Tag Archives: Penn Serves

Penn Serves LA Assists with L.A. Works Pop Up Day of Service Focused on Family and Youth Homelessness (August 2017)

by Michal Clements, W’84

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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).

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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.

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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!

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Filed under Los Angeles, Penn Serves LA, Penn Spectrum

Penn Serves Picks Fruit with Food Forward LA

By Jane Gutman, CW’73, PAR’14, PAR’16

It was a scorching day in the Valley (95 degrees!), but twenty some hearty and enthusiastic Penn Serves LA alumni and family gathered at lovely Orcutt Farm (where two of our volunteers had gotten married) to spend Saturday afternoon assiting Food Forward. Since its start almost eight years ago, Food Forward has “rescued” over 25 million pounds (or 100 million servings) of fresh local produce. The math is quite simple: using volunteers, Food Forward connects surplus food produce with food insecure people in our community.

Penn Serves LA ready to help pick fruit for Food Forward

Penn Serves LA ready to help pick fruit for Food Forward, photo courtesy of Jane Gutman

Penn Serves LA gets instructions from Food Forward, photo by Kiera Reilly

Penn Serves LA gets instructions from Food Forward, photo by Kiera Reilly

Armed with long tools resembling lacrosse sticks with metal baskets, we went into a beautiful and shady grove of orange trees and chatted about our Penn experiences, families and work while carefully catching oranges and filling boxes – a very social and productive time. It was all so easy and so much fun to make a little difference for our community!

Penn Serves LA picks fruit for Food Forward

Getting to work picking fruit, photo by Jane Gutman.

Picking fruit for Food Forwardy, photo by Kiera Reilly

Picking fruit for Food Forward, photo by Kiera Reilly

Our Food Forward team leader Jane Gutman with another Penn alumna volunteer, photo by Kiera Reilly

Our Food Forward team leader Jane Gutman with another Penn alumna volunteer, photo by Kiera Reilly

The morning group had picked 6,000 pounds of oranges and, as slightly competitive Ivy Leaguers (with a few other groups out there helping too), we were delighted to learn our final count was more than 6,400 pounds of gorgeous, juicy oranges. Given that Food Forward is such a well oiled machine, we were informed that later that very day the fruit we picked would be enjoyed by people at some of the more than 300 hunger relief agencies they serve across eight counties in Southern California.

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Lots of Red and Blue shirts helping pick fruit for Food Forward, photo by Kiera Reilly

Lots of Red and Blue shirts helping pick fruit for Food Forward, photo by Kiera Reilly

Food insecurity is one of the most devastating issues facing our community, especially given the natural abundance surrounding us. Penn Serves LA has had volunteer opportunities addressing this immense need from various angles through our work with: the Westside Food Bank, the Veteran’s Garden, the Midnight Mission, Turning Point Shelter, The Giving Spirit, Meals on Wheels, LA Kitchen and more.

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Love this shirt: Lancaster Ave., the Rodeo Drive of West Philadelphia. Photo by Kiera Reilly

Love this shirt: Lancaster Ave., the Rodeo Drive of West Philadelphia. Photo by Kiera Reilly

Penn Serves LA are great events for Penn families!

Penn Serves LA are great events for Penn families!

As always, our Food Forward Penn Serves LA volunteers represented a broad cross section of schools and years at the Red and the Blue. Once again, we were thrilled to meet many new volunteers and to see other familiar faces. The Penn Serves LA community continues to grow, as we add to the list of extraordinary non-profit organizations we are fortunate to serve in Los Angeles.

Thank you…see you next time!! Our next event? September 23.

For more information or to volunteer with Food Forward, go to: https://foodforward.org.

Penn Serves LA after picking 6,400 pounds of fruit with Food Forward

6,400 pounds of fruit later! Photo courtesy of Jane Gutman

6,400 pounds of fruit that Penn Serves LA helped pick for Food Forward, photo by Kiera Reilly

6,400 pounds of fruit that Penn Serves LA helped pick for Food Forward, photo by Kiera Reilly

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.

