Penn Serves LA Makes Mosaics with Piece by Piece

By Jane Gutman, CW’73, PAR’ 14, PAR’16

Inspired by a 2006 visit to a micro-finance enterprise, training and employing women with HIV to make animals and dolls using seed beads in South Africa, Piece by Piece founder, artist Sophie Alpert, returned home with a desire to replicate this model as a mosaic workshop to empower people in underserved areas of Los Angeles.


Detail of a mosaic piece the Penn Serves LA volunteers worked on during their visit.

People seeking new skills from South Central, Skid Row or other parts of LA can take training and certification classes in mosaic arts, free of charge, through Piece by Piece.  The artisans primarily use recycled materials (broken tiles, china, and glass) to create mirrors, trivets, wall décor, etc.  In March at our day to volunteer with Piece by Piece, the Penn Serves LA group received their own brief instruction in mosaic making: breaking up and chipping china, using thinset and other adherents, and basic design, before charging ahead with their own creations.

Our enthusiastic Quakers worked in groups on designs for decorating flower pots, and also took turns applying mosaic fragments on a large birdbath.  Reticent at the start, everyone found their rhythm and enthusiastically worked through lunch….but food ultimately beckoned, and fortunately, Piece by Piece has their showroom at Mercado La Paloma, an inviting space in the Figueroa Corridor which was once a garment factory.   This wonderful community revitalization project today provides affordable cultural, retail and culinary opportunities and serves as a vital hub for the area.

The Penn volunteers learned a new skill, made friends across the decades, enjoyed Vegan Ethiopian food (for example) and shopped for handmade copper bowls, embroidered blouses or woven satchels.  I came home with a magnificent mosaic wall hanging with a huge heart made up of white stones, surrounded pieces of blue and white pottery…this creation, made b a master mosaic artist,  will long remind me of the heart-filled joint venture between Penn Serves LA volunteers and the Piece by Piece community.

To learn more, shop or volunteer your time, please go to

Penn Serves LA Piece by Piece

The Penn Serves LA volunteers pose with their mosaic pieces

Upcoming Events

About Penn Serves LA

Penn Serves LA logo volunteering with Penn Alumni in Los Angeles

Penn Serves LA impacts the Los Angeles community by engaging University of Pennsylvania alumni, parents and families in meaningful community service activities.

Since our founding in 2012, we have done everything from serving meals to the homeless to restoring the environment to fixing homes. Six times annually, we find another great opportunity to learn about interesting nonprofits, lend a hand and enjoy a fun experience with fellow alumni.

Join Us

We invite the Penn community in Los Angeles (alumni, parents, and kids) to join us at a future event, to help spread the word and to help us plan future activities. Join us, meet new Penn people, demonstrate what service means to your kids and friends, and help fellow Quakers make a little bit of difference in our complex city!

If you have an established nonprofit that you would like us to consider for future events or announcements, please let us know. We are looking for new nonprofits to serve in meaningful ways.

Contact Us

Questions? Want to join our email list? Reach us at

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The Penn Serves LA Team

Michal Clements, W’84 | Justin Gordon, W’05 | Jane Gutman, CW’73, PAR’14, PAR’16 | Leanne Huebner, W’90 | Jamie Kendall, W’04 | Irene Park, C’05 | Kiera Reilly, C’93 | Michelle Wattana, C’09 | Denise Winner, W’83, PAR’21

Read about our previous events:


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Filed under Los Angeles, Penn Serves, Volunteering

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