A new group is challenging the established role of student-run service organizations at Penn.
ENGAGE is a student-run think-and-action tank that incorporates research, grassroots involvement and community-level communication in the hopes of developing solutions to pertinent social issues in Philadelphia. On Monday at the Christian Association, the ENGAGE team gathered with prospective new members. Founders Dan Kurland and Neil Cholli, both College juniors, talked about the experiences that led them to create ENGAGE.
When Kurland and Cholli began their organization they wanted to be different from other community service establishments at Penn. After seeing the gritty reality of urban life — Kurland in an urban journalism course and Cholli during a social activism internship — the two came up with the concept of ENGAGE.
“We couldn’t follow this agency client model of providing a service almost like a business to community members. ... We wanted to go deeper than that and work with people, not for people,” Cholli said. Instead of imposing themselves on communities as “do-gooders,” they wished to have conversations with people about the issues that were affecting them. ENGAGE stresses the importance of both the “think” and “action” parts of a think-and-action tank, and is currently generating project ideas based on research they have aggregated since their founding.
The organization has released a 70-page status report that details the research in each of the social categories that its members study. Kurland focuses on gun violence and Cholli on economic opportunity, while other team members are examining the controversy over Medicaid, immigrant entrepreneurship, poverty and financial literacy and minority voter participation.
“If you go to a homeless shelter, any person you’ll see will probably have faced many or all the issues we’ve talked about,” Cholli said. He believes that it’s important to consider the ways that Philadelphia’s social problems overlap.
Kurland believes that their extensive research is necessary to build a foundation from which they can develop projects. They have studied statistics and had conversations with victims, community members, city counselors and established organizations in order to prepare for the “action” part of their think-and-action goals. Next Saturday, Kurland and a teammate will be setting up voting registration booths in areas where Hispanic populations may not have access to these services.
ENGAGE is eager for new members that are interested in a unique and diverse service opportunity. When asked what type of students they are looking to recruit as new members, Kurland replied that “the number one thing is a love and care for the Philadelphia community; a desire to help people.”Comments powered by Disqus
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