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 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.

Our next event – September 23. We will be helping to restore the Ballona Creek Wetlands. For more information and to register, click here.

Contact Us

Questions? Want to join our email list? Reach us at pennserves@gmail.com.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter!

The Penn Serves LA Team

Christine Belgrad, W’85, PAR’15 | 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 | Jeff Weston, C’05 | Denise Winner, W’83

Read about our previous events:

 

 

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Filed under Alumni Programming, Jane G., Los Angeles, Penn Serves, Penn Serves LA, Volunteering

Penn Serves LA Toasts the New Year

By Irene Park, C’05

Tucked away in the warm and welcoming home of alumna, Christine Belgrad, Penn  alumni from a cross-section of backgrounds, interests, professions, schools, and years gathered to celebrate the work of, and welcome interested new members to the Penn Serves LA New Year Social in late January.

Guests chatted easily over wine, beers, and light refreshment provided by Penn Serves LA board members, which lent to an elegant yet homey feel. The highlight, of course, being alumna Kiera Reilly’s “P” for Penn shaped sugar cookies! Herein lies the very nature and appeal that is so unique to Penn Serves LA: Started by a small group of alumni who have always been philanthropically inclined whose passion was to serve their community while connecting with other alumni made this organization a true grassroots effort. It was a void that they met outside of the mandate of other existing alumni groups and the University; one that the LA alumni community and its community partners had no idea was missing until the need was met.

sugar cookies baked by Kiera Reilly, C'93 for Penn Serves LA New Year Social

Home baked sugar cookies from Kiera Reilly, C’93 – Red and Blue P’s for Penn of course

Once a majority of the guests arrived, everyone gathered in the living room and shared their experience at Penn and what brought them to the Penn Serves Social that evening. Over the sounds of a roaring fireplace, the room was brimming with a fellowship between friends and strangers alike with one shared history and love, Penn. All jokes about the oldest alumnus in the room and on-campus curfews aside, the genuine excitement over projects they’ve participated in with Penn Serves LA since its inception in 2012 (in a ‘meet cute’ facilitated by Kiera who brought together alumni superstars, Jane Gutman, Leanne Huebner, Aileen Level, and Denise Winner) was palpable.

Penn LA alumni introduce themselves at the Penn Serves LA New Year Social

Penn LA alumni introduce themselves at the Penn Serves LA New Year Social

Much of what has captivated the alumni community is Penn Serves LA’s disregard for the geographical boundaries generally defined by popularity and traffic. Additionally, instead of marrying itself to one particular organization, cause, or issue, Penn Serves LA addresses a broad-spectrum of needs throughout the community. Penn Serves LA has fed the homeless, built homes, refurbished schools, knitted blankets for babies and new mothers in need, and gardened for Vets just to name few of their projects. This inclusive approach not only means alumni have the opportunity to deepen or discover new organizations, causes, or skills, but it also means more organizations are getting the help they need. Some Penn Serves LA members have gone from a single day volunteer to a regular volunteer to become an organization’s Board member.

Learning about Penn Serves LA

Learning more about Penn Serves LA

From the South Bay to Downtown LA, from the west side to East LA, our alumni are happily committing their weekends to regroup from the buzzy focus of their careers and daily responsibilities to meet new alumni, strengthen existing relationships, connect with people and places they may never have organically met, while serving the community. Though many of the organizations and communities served by Penn Serves LA are ones that its committee is already familiar, they also welcome and have partnered with organizations suggested by alumni volunteers.

A great crowd of alumni of all ages and backgrounds coming to learn about Penn Serves LA

A great crowd of alumni of all ages and backgrounds coming to learn about Penn Serves LA

The moment that solidified the evening for me, and the reason I’ve committed to the organization since its inception was when an alumnus that I had met, perhaps once at another volunteer event, gave me a familial hug after his eyes lit up at the idea of being able to bring his professional resources to Penn Serves LA. Though we all had our own private pursuits, professionally and personally, we felt as though we were unified for the common purpose of doing good. Truly the Quaker way.

