Strolling down a quiet stretch of Baltimore Avenue yesterday afternoon, one might have heard a faint shuffling of feet and ripping tape inside a small, unassuming house just west of 41st Street.
This building — home of the Philadelphia Veterans Comfort House — opened its doors to Penn students this weekend as part of PRISM’s Interfaith Service Weekend.
PRISM, which stands for “Programs in Religion, Interfaith, and Spirituality Matters,” has organized an interfaith service weekend every semester since 2010. Last semester, nearly 140 students worked on volunteer projects here on campus and throughout West Philadelphia.
According to College senior and PRISM co-chair Mia Garuccio, a total of about 100 students volunteered over the weekend.
On Sunday morning the volunteers met up at Hillel for a light breakfast of Auntie Anne’s pretzels and juice from Wawa, before Garuccio and Penn’s Associate Chaplain Steve Kocher arrived to drive the volunteers to various projects in the neighborhood.
Starting around 10 a.m., a small group continued their work from Saturday on painting the veterans house’s stairway, front hall and kitchen area.
Wharton freshman Griffith Gates — one of several students working yesterday at the veterans house — explained that not all of the volunteers that day were necessarily involved in religious groups on campus. Gates, for instance, had gotten involved in the service weekend through his Management 100 team.
At the veterans house, students worked alongside the house’s residents — all veterans working to find employment and permanent housing — taping off sections of the walls, mixing paint and cleaning brushes.
“It’s a huge learning experience, trying to be able to provide an escape — both for us and for them,” said School of Education doctoral student and Christian Association student board member Geeta Aneja, who was the veterans house site leader over the weekend.
And this interaction between students and people in the neighborhood, Garuccio said, is one of the weekend’s hallmarks.
“When I was driving the volunteers around to their project sites, they were all really excited about working with the people that actually benefited from the work they’re doing,” she added. “That’s something [the volunteers] really vocalized.”
On Saturday, volunteers reported to more than half a dozen locations to lend a hand at such activities as painting at West Catholic High School, City School at Spruce Hill and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, laying safety turf at The Jubilee School and grounds cleaning Mt. Zion Baptist Church.