Penn programs fill local needs

One of the key principles behind the Center for Community Partnerships’ approach to community service is letting the community determine what problems need solving.

This bottom-up approach has paid off both for Penn and for the people who have taken advantage of CCP programs.

But don’t take our word for it. Instead, take it from the West Philadelphians who have gotten things done with assistance from Penn.

First, we need people

According to attorney Jettie Newkirk, community groups in struggling communities need two things above all else: Money and manpower. For the Carroll Park Community Council, Penn has helped on both fronts.

“Penn has provided student interns on various programs and activities over the years and has helped with grant writing and staff training,” said Newkirk, the second vice president of the council, which serves the West Philadelphia neighborhood stretching from 52nd to 63rd streets and Girard to Lansdowne avenues.

This assistance has also paid off for Penn, according to Newkirk. “Penn’s reputation in the community was not very good. I think this program has helped them improve it a great deal. It’s a matter of supplying for the community what it needs rather than imposing the University’s will on the community.”

Faith-based initiative

While the Lord helps those who help themselves, a little secular assistance doesn’t hurt, either, as The Rev. Carlton Rogers can attest.

With help from Penn, the church he heads, Calvary Evangelical Lutheran in Southwest Philadelphia, has launched afterschool enrichment programs, set up a computer lab and improved its bookkeeping.

Rogers found out about Penn by chance. “We were invited to a meeting of the PUCFSN group,” he said, referring to the Penn-based Program in Universities, Commmunities of Faith, Schools and Neighborhood Organizations.

“At that meeting, I met someone from Penn. From there, it just seemed to mushroom. Once we talked about what we wanted to do, and once they told us about their expertise, it was a good fit.

“I would recommend all the churches in the area anywhere near Penn to explore PUCFSN,” he said. “I don’t think they are aware of all the things Penn is willing to do for them. It’s a fantastic resource.”

Extra credit

Thanks to several willing Penn students and faculty, Carol Merrill can put more into her English and media arts classes at West Philadelphia High School (WPHS). She, her students and the community have in turn reaped the benefits of a decade of partnership.

Merrill’s connection with Penn began in 1991, when then-Annenberg doctoral student Eleanor Novek approached her about starting a community-based newspaper produced by WPHS students. The fruit of the resulting 18-month collaboration was Qwest, which lasted for three years, and a new set of computer skills for Merrill and her students.

Merrill has participated in three other programs involving Penn students and faculty since then.

“The kind of technical and financial support, the opportunities that I have gotten, it’s been spectacular,” Merrill said. “It’s given the kids opportunities they otherwise might not have had. It’s helped us implement our dreams.”

Originally published on September 4, 2003