It wouldn't be a Penn LA without a great spread of food and wine!

It wouldn’t be a Penn LA without a great spread of food and wine!

About Penn Serves LA

pennservesla_logo_final-1

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

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 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.

Upcoming Events

  • March, 2017 – Food Forward Harvesting – Date and Location TBA
  • April, 29, 2017 – Habitat for Humanity

Contact Us

Questions? Want to join our email list? Reach us at pennserves@gmail.com.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter!

The Penn Serves LA Team

Christine Belgrad, W’85, PAR’15 | 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 | Jeff Weston, C’05 | Denise Winner, W’83

Read about our previous events:

 

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Filed under Guest blogger, Los Angeles, Penn Serves, Penn Serves LA, Volunteering

Blankets of Love

By Denise Winner, W’83

Penn Serves launched the New Year intertwining crocheting, wine and cheese, and Quaker spirit to support Blankets of Love. Over 25 alumni and friends (women and a couple of men too) joined together for a late afternoon training session to learn to crochet in Manhattan Beach. We began with a crochet hook, learned a split knot, made a bunch of loops, practiced on the first row, ripped it out, crocheted a second row (or in some cases ripped it out again) and eventually crocheted the beginnings of a wool scarf.

Blankets of Love was founded less than a year ago from love and hope for every newborn. The organization is in memory of the founders’ beautiful son, Justin Strand, who died way too early due to drug abuse and bad luck. “Babies are on loan from God – love them, raise them and release them”, shares Cyndi Strand, one of the founders. Whether circumstances are bleak or bright, the Strands look forward to creating handmade Blankets of Love to bring some sense of security and joy to babies leaving MLK and other hospitals with mothers and families who have little or no means, or who are living on the street.

 

The January Penn Serves event was the first organized training and crocheting session for this non-profit. Hopefully those who participated will embrace this new hobby, finish their scarves and move on to a 36 by 36 inch Blanket of Love.

For those interested in donating, blankets must be knit from acrylic or other washable yarns. Learn more about Blankets of Love: http://blanketsoflovesouthbay.com/.

About Penn Serves LA

pennservesla_logo_final-1

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

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 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.

Upcoming Events

  • January 26, 2017 – Penn Serves Social
  • March, 2017 – Food Forward Harvesting
  • April, 29, 2017 – Habitat for Humanity

Contact Us

Questions? Want to join our email list? Reach us at pennserves@gmail.com.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter!

The Penn Serves LA Team

Christine Belgrad, W’85, PAR’15 | 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 | Jeff Weston, C’05 | Denise Winner, W’83

Read about our previous events:

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Filed under Los Angeles, Penn Serves, Penn Serves LA, Uncategorized, Volunteering

Got books? Penn Serves LA Staffs ICEF’s First Literacy Festival

By Leanne Huebner, W’90

Almost 100 students and family members joined the First Annual ICEF Literacy Festival, staffed by Penn Serves LA volunteers. The event was held at the newly-built View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter Elementary School, one of the schools of ICEF Public Schools located on Crenshaw Boulevard in Inglewood.  

ICEF Public Schools

Led by CEO and Wharton graduate Parker Hudnut,  ICEF Public Schools is a Los Angeles based charter operator that operates nine inner-city charter schools serving over 3,500 K-12 students. ICEF’s goal is to prepare all students to attend and compete at the nation’s top 100 colleges and universities by focusing on the 3 As – Academics, Arts and Athletics.

Creating the Literacy Day with Penn Serves LA

When approached by Penn Serves co-founder Denise Winner, W’83, with how Penn Serves might assist ICEF, Parker jumped at the opportunity and worked with Denise to develop the concept of hosting a day around books and literacy. “We host an Arts Day and Sports Day, so a Literacy Festival was the perfect catalyst to connect Penn Serves and our mission,” shared Hudnut.

