Class Acts , continued

(From left) Richard Stollman W’60, Hudson “Pete” Scattergood W’60 WG’67, Ruth Baker Joseph CW’60, Harriet Luskin Hornick CW’60 WG’73 and Jane Twitmyer CW’60 help Habitat for Humanity fix up an old house at 49th and Stiles. Photography by Addison Geary.


    Though PennCares concentrates its efforts in May and June, many of the University’s 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, we’ve 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 C’89 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.
    Atlanta’s 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 Dartmouth’s 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/W’92 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 Philadelphia’s club, is trying to start an ongoing teen-mentoring program in his area. He’d also like to see Penn’s 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 hasn’t 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 W’81, club president.
    The Class of 1960 community-service day offers further proof that volunteerism has no age limits. Jerry Riesenbach W’60, 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, “I’ve 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 meaningful level.
    “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 it’s strategically and ethically the right way to go.”
    Class President Art Saxon W’60 G’93 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-round—at Penn’s various schools and centers—to 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 House’s 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 thing.”

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 <jrnied@mlb.com> or 215-963-5274.

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