Staff Q&A: Isabel Mapp

Isabel Mapp

Mapp (third from left) with some of the Penn staff members who mentor local students: (left to right) Luz Marin, Machamma Quinichett, Sheila Atkins, Pamela Robinson, Afi Roberson, Paul Adams and Ancil George.


Associate Director for Faculty,
Staff and Alumni Volunteer
Services/Director, Penn Volunteers in Public Service

Length of service:
16 years

Other stuff:
She moved to Philly from New York partly for the “easier quality of life.”

Photo by Candace diCarlo

For Isabel Mapp, volunteering is not just her sideline. It’s her job.

As Penn’s associate director for faculty, staff and alumni volunteer services, Mapp gets the campus community to reach out to its neighbors through mentoring programs for local middle- and high-school students and more. And as director of Penn Volunteers in Public Service, she organizes toy drives, penny drives, and other campus charity efforts.

It’s become a labor of love for Mapp who began voluteering as a mentor before she became a volunteer professional.

Q. What was it like mentoring children?
It was interesting being the mentor, because basically you show up and you pick up the kid and you go off and you try to provide them with wonderful experiences that encourage them to want to go to college and have a good sense that there’s a broad horizon out there. And I think we probably didn’t really appreciate—at least I didn’t appreciate all the work that Bonnie would put into making this program happen every month. It’s about a 10-month program [and] it involves a lot of work.

Like last week, we went ice skating [at Class of 1923 Rink], which was really cool. And what was really fascinating was that many of the kids hadn’t ice skated before. But the mentors were encouraging to those kids who hadn’t ice skated before. One young man in particular, when we started out, he was hesitant about going; we convinced him to go. And before it was over with, and we’d been there for two hours, he was skating around the rink. So it was a wonderful thing to see, because I think that’s a big part of what mentoring does. It creates a comfortable environment to try things.

Q. What’s the difference between being a volunteer and running the program?
The responsibility that comes along with it. Because once you begin to provide services to folks out in the community, people really depend on them. And so it’s a great responsibility that one has to ensure that these programs continue to happen.

I get so many calls about tutoring. There’s so many after-school programs out there that need people to tutor. I get calls for people to teach in Saturday schools. I get calls for Philadelphia Cares Day, where more than 50 of us went out last October and helped to paint a school and clean it up to make it pleasant for the children that attend. Every year we get a call from the Mayor’s Christmas party so that we can provide volunteers to help supervise the party and show kids to the bathroom and seat them and escort them from the buses and hand out lunches and so on and so forth. So we’ve really established a sort of history with the community where there’s certain things that we do.

Last November, we did a food drive and we collected close to 100 boxes of food. And we gave the donation to the Carroll Park Association. And they in turn were able to double the number of families that they serviced over Thanksgiving, and that was very wonderful.

Q. What are some of the biggest challenges that you face in the job?
Keeping things consistent. Keeping people motivated to continue to do the work. Because while we have some one-shot deals where we come out and fix a school, help beautify a neighborhood, we also have some long-term kinds of projects.

Q. Are there things you would like to do in this position that you don’t feel you can yet?
One of the things that I would really like to do is to expand the mentoring program to include more mentors. The students are really affected by coming here, and they really learn from us. They wish they could come more often. And what’s really critical is that the teachers tell us that the students that come to the mentoring program tend to do better. And we don’t just insist on having the cream of the crop.

Q. Volunteer work is usually something people do “in their free time.” What do you do in your free time?
Volunteer work. One of the things that’s really important to me, and why I like working at Penn so much, is because I don’t know of too many other positions, if there are any, like mine in all the other universities. They have programs where they work towards getting students to volunteer, but we don’t really know of a program that’s specifically set up to get faculty, staff and alumni to volunteer. We don’t want to give students the impression that the only time you volunteer is when you’re students.

So yeah, that’s what I do. I especially think that because I ask people to do so much that it’s only fair for me to give of myself.

To volunteer, contact Isabel Mapp at 215-898-2020 or

Originally published on April 11, 2002