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The Netter Center held a basketball clinic as part of its Alumni Weekend last year.

Credit: Courtesy of Netter Center

Alumni Weekend isn't just about returning to campus to reunite with classmates. For the Netter Center, Alumni Weekend is an opportunity to connect Penn graduates with the West Philadelphia community. 

On Alumni Weekend, May 15-17, the Netter Center for Community Partnerships will be hosting a number of events. 

"This interest originally came from other alumni," Netter Center Assistant Director Rita Hodges said. A number of graduated classes have contacted the Netter Center over the past several years to conduct a service project over Alumni Weekend, Hodges said, but those plans never really worked out. As a result, Netter has made an effort over the past couple of years to plan Alumni Weekend events in a more engaged way, implementing panels and other events to make this possible. 

Alumni panels:

The Netter Center will be hosting two panel discussions over the course of the weekend: one on Friday entitled "The Class of '80 Story," and the other on Saturday, featuring a number of alumni involved with Netter's work.

Friday's "Class of '80 Story" panel will feature the class's efforts over the past five years working with Sayre High School. "The idea is to share their story," Hodges said. 

After the Class of 1980's 30th reunion in 2010, members of the class decided that they wanted to be more involved with the West Philadelphia community. "We wanted another reason to exist besides to plan a party every five years," Class of 1980 Vice President Len Bernstein said. "So we sat down at our reunion planning meeting and thought, 'Perhaps we can come up with a project that benefits Penn and gives us another reason to exist as a class to get something accomplished.'"

Since 2010, the Class of 1980 has worked very closely with Sayre High School students. Netter Center Associate Vice President and Director Ira Harkavy was able to connect the class to Sayre. "[Harkavy] felt that they really could use a relationship with us as mentors," Class of '80 President Jayne Perilstein said. Alumni from the class who live locally take Sayre students out to various career-related field trips with hopes to expose them to places of interest in the city.

"The whole purpose of the panel is for us to get the word out about what we're doing so that other classes could start thinking about doing an ongoing community service project through Netter," Perilstein said. 

The second panel, on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., will focus on featuring alumni who were involved during their undergraduate years. "It's a discussion of several different ways that folks involved with Netter can do some good," Bernstein, who will be serving as a panelist, said. Netter is looking to make this an interactive panel followed by an informal reception afterwards. 

Return of Final Four captains:

On Saturday, May 16, the 1979 Final Four basketball co-captains will be running a "Skills and Drills" clinic as part of Netter's Alumni Weekend plans from 9 to 11 a.m. The former co-captains, Tony Price and Bobby Willis, will be hosting their event for children of Penn alumni and kids from West Philadelphia alike. 

Price's son A.J., an NBA player, will be participating in this event as well. "A.J. is a great role model for the kids," Hodges said. 

Price runs a non-profit mentoring program out of New York, the "Pay the Price Foundation." After Pay the Price has worked with kids in New York for several years, Price decided to expand his work to the Philadelphia area with Homecoming and Alumni weekend events.

"We're trying to give back to the community so this is a way for us to connect back with one, the university, and two, the West Philadelphia area," Price said. 

There will be seven or eight players from the 1979 Final Four team at the event, in addition to a number of volunteers from the community, Willis said. The clinic will have 10 different stations with two adults at each station to supervise and guide the young athletes. 

"We have a great time," Willis said.  

Book drive at the Penn Bookstore:

Netter will also be hosting a book drive, partnering with the Penn Bookstore and an organization called Bags of Books that was created by Class of '93 President Lisa Grabelle's daughter Alexa. 

Bags of Books is an organization started by 13-year-old Alexa Grabelle, the daughter of the Class of '93 president. During Alumni Weekend the group will run a book drive at the Penn Bookstore to benefit West Philladelphia schools. Bags for Books has collected 50,000 books to date, with 20,000 going to Netter and the West Philly schools.

"I think it's going to go really well, and I'm excited to see what we collect," Alexa Grabelle said. 

"Unlike other book collections where they just distribute the books to children, we give kids the choice to choose books that they're interested in," she added.

There are two ways that alumni and others on campus Alumni Weekend can get involved. One option is that people can bring new or gently used books to collection centers on campus including the bookstore, the Sweeten Center and the Netter Center. 

However, Lisa and Alexa Grabelle think the second option will be more popular. When checking out at the Penn Bookstore throughout Alumni Weekend, there will be a table of books that people can purchase and donate directly. 

"Most alumni, when they come to campus, end up going to the bookstore to buy a T-shirt or a sweatshirt or something like that. Right when they go to check out, the books are right there. They can just take a book, add it on their order, and the bookstore will collect it and put it in the bin right there for the Netter Center," Lisa Grabelle said. 

Netter set an original goal for the drive to be 30-50 books, but bookstore manager Katie Woodward encouraged shooting higher, Hodges said. Now, Netter is looking to collect 200-300 books.

"It truly has been a pleasure to work with the Netter Center," Lisa Grabelle said. 

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