PHILADELPHIA – At the University of Pennsylvania, the School of Social Policy & Practice’s Community Teamworks pilot program allows students, faculty, staff and alumni of the School to participate in team-building activities through local volunteer projects in West Philadelphia.
Richard J. Gelles, the School’s dean, says the project’s goals support Penn’s commitment to local engagement, but it also takes interdisciplinary collaboration and cooperation to a new level.
“Community Teamworks is a meaningful way to build a stronger community within the School,” Gelles says. “It’s not often that students in our Penn Aging Concentration program are able to work side by side with students from our Non-Profit/Non-Governmental Organization Leadership program to better our neighborhoods."
Modeled after Goldman Sach’s Community Teamworks in New York City, the program launched earlier this semester when program organizers, including Ashley Mapp, its director, coordinated with residents in West Philadelphia to gain a better understanding of their needs.
After soliciting suggestions from neighborhood residents and the Social Policy & Practice community, program organizers selected a key projects. One of them is the Guest Chef program at the Ronald McDonald House, 3925 Chestnut St.
On Thursday, March 22, from 3 to 7:30 p.m., Social Policy & Practice students, faculty, staff and alumni will prepare and cook dinner and desserts for approximately 80 people at the Ronald McDonald House, which provides a “home away from home” for families with critically ill children seeking treatment in local hospitals.
“These families are under a lot of stress, and many are thousands of miles away from home,” Mapp says. “If we can relieve one worry for them by providing them with a healthy, hearty dinner, it can make a difference. It’s one less thing for them to stress about and it allows the families to focus on their children’s needs, taking a break from hospital appointments and procedures and being able to share a meal.”
Femida Handy, a professor at the School of Social Policy & Practice, nominated the organization as a potential candidate for Community Teamworks’ involvement. Handy is an expert in nonprofit entrepreneurship and volunteerism, social accounting, the economics of human behavior and organizational life and the economics of social welfare.
When Handy arrived at Penn nearly a decade ago, she was looking for nearby volunteer opportunities, and one of her students suggested the Guest Chef program at the Ronald McDonald House.
“I enjoy cooking and, although I had never cooked for so many people before, I plunged right in,” Handy says. Volunteers just need aprons, a smile and a willingness to serve.”
She appreciates the idea behind the Guest Chef program’s flexibility because it allows her to choose the dates that she wants to volunteer, even with a hectic travel schedule.
Handy has also published research about the volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House and thought the House would be a perfect opportunity for Community Teamworks to engage locally and to build esprit de corps among students, staff, faculty and alumni.
“Preparing, cooking, serving and eating a meal together is a bonding experience for everyone involved,” Handy says. “It is putting into practice a lot of what I teach, research and publish about volunteering. I feel grateful that I have found an opportunity to help.”
Details are being finalized for the next Community Teamworks activity, scheduled for Saturday, April 28, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Sayre Health Center’s annual Health Fair at Sayre High School, 5800 Walnut St.
"Community Teamworks enables students from our five degree programs to work alongside faculty, staff and alumni on projects that will have a positive impact on organizations and agencies throughout the city," Gelles says. "Our students already contribute more than 250,000 service hours each year across the region through internships, practicums and field placements, but, as proactive agents of social change, we believe that there is always more than can be done."
While this semester they are starting small and involving only people affiliated with the School of Social Policy & Practice, School administrators are optimistic that the program will eventually expand to include other schools and programs across Penn.
Community Teamworks volunteers plan to return to the Ronald McDonald House in mid-September to participate in the Guest Chef program again.