For my co-op, I chose to work on a restoration project in Philadelphia, PA. The project, pictured below, is a Queen Anne-style Victorian house, complete with a turret, servant staircases, and floors that creak. My host family, Kevin, Benny, and Melinda, have been working on this house for the past 8 years and believe there’s still around 4-6 years worth of work left. They bought it on a whim as a passion project; Kevin is a civil engineer with a love for historical architecture while Melinda has a particular and fantastic taste for decorating the inside. Its inside is vibrant, retro, and is reflective of their love for antiques and cycling.
I found this co-op opportunity through a program called Workaway that connects travelers looking to work in exchange for room and board at a host family’s house. The most common type of Workaway experience is farm work and rural settings, but occasionally you can find an opportunity in a city, as I did in Philadelphia. I really enjoyed exploring Philadelphia through the eyes of knowledgeable locals and I like to think it grounded me a bit more in the culture.
During my time there, I worked mostly up in the turret. The turret is the outermost structure on the house where the weather vane is perched. When I was first introduced to the turret’s inner room, it was off-white with wires coming out of the ceiling and the woodwork was untreated. But not for long. I found it satisfying to transform the room into what it is today—painted lavender with chestnut-colored woodwork and an original light fixture that can be seen from the road. I also helped around in the garden, weeding plots and schlepping soil; there was always something to be done.
A day of work would often involve all different kinds of work, from sanding and paint stripping to priming, painting, and taping. My work hours were from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., which left the afternoon to explore Philadelphia and the surrounding area. I saw the Liberty Bell, Chinatown, the Love sculpture, New Jersey, and even took a couple of day trips to NYC which was only 2 hours away. You can learn more about my adventures in my photo journal and blog of my first co-op.
I found this co-op to be extremely culturally rewarding. I had never been to the East Coast for such an extended period of time and I believe that being able to independently navigate cityscapes, Greyhound bus lines, and self-sustenance grew me inexplicably as a person. Having been born and raised in Ohio, as well as currently attending college there, immersing myself in the thriving diversity of these big cities was an experience that will stick with me forever.