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These two students stopped by after their soccer games and checked in at the ICEF Literacy Festival

“At Penn Serves, we love to offer high impact volunteer days and jump on opportunities where we can impact an underserved, underresourced area,” shared Denise. “In the past, we have helped a Lincoln Heights charter school move to a new building, painted the classrooms of new charter school in South Gate, and hosted the first graduation celebration for Richstone. This year we were thrilled to work directly with students and focus on literacy.”

Students had access to a camping-themed reading room with tents and flashlights, a free book exchange, classrooms set for reading out loud, and book-themed arts and crafts tents.  Three local children book authors were on hand for impromptu readings and conversations on why they wrote their books.  Penn Alumni were encouraged to bring their own children to both celebrate literacy and provide a working hand.   Throughout the day, Penn alumni were offering their reading help to younger students and creating crafty projects with young students, while older elementary students demonstrated their reading skills by reading out loud.

“It was a great day for all – and fun to share our love of reading with the students,” shared Kiera Reilly, C’93, one of the Penn Serves board members.

ICEF team members hope to make the event an annual fall event and hope Penn Serves will continue to be part of its success going forward.

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Penn Serves LA volunteers, ICEF staff and students are excited about reading!

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ICEF Public Schools CEO Parker Hudnut (in purple shirt) poses with Penn Serves LA, students and one of the children’s book authors at the ICEF Literacy Festival

You can see more photos from the ICEF Public Schools Literacy day here.

About Penn Serves LA

pennservesla_logo_final-1

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

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 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.

Upcoming Events

Contact Us

Questions? Want to join our email list? Reach us at pennserves@gmail.com.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter!

The Penn Serves LA Team

Christine Belgrad, W’85, PAR’15 | 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 | Jeff Weston, C’05 | Denise Winner, W’83

Read about our previous events:

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Filed under Alumni Programming, Kiera R., Los Angeles, Penn Serves, Penn Serves LA, Volunteering

Penn Serves LA: Finding our Inner Artists at Inner-City Arts

Inner City photo 1 v2

More than 70 local Penn alumni and family members turned out in force on the last Saturday in January to work alongside the children of Commonwealth Avenue Elementary School at Penn Serves LA’s third “sold out” community service event. Volunteers and children were asked to make their own shadow puppets and perform in a show featuring storytelling and world music. Famous children stories from around the world were acted out by the participants. Using black paper cardstock paper, tissue paper, and bamboo rods, volunteers were taught the ancient art form of shadow puppets. The first use of shadow puppets were believed to have been 2,000 years ago in China to entertain the Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.

The event was held at Inner-City Arts, a nonprofit art center located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Inner-City Arts helps underserved children and teens engage in a process of self-discovery through art. The center serves at-risk youth from all over Los Angeles to give the opportunity for arts education both in their schools and at the center.

The award-winning contemporary building, designed by Michael Maltzan and Nancy Goslee Power, provides an inviting, open, and free environment for safe exploration, creativity, designing, growing and learning.

Inner-City Arts Campus in Downtown Los Angeles

Inner-City Arts Campus in Downtown Los Angeles

“We are so thrilled to expose Penn alumni to Inner-City Arts,” shares Denise Winner, W’83, one of Penn Serves LA directors. “For future events we would love to get more alumni to nominate their favorite nonprofits who could use a group of dedicated volunteers for a day event.”

“We founded this group to give our time to needy communities and to expose them to the talent that Penn alumni can offer their organizations. Serving together as alumni is just an added plus,” shares Leanne Huebner, another Penn Serves LA director. “Our hope is that some participants volunteer more often with the selected nonprofits if they so desire.”

Penn Serves LA’s fourth event, on Saturday, March 9th, is already SOLD OUT. The group is volunteering to renovate a home for a family in need through Habitat for Humanity. The event is being co-sponsored by the Southern California Regional Advisory Board (SCRAB), Wharton Club of Southern California, and PennClubLA.

