By Kiera Reilly, C’93 @KieraReilly
On Saturday morning, March 9th, I drove to a house in Lynnwood, California, hoping to take photos of the Penn Serves LA group working on a Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles project. There was a dumpster in the driveway, and a work truck parked out front, so I assumed I had arrived at the proper place. As I walked toward the home, I noticed people on the roof wearing Penn gear. I guess I’m at the right place, but why are they all on the roof? It turns out our job wasn’t to paint, as many of the volunteers expected, but to remove the roof from the house!
I checked in with the Habitat for Humanity on-site managers, and they said, “Oh, sure you can help…just sign this waiver, put on some gloves, grab some goggles and head up the ladder!” Gulp. This wasn’t what I was expecting, but seeing that everyone else was on the roof, I took a deep breath and up I went to join twenty other Penn alumni and friends.
The Penn Serves LA volunteers were all busy working with tools to scrape and pull tiles and nails off of the roof. Others were filling buckets with broken-up roof pieces. That became my job, filling a big paint bucket with roof pieces, walking over to the edge, and flinging the contents over the side into the dumpster. On my first attempt, about half of the contents landed on the ground, and half in the dumpster. The bucket was heavy, and I felt like I might fling myself off the roof with it! The Habitat supervisor encouraged me to go closer to the edge of the roof, and if I felt the bucket going, just let it go. Pretty soon I got the hang of it, and wandered around the roof helping to collect and dump all the tiles everyone was helping to remove.
The Habitat staff stopped us for water breaks, making everyone climb down, drink some water and rest. And we enjoyed a long lunch break, with a beautifully displayed spread of sandwiches, tangerines, carrots, chips and cookies provided by Jane Gutman, CW’73, PAR’14, PAR’16, one of Penn Serves LA’s directors. While we ate, our group talked about jobs, where we lived, and what we studied at Penn. Everyone seemed happy to be there and were enjoying the tough work since we were doing it together.
Habitat for Humanity currently has grants to work on homes in three areas of Los Angeles, and Lynwood is one. The family we were completing the house for currently lives in 100 square feet of housing. Recipients of homes are asked to contribute “sweat equity” of 250 or 500 hours, depending on whether their home was remodeled or whether they were receiving a newly built home. They get 30-year mortgages with no interest, and only one person has ever defaulted because the folks who get the houses are all hard workers with good credit.
The roof our group removed was 1,600 square feet, and we worked alongside the woman and her family who will be living in the house. They were great and so excited about their future home.
“What a fantastic experience it was to work alongside so many terrific young Penn alums and their friends. We got crazy dirty doing really hard work, but it was so satisfying and the group was Quaker strong, determined and indefatigable,” said Jane Gutman.
Jane continued, “I am soooo tired and wait ‘til you see the photos showing how dirty we were…I probably won’t be able to walk or move tomorrow, but the Habitat guys were so encouraging and supportive and our group totally came together and just never stopped…an awesome day!”
The Habitat for Humanity event, which was co-sponsored by the Southern California Regional Advisory Board, Wharton Club of Southern California, and PennClubLA, was the fourth Penn Serves LA event since its launch in May 2012.
See all of the photos from our day here.
Are you active in community service? Want to get your favorite nonprofit involved? If you have a nonprofit in mind for a future Penn Serves LA event, let us know. Our initiative provides alumni with the unique opportunity to showcase their favorite charitable organization. Send us an email at email@example.com with your name and Penn affiliation, the organization you would like us to serve, why you got involved and how Penn Serves might help. The group would like to expand to other cities, so please contact us if you’d like to spearhead a similar effort in your town.
Penn Serves LA is an initiative to encourage Penn alumni, parents and family across all schools and all years to come together and serve those in need through established nonprofits working in underserved communities. Children and spouses of alumni and parents of current students are also invited to participate (please check age requirements). Penn Serves LA is regularly scheduling service events throughout the year. Penn Serves LA is working in partnership with PennClubLA, Wharton Club of Southern California, and SCRAB.
You can read about our first event at Turning Point Shelter in Santa Monica, our second event at the Midnight Mission, and our third event at Inner City Arts.
The Penn Softball team volunteered at Habitat for Humanity in New Jersey – here’s the link to a story and video about their experience.
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