The nominations for today’s fearless lady were overwhelming. Everyone, meet Alyssa Ramos. She’s overcome homelessness at the young age of 15 to her role now as the Executive Director of Schools for Sustainability, making change around our city and country day by day. Get ready to be inspired by today’s beautiful #30Under30PHL recipient Alyssa!
1. How old are you?
2. What do you do?
I am the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Schools for Sustainability (S4S). The goal of my organization is to establish and operate self-supporting high schools that teach and model proficiency in water collection and purification, renewable energies, organic food production, waste management and the use of green building materials, in order to foster sustainable economic development in under-resourced regions. I conceived the idea when I was 15 and homeless. While I slept under a subway bench, I visualized a school where students had all of their needs met. I wanted to make sure that students did not have to wrestle with hunger, thirst, or lack of safety. Simultaneously, I wanted to make sure they were learning tangible skills that would uplift them out of poverty, while nurturing the earth. As the Executive Director, I work with my 67 person team of volunteers to research and write grants, organize fundraisers, network, take advantage of free marketing opportunities, write our curriculum, design the school, develop a presentable website, and train department heads.
3. What neighborhood in Philly do you call home?
4. What is your favorite thing right now about Philly?
Yoga on the Pier!!!
5. What do you consider your greatest achievement thus far?
My greatest achievement thus far, Schools for Sustainability. I overcame my homelessness experience, after my mom lost our home, at the age of 15. I did not allow my situation to consume me. I got scholarships to go to college, graduated with multiple honors, and am now building my dream school with an amazing team.
6. If not yourself, who would you like to be?
I would love to be Sonia Sotomayor. We have tons in common – we both grew up in the Bronx, raised by strong single mothers, with dads that suffered from alcoholism, we are both from low socioeconomic backgrounds, we are both Latinas, and we both have a passion to help others via law.
I’ve always wanted to be an attorney, because I pride myself on my rationality and ability to support my views with evidence. I interned at the New York Supreme Court at the age of 16 and participated in several Mock Trial seminars, one of which was through the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. I loved those experiences deeply. I wanted to go to law school to study Human Rights Law and ideally work to develop policies that would eliminate human trafficking. However, I am a bit impatient. I wanted to make lasting social change NOW. I did not want to wait to first apply for law school, second go to law school, third finish law school, fourth get a job, fifth begin to write policy, sixth work to get it passed, and seventh start from step five if the policy did not create the change it was intended to create.
7. Your idea of happiness.
My idea of happiness is being in communion with mother earth and people. When I take care of my community, by volunteering at community gardens or soup kitchens, I find an inner peace that is unexplainable by words. With that said, I wanted to be in constant communion with my community while working on a permanent solution to some of our world’s problems – hunger, poverty, environmental decay, the lack of economic opportunity for the poor and the need for education reform – which is why being the Executive Director of Schools for Sustainability fits my idea of happiness.
8. Guiltiest pleasure?
9. Favorite inspirational quote?
I have too many. I am a motivational quotes junkie. I have hundreds tapped all over my “Motivational Wall” but if I have to pick one, as stereotypical as it might be, it would have to be Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
10. What do you appreciate the most in your friends?
I appreciate how open and honest I can be with my friends, because I trust them to always be open and honest with me. We are always each other’s biggest cheerleaders and each other’s most honest critic because we love each other enough to help each other grow.
11. Favorite food in Philly?
I am a vegetarian and most Philly favorites are for meat eaters, so I will say that my favorite vegan restaurant in Philly is Charlie Was A Sinner. The food and drinks are lick-your-fingers-good.
12. Favorite drink in Philly?
I love the juices from the restaurant Fuel. Check them out here: http://
13. Favorite song right now?
Nico and Vinz – Am I Wrong
14. A book you plan on reading?
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. I already feel empowered, but I believe that there is always room for growth. Additionally, as a 24 year old Executive Director of a start-up, I want to be able to empower the women on my team to achieve their full potential.
15. A book that powerfully impacted your life?
I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
16. Name one historical figure you would like to have coffee with.
I am sorry but I cannot pick just one. I would like to have coffee with Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and Gandhi.
17. How do you like your coffee?
I drink tea because I am too hyper for coffee.
18. Your main fault.
I talk too much. I am learning to listen.
19. What is your most prized material possession?
My Mac because it keeps me connected to my friends and family all over the world.
20. Your biggest failure.
My biggest failure was when I was in High School. I was taking Advanced Placement classes, which are college level classes and the big tests were only weeks away. After an entire year of stressing, all-nighters, non-stop studying, it was time to take the tests. I was so focused on studying that I did not visit my sick grandfather. I did not know how sick he was. No one called or texted to tell me he was slipping into the afterlife. Then, at around 7pm, my mom picks me up from my best friend Eissell’s house to visit my grandfather. I was annoyed because I was losing precious study time. When we arrived at the hospital, I was too late. I did not get to tell him I loved him. I did not get to tell him how much I learned from him. I did not get to tell him how much I would miss him. I did not get to say good-bye. I was devastated – so much so that I cried myself to sickness. I did not eat or sleep for days. I was dehydrated and could not keep food down the times my mom forced me to eat.
21. What you learned from that failure?
I learned how real death is and how valuable life is. I learned that it is okay to work hard, but that work has its place and it should never consume your life. I am still a workaholic, but I have made improvements and will continue to try to find that life-work balance in honor of my grandfather’s life. I know he would he proud of how far I have come, but he would be disappointed if I allowed myself to be consumed.
22. What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is being alone. I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, but because I work a full-time job and then also work full-time on Schools for Sustainability, I work about 80-100 hours a week, which leaves little time to spend time with those I love. I try my best to let them know I love them dearly even though I don’t see them often, because I do not want to lose them.
23. Where will you be in 30 years?
In 30 years I will be 54 and still building schools with Schools for Sustainability.
24. Favorite thing to do on a Sunday?
I love my permaculture class. I enjoy learning about compost, hot compost, bokashi, growing mushrooms, beekeeping, symbiotic plant relationships, people care and so much more.
25. Best date spot?
I love going hiking and doing yoga at Fairmount park.
26. What does happiness mean to you?
Happiness means being of service to others and the earth.
27. Twitter or Instagram?
I prefer Instagram because I am a visual person.
28. Describe Philly in a Tweet.
Hub for millennials, social entrepreneurs, freethinkers, change agents and artists.
29. Who should everyone follow on Instagram?
30. Pats or Genos?
#30Under30PHL is a month-long series highlighting Philadelphia’s most ambitious women. Created in collaboration with Femme & Fortune and Alex Kacala.