Penn is a community of its own. With all of the activities at Penn, it can sometimes be hard to imagine all of the opportunities that are available in the surrounding West Philly area. While in high school, service to my community was something that took up most of my time, whether during my free summers or on the weekends during the school year. I spent my time teaching kids about animals at the Smithsonian National Zoo or playing board games with kids at the Children’s National Medical Center. During my freshman year, I really missed this aspect of my home life; I missed feeling like I was making a difference in the community that I was living in and interacting with the people that I had formed relationships with while volunteering. So I set out on a mission to find opportunities to get involved in my new community. I was surrounded by fliers and emails interested in getting students to be a part of different service groups. Between the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, Community School Student Partnerships, West Philadelphia Tutoring Project and many other similar groups dedicated to making connections between Penn students and activities in the surrounding area, there was no shortage of options for me to choose from.
I joined Alpha Phi Omega, a national community service fraternity, at the beginning of my sophomore year. Not only was it an opportunity to explore the Philly community by making an impact, but it was also a chance to meet a group of people of all years, majors and backgrounds that had a similar passion for community service. Through APO, I have volunteered regularly at soup kitchens, sent books to prisoners, made holiday meals for underprivileged families and learned about education reform in Philadelphia. Being in this organization for about two years has opened my mind about what it means to be a part of a community. It also offers me the chance to take my mind off of school and interact with locals for at least a few hours each week.
My experience with community service at Penn extended beyond just extracurricular into my academic life. Through the Netter Center I was able to take an Academically-Based Community Service (ABCS) course. These courses allow students to get course credit for learning about a particular topic and then applying what is learned in class to a service project in the community. The course that I took was called Healthy Schools, and it addressed disparities in education systems when it comes to race and geographical location, as well as issues related to access to nutrition and health information of school-aged kids. Every student in the class was able to pick a service project related to the course topic to work on throughout the semester; I chose to volunteer at a local elementary school where I cooked with the kids at an after-school cooking club. I looked forward to going back to the school and seeing the students who remembered me every week! It was very interesting to have the opportunity to actually see what I was learning about in class firsthand.
This year I joined Penn Appétit and became a part of the Social Impact Committee. As a part of the committee, I am currently working with a local soup kitchen to coordinate how Penn Appétit can get involved with them, whether it be preparing food items and delivering it to them or serving the people that come in. I am excited to see what this partnership has in store!