Children enjoy the excitement of their work displayed.

Children enjoy the excitement of their work displayed.

Families, Children and Alumni show off their puppets.

Families, Children and Alumni show off their puppets.

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 pennservesla@gmail.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.

 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. You can read about our first event at Turning Point Shelter in Santa Monica, and our second event at the Midnight Mission. Penn Serves LA is working in partnership with PennClubLA, Wharton Club of Southern California, and SCRAB.

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Alumni Programming, Clubs, Events, GAN, Guest blogger, Los Angeles, Penn Clubs, Penn Serves LA, Photos, Volunteering, West Coast Regional Office

Penn Serves LA: The Midnight Mission

One Volunteer’s Perspective from Inside the Kitchen Looking Out and Up:  Penn Serves LA: the Midnight Mission

By Leanne Huebner, W’90

Frankly speaking, I was quite unsure what to expect as we approached the Skid Row address of the Midnight Mission for our second Penn Serves LA Event. My ten-year old son John and I joined 15 other local Los Angeles Penn alumni at the Mission to serve lunch to the homeless. Penn Serves is a new initiative to encourage various Los Angeles alumni to serve together in community service activities at established local nonprofits. The downtown-based Midnight Mission is the longest continuously operating nonprofit in Los Angeles serving the homeless. While I knew it would be an interesting experience, little did I know how much I would observe in just a few short hours.

Justin Gordon, W’05, Snehit Neenakri, GEN’09, Terry Baris, C’84, Irene Park, C’05, Christopher Regan, Trisha Fowler, C’89, Cheryl Miller, Ian Davis, Alexa Ebner, Elizabeth Kopple, C’94, WG’99, Denise Winner, W’83, Leanne Huebner, W’90, John Huebner and more all serve.

Our team was first greeted by an articulate, middle-aged man named Ryan, who would serve as our tour guide. Ryan first showed us the outdoor courtyard (no larger than 40 feet by 80 feet), where more than 100 homeless sleep each night literally head to toe. Some individuals have been sleeping there consistently since the courtyard’s opening in 2005. Our guide shared that some homeless are steadfastly resistant to accepting help of any kind and how it is an accomplishment in itself just to get the homeless to sleep in this enclosed courtyard with its heated lamps and security. Ryan understood the mentality of this population as he then shares details of his own recent stint with homelessness as a heroin addict. Thanks to the Mission and its programs, he is now on his way to living a clean, healthy life and hopefully reconnecting with his 6-year old daughter.

Ryan informs us of the root causes of homelessness. Of the 51,000 homeless in L.A. County, the Mission has found that roughly one third of them suffer from mostly-untreated mental health problems, while another third have abused alcohol or drugs. The final third have simply fallen on hard economic times. Centers like the Mission look to help in any way it can serve this population. Currently, the Midnight Mission is serving about 90,000 meals a month, its highest rate since the Great Depression.

Next stop was the Multipurpose Room where approximately 200 people sat on metal folding chairs with eyes pinned on two 30’ inch television screens. Minus the sound of the TVs, you could hear a pin drop but I discounted that observation as a huge interest in the particular program. We then pass by their small barber shop where volunteer beauticians regularly offer free haircuts and their small library where the homeless can feel comfortable checking out books. Next, we visit their gym where the residents of the Mission are required to participate in physical education regularly. Here, residents play league basketball against corporate teams and the L.A.P.D.

After the tour, we head off to work, as the lines were forming outside for entrance. We are told to expect to serve 700-800 meals over the next hour or so. The sheer amount of meals served is always larger at the end of the month, because many of the homeless’ SSI and disability payments would have been depleted by now. Ryan shares that 64% of the homeless whom qualify for government assistance do not actually receive it.

Ian Davis, Snehit Neenakri, and Christopher Regan preparing tomato sauce.

