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Community was the topic on the table at the United Minorities Council’s panel on Penn’s relationship with West Philadelphia. 

The UMC, a coalition of several student organizations, planned Thursday’s event as part of its annual Unity Month, which strives to bring students together through programming on interculturalism and social justice. This year’s theme is “Steps to Solidarity,” with discussions focusing on bringing disparate identities together for support and mobilization.

Speakers at Thursday’s panel included speakers from civic scholar and College senior Jordyn Myers and Netter Center Advisory Board member and 2016 College graduate Paige Lombard, as well as representatives from several NGOs. 

Lombard works with programs such as Young Quakers Community Athletics, an after-school program connecting Penn to West Philadelphia public schools. Through the program, Penn students coach West Philadelphia students in various after-school sports such as soccer and lacrosse, taking turns visiting each other’s campuses.

“One of our goals at the Netter Center is creating a mutually beneficial partnership,” Lombard said. “Part of my definition of community is that you both have skills to offer each other and both communities benefit from the relationship and interaction.”

Lombard described the important “small victories” she sees through the Netter Center’s programs, noting that a large part of success comes in the form of relationship building. Lombard said the Young Quakers program exposes kids to the idea of college and has proven to get them excited about the idea of attending one day.

Describing an example of students effectively engaging with the community, Nationalities Services Center volunteer coordinator Jessica Hinchey shared the story of a pair of college students who had spent time at NSC for a civic engagement class and decided to continue volunteering two days a week after the course ended. The students volunteered in all six of NSC’s departments, doing “anything and everything.” After a month of volunteering, the students came to Hinchey with a surprise project proposal.

“They created a program on their own time, without being asked, just because they spent so much time doing different things at NSC,” Hinchey said. “They educated themselves, talked to people, took initiative and were motivated.”

West Philadelphia Alliance for Children Executive Director Heather Farber pointed out that few college students finish her organization's training process. She said she wants students to get involved for “the right reasons.”

“Not everyone volunteers for the same reasons,” Farber said. “You’re only going to get to a place where you’re really getting change if you have people who are doing things from motivations that match up with what needs to happen.”

All of the panelists agreed that building community requires empathy, understanding, patience, collaboration, relationship building and seeing the humanity in others.

“You can’t just go in and say, ‘We know what you need,’” said speaker Judy Lynch, chair of the board of directors of non-profit Esperanza Inc. Lynch added that as a volunteer, it is important to understand both sides, listen and recognize what you do not know.