ECC 2020 Reconnect: What Are Christine, Iliana and Stasia Up To?

Emerging City Champions (ECC) is a fellowship program led by 8 80 Cities. ECC provides young civic innovators with leadership training and $5,000 in seed funding to launch transformative projects to enhance public space, urban mobility or civic engagement in their city.

This year’s fellowship has overcome more over the last six months than any other over the past six years. In early 2020, the UN recognized COVID-19 as a worldwide pandemic. This shift in how we organized and operated changed dramatically. By the time we virtually met our 20 young leaders from across the United States, we already knew this situation, the world’s situation would create a lifetime bond for all of us.

We are happy to share their achievements in their first six months of implementing their projects. Despite the challenges of the times we are living in, they have strived to continue pushing forward. This is a testament to their endurance. We are so proud of their accomplishments.

ECC is powered by 8 80 Cities and supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Visit for more.

Christine Joy
Purple House Project PA
Philadelphia, PA

Based in Philadelphia, PA, Christine Joy Brunsonis a catalyst for urban change whose dreams defy societal norms and encourages others to follow their own. Her mission in life is to empower people, especially women, via personal transparency and collaboration. At home, she is a loving mother to an incredible little son, while her professional life has put her on a path to become a Licensed Social Worker for the state of Pennsylvania. From nine to five, she plays an influential role as a Case Management Coordinator at a social service agency in Philadelphia. In her pastime, Christine has established and is the founder of Purple House Project PA Inc. (PHPPA), a non-profit organization focused on intimate partner violence. In between her work and motherly roles, Christine finds joy in writing and composes articles about her experience of being visually impaired.

Christine’s focus for ECC 2020 is to accelerate goals for the Purple House Project PA Inc. (PHPPA). She has already managed to collaborate with the Center for Hope (CFH) Tioga/Simpkins House, a local women’s shelter in North Philadelphia, and has teamed up to create a community garden. This garden project has been designed to enable shelter residents to plant, maintain, and harvest healthy fruits, vegetables, and a variety of holistic herbs. Participants who can engage in the community garden are then able to positively benefit from locally grown fresh foods at no cost. Her garden initiative has become an exciting opportunity that will directly improve nutritional understanding and decrease food insecurity within the community. Additionally, Christine sees her garden project expanding into other opportunistic areas that can offer unique and innovative programming. These include collaborating with organizations that can teach users how to use produce as ingredients in wellness items such as essential oils and skincare creams or inviting sub-contractors to facilitate nutrition classes, cooking classes, and other wellness-based education. Lastly, her garden project will become a space of solitude where people are able to go unplug from reality while allowing them to feed their mind, body, and soul with the gardens’ bountiful harvests.


Within the past six months, Christine has been able to meet with staff from CFH, along with a local florist to discuss preliminary information for the design of the gardens, as well as around logistics on grant funding. In December of 2020, the PHPPA hosted a community meeting with residents at the local shelter. In compliance with COVID-19 recommendations, PHPPA met with residents outdoors and had dinner catered by Panera Bread Company. During the dinner, PHPPA informed residents about the grant and shared with them the vision of the project.  Residents at the shelter provided input around what they would like to see grown in the garden, program ideas, and layout of the garden. In January 2021, Christine met with local Knight Foundation Directors who introduced her to the Director of Urban Agriculture at Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, staff at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and Hajjah Glover, founder of Glover Gardens. Each event was full of essential information that has been instrumental in moving the project along.  Christine, along with both a PHPPA intern and board member, will begin the Garden Tenders program. This five-week training will walk them through how to start a garden and provide them with useful resources in pushing forth the project.

In her progress, Christine has noted some challenges to her program.

The community garden is the first of its kind for Purple House project PA and as a result, it has been quite the learning curve for the organization and its members. Christine has also found further funding to be a challenge. Purple House Project PA has been very grateful for the Knight Foundations grant, however, Christine has realized she will need to apply for additional funding in order to fully pursue the complete vision for her project. Yet, despite the fact of some barriers along the way, Christine has been able to still persevere over the months. Christine’s Purple House Project PA has been really fortunate throughout this process to connect with key stakeholders in the community that truly have a valued interest in the project. Her greatest successes so far have included receiving the grant, connecting with stakeholders in the community, and receiving buy-ins from residents and staff in the project.

Over the next couple of months, Christine and the Purple House Project PA’s team will begin Garden Tenders training offered through the Pennsylvania Horticultural society. Purple House Project PA is then scheduled to begin the installation of raised flower beds on March 28, 2021, with Glover Garden. Following this, Christine and the team from Purple House Project PA will conduct monthly check-ins with shelter staff and residents to discuss the progress of the garden while also ensuring to receive feedback to build it up better. By June of 2021, Christine and Purple House Project PA team aim to have the garden up and running for harvest and programming.

