left) Richard Stollman W60, Hudson Pete Scattergood W60 WG67, Ruth
Baker Joseph CW60, Harriet Luskin Hornick CW60 WG73 and Jane Twitmyer
CW60 help Habitat for Humanity fix up an old house at 49th and Stiles.
by Addison Geary.
PennCares concentrates its efforts in May and June, many of the Universitys
regional alumni clubs are extending their volunteer efforts throughout
the year. Courtney Spikes says the Southern California club compiles listings
of drop-in projects for alumni to consider when they have a spare weekend.
It helps if someone you know or an organization you trust can say, Hey,
weve checked out some opportunities for you and here are five good ones.
She helped spread the word, for example, about a non-profit group called
Reading to Kids, founded by Jonathan Tomlin C89 two years ago. Ten Penn
alumni who heard about the organization through PennCares showed up to
read to children at an L.A. elementary school one weekend.
Atlantas club prepared meals for homebound HIV patients
before the holidays last December through Project Open Hand, at a time
when the organization has difficulty lining up enough volunteers. Earlier
this spring it teamed up with Dartmouths alumni club to help out at a
food bank. And for its official PennCares event, the club helped the Atlanta
Community Tool Bank with home repairs and painting projects at the homes
of senior citizens and low-income residents. Community-service chair Pete
Weimann EAS/W92 says the events provide a great way for younger alumni
who have recently moved to the fast-growing Atlanta area to meet people.
Nied, community-service chair of Philadelphias club,
is trying to start an ongoing teen-mentoring program in his area. Hed
also like to see Penns alumni clubs team up more with alumni from other
universities to make a greater difference in their communities.
Typically, the turnout for PennCares events has been
dominated by twenty-to-thirty-somethings. Elsie Howard says, I think
I see more of a commitment among the newer generation of alumni of wanting
to physically personally enhance the communities where they live, in addition
to being philanthropic. My generation hasnt been so hands on.
But there have been some notable exceptions. When
the Southern California club held one of its first community-service projects,
Spikes says, a couple of older alumni showed up with their grandchildren,
who are also Penn graduates. When the Metro New Jersey club helped sort,
clean and pack up juice containers for distribution at the New Jersey
Food Bank, a number of alumni brought their older children along to help.
It was a great thing for my kids to be exposed to, says Maria Chu Ho
W81, club president.
The Class of 1960 community-service day offers further
proof that volunteerism has no age limits. Jerry Riesenbach W60, a Philadelphia
attorney and the co-chair of the Class reunion committee, observes that
a significant proportion of his classmates were commuters who lived off
campus and developed little connection to Penn. Even though his Class
has broken fundraising records in the past, it bothers him that a majority
of his classmates never participate. Over the years, he says, Ive
heard people say, The only time the University contacts me is when it
wants money. When they developed Civic House and
the PennCares program,
it occurred to me that maybe as a reunion event [a community-service day]
might stimulate some interest from people who have not been active in
the past and [encourage] alumni to participate in community service
through the University.
He reminded his classmates in a letter that it was
soon after they graduated in 1960 that John F. Kennedy spoke those famous
words: Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do
for your country.
Back at Drew Elementary School, it starts to rain,
and stops. Then it rains harder. The garden gets planted anyway, adding
a temporary splash of color to the neighborhood while helping support
the Penn-affiliated Urban Nutrition Initiative, whose goal is to teach
kids entrepreneurial skills and promote healthy eating habits by setting
up community gardens and creating student-operated produce and flower
stands. But these flowers are mostly annuals, raising the questions of
who will be back next year to plant new ones and how effective a one-day
service project can be unless it is followed up with something more enduring.
The next day, Civic House hosts a brunch to allow
alumni to discuss how to continue their community involvement on a more
This day is terrifically significant, noted Dr.
Peter Conn, deputy provost and the Andrea Mitchell Professor of English
who also serves as faculty adviser to Civic House. Nothing quite like
this has happened before at Penn, where a class has stepped forward and
said, We want, in a very organized way, to participate in [community
service] and to make you part of our gift. Conn underscored the desire
of class leaders and Civic House to see the one-day project evolve into
a long-term relationship between alumni and Penn, as well as the surrounding
community. I think its strategically and ethically the right way to
Class President Art Saxon W60 G93 suggested working
with Alumni Relations to get all the Reunion classes involved in community-service
projects next year. Riesenbach posed the possibility of inviting alumni
who live near Penn to volunteer their services year-roundat Penns various
schools and centersto help defray the costs of operating the University.
Civic House also would like
alumni involved in public-interest work or non-profit activities on the
side to act as mentors, speaking to students about their experiences and
helping to arrange job opportunities and internships for undergraduates,
says Civic Houses Grossman. It would be unrealistic to expect all [Penn
graduates] to go into public-interest work, but if they go to Wall Street
to be bankers, or become attorneys or physicians, and they can do so thinking
of what their public civic role will be, that would be a very important
How to get involved: Contact Civic House at (215)898-4831
or view its Web site at www.upenn.edu/civichouse/.
For information about PennCares, contact Joel Nied at <email@example.com>