Gerber (left), director of the Urban Nutrition Initiative, and Jim Mitchell
C60 get help from second-graders Xavier and Emmanuel finishing a flower
bed at Drew Elementary School. Heather Kilmer, Civic House associate director,
and Tiffaney plant flowers. Photography
by Addison Geary.
than half of the adults in the United States participates in volunteer
work, according to a national poll, and this trend is reflected in the
alumni programming of many universities, including Penn. Through projects
like the one described above and a community-service program called PennCares,
organized through the Universitys regional alumni clubs, alumni are creating
new ways to stay involved with their alma mater.
attorney Joel Nied C90 moved to Philadelphia three years ago to take
a job at a local law firm, he wrote to Dr. Ira Harkavy C70 Gr79, the
director of Penns Center for Community Partnerships, to find out if he
could get involved as an alumnus in the centers activities. He had read
an article in the Gazette [The West Philadelphia Story,
November 1997] about the Universitys renewed interest in West Philadelphia
and decided hed like to be a part of creating positive urban change.
My name found its way over to Alumni Relations, he recalls. The next
thing I know, I was in charge of a nationwide community-service
undertaking, now known as PennCares, was the inspiration of Elsie Sterling
Howard CW68, former president of the University of Pennsylvania Alumni
Society. Howard says she had noticed a big hole in our alumni programming,
in that the University had not been helping recent graduates who were
interested in making their communities better places to live fit volunteer
work into their busy lives.
began contacting regional club presidents and non-Penn-affiliated community-service
organizations throughout the country to consider their options. We started
with what would be impossible. Then we narrowed it down to what was at
least conceivable. They decided to promote a series of one-day volunteer
events over a two-month period each spring, hoping that as alumni talked
to their friends around the country, the enthusiasm of one club would
encourage other clubs to join in. This spring, the program ran in 14 cities.
details have largely been left up to the discretion of the individual
groups. Bostons club has held carnivals for underprivileged kids. Los
Angeles-area alumni painted a gloomy construction barrier around City
Hall one spring, and each year return to a local library to help children
prepare full-costume dramatic skits based on stories they read. Atlanta
graduates cleaned up a local park one year and, more recently, did repairs
on elderly peoples homes.
of alumni have given their time to PennCares projects. One of the exciting
things about it, Nied says, is that not only are we helping our respective
communities, but were helping the University. It helps people get in
with Penn and bond with it in a way that may not traditionally have existed.
(Nied and two members of the Alumni Relations staff, Ellen Liebman C93
and Jennifer Rizzi C93, received awards through Penns Models of Excellence
program for their work setting up PennCares.)
community-service projects are open to all alumni, not just dues-paying
members of the various regional clubs. People who have never been to
a Penn event come to these things and have such a great experience, adds
Courtney Spikes C92, who until recently organized community service for
the Southern California Alumni Club.
the magazine published by the Council for the Advancement and Support
of Education, noted in a recent article that a growing number of alumni
organizations are adding community-service projects to their roster of
more traditional social events. It cited examples from the University
of Michigan, Clark University and the College of William & Mary, among
others. The alumni effort coincides with a movement at Penn and many other
universities to create or expand upon public-service programs in their
curriculums and add community-focused centers to their campuses:
Tufts University received a $10 million grant from the founder of e-Bay,
an alumnus, to launch its own College of Citizenship and Public Service.
The Class of 1955 at Princeton Universityinspired by a challenge from
alumnus and civic activist Ralph Nader
established the Project 55 Public Interest Program, which has so far
placed almost 700 students in fellowships or internships geared toward
Students who live in one dorm at western Marylands
Frostburg State University earn $1,600 each in scholarships for completing
450 hours of community service and training.
House, which serves as a community-service hub at Penn, opened its doors
on Locust Walk two years ago with the goal of preparing students for
their roles as citizens and leaders. It will get some help with that
objective from the Class of 1960, which, in addition to organizing the
community-service day for Alumni Weekend, raised $1.15 million. Some
donors have specified how their gifts must be used; of the rest, half
will go to Civic House programs, the other half to scholarships for
Penn students interested in community service.
some extent, this interest in community involvement has trickled down
from the creation of national programs like AmeriCorps, says David Grossman,
director of Civic House. Alumni now have come of age at a time when civic
engagement looks different than going to the Lions or Rotary clubs, or
writing a check. Its hands-on engagement. Since the 1980s, he adds,
Students coming to Penn have had hands-on experience in high school,
and have had the opportunity to experience it at Penn [where they can
choose from dozens of service-learning courses across multiple disciplines],
so its not unusual for them to want to continue with community-service
projects after graduation.
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