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Photo from Mia Yellin

Eight Penn students have spent the past semester campaigning to improve the literacy of children in Philadelphia. 

As part of the inaugural Glass Jar Fellowship, a semester-long internship program co-organized by the Jewish Renaissance Project and Penn’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy, eight Penn students raised over $5,000 for the Children’s Literacy Initiative, a local nonprofit devoted to training teachers in techniques to promote childhood literacy in the classroom. 

The students will deliver the donation to CLI at a local elementary school on Dec. 13.

The Glass Jar Fellowship allows students to design their own philanthropic program, which includes selecting a suitable charity and finding ways to collect resources for the organization.

College sophomore Teddy Kotler described being approached by a friend who had been involved with previous JRP projects and who asked if he might be interested in becoming involved with the Glass Jar program.

“At first, I was a little skeptical,” Kotler said. “However, after I learned more about it, I was like, ‘Okay, yeah, this is something I could definitely participate in,’ and it’s been a great experience.”

Seth Sholk, a Wharton sophomore and Glass Jar fellow, said students chose CLI because of the high impact the donation could potentially have on the lives of students taught by CLI-trained teachers. 

"[Literacy] has a pretty big impact on graduation statistics and whether or not kids go to college,” Sholk said. “We basically put in two or three weeks of fundraising with just the eight of us, and we were able to make such a big potential impact.”

Over the course of the semester, the students initially raised money by collecting spare change in the fellowship’s namesake glass jars. But this was just a jumping off point for what the group planned to do, College senior Olivia Neistat said.

The fellows continued to raise money by talking to family and friends over Thanksgiving break and raffling away gift cards. Some Penn students continued to give without extra incentive.

“I was really surprised by the number of people who, when you’d ask them if they wanted to buy a raffle ticket, would say ‘no, but I just want to give you money for this,’” Neistat said. “There was more interest than we were expecting.”

Sholk said the fellowship helped fill a gap he sees in community service involvement on Penn’s campus.

“A lot of the time, we just kind of get caught up in our own lives at Penn, and we forget to take a step back and realize that there are things around us we could be helping out with,” he said. “Not too much effort needs to go into making a big impact on other people’s lives.”

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