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Instead of sitting down at 1920 Commons to discuss Spring Fling plans, some students caught a glimpse of what a life in service looks like.

Last night in Houston Hall, the Civic House Associates Coalition hosted the CHAC Community Dinner to facilitate discussion between local nonprofit organization leaders and Penn students.

The inspiration for the dinner had come from a similar one held during Penn Corps, a community service-focused pre-orientation program. The event was part of an effort by CHAC to “diversify” its programming, said College junior and CHAC board member Lindsey Lansky.

She added that CHAC envisioned the event as “a way to foster dialogue about social issues and encourage people to get involved with nonprofits.”

The organizations’ representatives were seated according to their particular focus — including health care, poverty relief, education, environmental preservation, sustainable food and women’s, children’s and LGBT issues.

At one table, Attic Youth Center co-founder and Executive Director Carrie Jacobs described her organization’s mission as offering support to LGBTQ youth through both social services and community activities.

The Center also runs the Bryson Institute, which trains organizations in best practices for working with members of the LGBTQ community. “We started at a time when people didn’t even believe that there were real LGBT people, but things are different now,” Jacobs said.

Across the room, the manager of the Maternity Care Coalition’s Cribs for Kids program discussed how her worked to “reduce infant mortality, especially by working with prenatal and postpartum mothers.” Next to her, Anna Hunt of the Esperanza Health Center defined its role as a “behavioral health consultant, briefing patients in their interactions with their care providers.”

CHAC’s goal in hosting the event, however, came through most clearly in the interactions between students and the nonprofit leaders. A third table included Achievability’s Director of Special Projects Terry Guerra and the Knowledge is Power Program West Philadelphia Prep’s assistant principal Ryane Burke.

Achievability works to “help low-income and single-parent families to break the cycle of poverty,” Guerra said. KIPP, on the other hand, runs four Philadelphia charter schools which have “a strong focus on both character and academics … and getting students the opportunities they want.”

The three students at this table then discussed their own experiences in classrooms and volunteering. College junior Connie Hua said she hoped to learn more about “education and how best to help out.”

College sophomore Jessie Goldman added that the emphasis on community in schools like Burke’s seemed particularly beneficial. “In the school I worked in, that sense of ‘I have to support my classmate’ wasn’t there,” she said.

When the conversation shifted to KIPP, Hua asked if its co-founder Mike Feinberg was in fact a Penn graduate. A quick Wikipedia check revealed that he had graduated in 1991.

Ultimately, that seemed like the kind of post-graduation work that the Community Dinner hoped to encourage.

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