by Michal Clements, W’84
On a hot Saturday morning, fourteen Penn Serves LA volunteers turned out bright and early to assist with L.A. Works Pop Up Day of Service in Griffith Park. L.A. Works mission is “to empower Angelenos to address pressing social issues through volunteerism and community collaboration.” While L.A. Works (http://www.laworks.com) offers a variety of hands-on community service projects intended to benefit different groups, the focus of this particular day was the important issue of family and youth homelessness. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s report to Congress found that LA had the most chronically homeless people in the nation (13,000) and the most homeless veterans (2,800) and unaccompanied homeless youth (more than 3,000).
After a brief overview from L.A. Works leaders, Penn Serves volunteers swung into action, with each Penn Serves volunteer assigned to a specific cohort (e.g., 4B) of fifteen to twenty-five other volunteers. We led our assigned cohort to work stations in tents and then joined them in participating in the hands-on activities. Activities included making sandwiches, making quilts for the homeless, assembling toiletry/self-care kits that included handmade origami with encouraging notes, and more. After about twenty to thirty minutes for a given experience, the Penn Serves volunteer led the cohort to their next assignment.
We also had the opportunity to learn from experts about the many initiatives underway to address L.A.’s Homeless at the Advocacy tents. We heard personal histories from members of the stories of Skid Row community. One woman mentioned that Skid Row is dramatically under represented for toilets (perhaps six hundred to one) and that there is an opportunity to address this basic, perhaps with temporary structures. We also heard from Meg Barclay, City of Los Angeles Homeless Coordinator about LA’s Prop HHH efforts to build and encourage the creation of 10,000 permanent housing units for the chronically homeless.
This was the last in the Penn Serves LA 2016-2017 year programming. Looking back over the year, it’s satisfying to reflect on the many different opportunities we had to serve this year and to consider the impact we have made. In addition to L.A. Works, our Penn Serves LA activities included feeding the hungry and reducing food waste with L.A. Kitchen, staffing ICEF’s first literacy festival, crocheting with Blankets of Love, building a home with Habitat LA, painting with Portraits of Hope, harvesting fruit with Food Forward. It’s worth noting that the deliberate choice of the Penn Serves LA board is for the group to serve multiple not for profits, in different geographies, with different focuses, rather than to repeat or to concentrate on a particular organization. This is because Penn alumni are attracted to different service opportunities, live in geographically diverse parts of LA, and this allows them to see if they are attracted to any particular one on an going basis.
I look forward to another great year in 2017-2018!