Foundation that will enable us to accelerate our mission to inspire and lead an inclusive community of innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Curtis M. Hess, Interim President & CEO of the University City Science Center. “Not only will we be able to introduce more high school students to the power and potential of STEM career pathways, but we’ll also launch our first workforce development initiative to train and place local residents into good-paying jobs within the science and technology companies at uCity Square and beyond that are growing our economy.”

“The best way forward for University City — and all of Philadelphia — is to foster economic growth and opportunity that leaves no one behind,” said John Fry, President of Drexel University. “With incredibly generous support from the Lenfest Foundation, we can take significant steps toward achieving that goal.”

About University City District

UCD promotes a world class, vibrant University City through major investments in public space development, public maintenance and public safety, by connecting entrepreneurs and residents to economic opportunity, and through the creation and management of destination events. UCD’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, founded in 2010, is a workforce intermediary that connects West Philadelphia’s employers seeking talent to West Philadelphians seeking opportunity. The Skills Initiative has received national acclaim as the only program of its kind to be embedded within the work of a special services district. Learn more at

About the University City Science Center

Located in the heart of uCity Square, the Science Center is a mission-driven nonprofit organization that catalyzes and connects innovation to entrepreneurship and technology commercialization. For 50+ years, the Science Center has supported startups, research, and economic development in the life sciences, healthcare, physical sciences, and emerging technology sectors. As a result, graduate firms and current residents of the Science Center’s incubator support one out of every 100 jobs in the Greater Philadelphia region and drive $13 billion in economic activity in the region annually. By providing resources and programming for any stage of a business’s lifecycle, the Science Center helps scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators take their concepts from idea to IPO – and beyond. For more information about the Science Center, go to

About Drexel University

Founded in 1891 in Philadelphia, Drexel is a nationally-ranked, comprehensive research university recognized for its focus on experiential learning through cooperative education, its commitment to cutting-edge academic technology and its growing enterprise of use-inspired research. With more than 24,000 students, Drexel is one of the nation’s largest private universities, one of Philadelphia’s top five private employers, and a major engine for economic development in the region. Drexel’s Dana and David Dornsife Center is the cornerstone of the University’s commitment to the community. The Center provides a physical space where students and faculty get to know and work closely with local residents and neighborhood leaders, partnering on initiatives for the long term. Learn more at

About Lenfest Foundation

The Foundation was established by H. F. (Gerry) Lenfest and Marguerite Lenfest in 2000. In 2011, the Foundation’s mission was revised to focus on disadvantaged youth in the Philadelphia area. After a major investment in early childhood education, the organization now seeks to make an impact by funding out-of-school time programs for middle school students along with workforce development and career pathways programs for older youth.

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Kristen Fitch

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