Follow Christine’s work on Instagram: @purplehouseproject

Iliana Dominguez-Franco
Envisioning Brick and Mortar
Philadelphia, PA

Iliana Dominguez-Franco is a Salvadoran-American who originates from Los Angeles, California.

With a passion for knowledge, Iliana has become one of the first in her family to obtain a Bachelor’s degree and has continued to her studies in Philadelphia, PA where she is currently working towards a Master’s in Education at Temple University. As a dreamer of change, Iliana has become a community organizer in her city with the belief that having access to education and shared knowledge are impetus tools for establishing a sustainable organization and community change.

Iliana’s ECC project Envisioning Brick and Mortar is the second phase to an already-in-place organizing and educational engagement process that focuses on the development and displacement of communities within North Philadelphia. Her project evaluates the ways and reasons in which these communities have developed over time and seeks out resolutions that will allow these communities to move forward by finding and addressing the challenges and systematic injustices that the communities have faced. Using community teach-ins as an approach for sharing knowledge, Iliana seeks to establish collective awareness and ease of understanding around the processes, policies, and strategies that shape housing and community development. Iliana’s project further seeks to emphasize this messaging by bringing together neighbors through pop-up art workshops around screen printing and sculpture making.

Due to barriers brought on by COVID-19, Iliana has found some challenges arise while building out her project. Although she continues to make progress in her work, Iliana had to reassess her project’s outline to align with COVID-19 guidelines. While testing out virtual settings, she has found getting neighbors to engage together within a digital setting to be difficult. She has also noted the issues surrounding access to the internet and is exploring alternative options to provide equitable engagement. With these challenges in play, Iliana has decided to put a temporary pause on community teach-ins and art pop-ups for safety reasons while shifting focus on supporting critical access to the essential needs of the community.

Despite the ongoing adversity of the pandemic, Iliana is rising to the challenge. Iliana has continued to be in communication with neighbors and is working on some infographics projects that will safely allow neighbors to be engaged and informed on development processes from home. In the following months, Iliana will be seeking out further learning opportunities that will provide insight on equitable engagement during the times of COVID-19.

Stasia Monteiro
Story Engagement Team – Resident-Led Planning Process
Philadelphia, PA

Stasia Monteiro has served North Philly communities for 9 years and counting, applying values of intentionality and working collectively to build a more just world. As a former high school educator and a queer person of color, they carry a keen awareness of the intersections of identity, experience, and the many hidden gifts that can emerge when people are met with a sense of belonging.

Their community work and featured project, Story Engagement Team – Resident-Led Planning Process, center building deep relationships and strengthening collaboration through innovative community programming that elevates marginalized voices, critically examine social issues, and develops collective solutions. This project supports neighborhood leaders on the Story Engagement Team (SET), who will be harvesting local stories and resident-driven program ideas for Rivera Recreation & Mann Older Adult Centers (5th & Allegheny), currently undergoing a $13M renovation process. In partnership with Just ACT, SET leaders will train in theater-based engagement methods that support deep inquiry and visioning driven by the voices of Fairhill residents, subsequently developing a plan for activating these programs in the renovated community centers. This alternative neighborhood planning model centers community members as creative leaders and facilitators within a community-driven planning process for programming and stewardship to serve present and future generations.

With COVID safety guidelines presenting some barriers to engagement, planning and gathering have been virtual until safely distanced outdoor events are feasible, at which time we anticipate a hybrid approach. This work launched in August 2020 by convening a Community Action Team (CAT), a working group of neighbors and programming staff who have been meeting nearly every Tuesday afternoon since late August 2020. Together, they have laid the groundwork for SET recruitment and engagement strategies through generating a Project Timeline, Stakeholder Mapping, Power/Interest Matrix, refining prompts for story gathering, and matching modes of engagement suited for a variety of stakeholders under COVID restrictions. Most recently, the CAT has hosted two virtual Story Circles with neighbors and stakeholders to spread awareness of this process and are using participatory tools like Jamboard to begin harvesting Values, Pivotal Points, and Moments of Magic within resident experiences surrounding recreation and belonging in Fairhill. Participants have identified additional people and community groups to reach, further informing the outreach and communications plan and clarifying the scope of work for the Story Engagement Team. As the scope of work is finalized, the CAT is recruiting 6-8 community members for the SET, who will host a series of story gathering events in Spring & Summer 2021, with a hybrid of virtual and safely distanced in-person events. Simultaneously, HACE has coordinated for April 2021 to launch construction, anticipated to be complete in ~12 months. As the project is underway, more updates will be available on HACE’s website.

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