Penn alumni, now costumed in hair nets, latex gloves and aprons, head off to man the cafeteria line for an inviting meal of beef macaroni, corn, salad, yogurt, and bread. My son John and I head with a few other alumni inside the kitchen to open up hundreds of tomato sauce and Snapple cans. John finds his nitch dumping Snapple in a large pot next to another kitchen helper, who later compliments him for working hard.

10-year old John Huebner finds his job.

Restless, I meandered over to check out the front line. The line for food was long, straight and orderly with at least 100 people waiting every time I peeked. Several would re-enter the line for seconds and thirds. My normally cheery self just wanted to smile at each to offer a bit of joy but very few would even make the eye contact to accept the warm gesture. Only one in ten actually even spoke, one volunteer calculated. Several just pointed and grunted to where they wanted the food placed. The room was somber.

The lunch line staffed by Penn Alumni.

Shifting from kitchen to the line, I again noticed more lack of talking and interacting as the homeless stood in line, gathered their food and poured over their free meal. How could a few hundred people be in a room “enjoying” a meal with little to no conversation? I was comparing the noise level to that of my sons’ school cafeteria – which is quite loud despite being half this room’s size. The lack of conversation and camaraderie reflected the fact that these people are in survival and existence mode; perhaps they just didn’t want to connect even with each other. The streets are tough places to live; I suspect there are many social norms that would differ greatly from mainstream society. Perhaps, silence is one of those norms. Why draw attention to yourself when, according to one study, nearly 43% of homeless suffer from physical attacks using a weapon?

My personal highlight was interacting with a team with the men working inside the kitchen. Each kitchen helper was currently living in the Mission and this job was part of their path out of homelessness. Midnight Mission has a 12-step program to self-sufficiency, and I could feel the power of the program working right there at that moment. These kitchen workers were noticeably happier, with the value of having work for their hands that day. We joked over the hamburger sliders donated from a “fancy restaurant” as we contemplated why they called them “sliders” in the first place. One worker shared how he looked forward to finishing the program and hoped to find a job in food service. The head kitchen worker joked that he wanted to be in our photos and how he wants us to come back again.   In the brief time I was there, all of these residents were respectful, hardworking, and very appropriately funny. You could tell they enjoyed each other’s company and were grateful for the extra hands from us.

As part of their contract with the Mission, each resident agrees to be clean of drugs and alcohol, work at the Mission, and complete the 12-step program. When appropriate, some even pay a $200 rent in apartments at the Mission as residents prepare for the outside world. “Let’s make no bones about it.  This program is rehab. It is not fancy Hollywood-like or Malibu-beautiful, but that is what it is. And this is the last stop for these guys,” shares Ryan, “They either make it or they don’t.”

The stark difference between the men preparing the food (all formerly homeless) and those on the other receiving line was quite remarkable and noteworthy to me. From my novice eye, the difference seemed to be the hope for the future and the knowledge they now were on the path made possible by the privately-funded Mission. Perhaps the difference also was the fact that inside the kitchen the men had purpose – soup to stir in large vats, large metal trays to wash, plastic cups to fill and extra napkins to find. By the time lunch was finished and the alums prepared to leave, the kitchen staff was already planning and talking about the dinner responsibilities.

My fellow volunteers and I shared that we couldn’t help but thinking our own problems paled in comparison to those of the individuals we fed and met that day. The average stay inside Midnight Mission is 18 months, whereby approximately two men graduate each week, or roughly 100 men a year. Seeing the difference between those within the kitchen and those accepting the food demonstrated to me the power of intervention programming. The Mission is and has always been funded 100% by private foundations and individuals. If only we had more Midnight Missions in the world.

Thank you to all the Penn Serves volunteers for the Midnight Mission. We hope you will serve again for the next event. Thank you to Denise Winner for arranging our group’s participation at Midnight Mission for Penn Serves LA.  Contact pennservesla@gmail.com for future events or if you want to get more involved. 

To read the post about the first Penn Serves LA event, at Turning Point Shelter in Santa Monica, click here.

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