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The West Philadelphia Tutoring Project will operate virtually this fall.  

Credit: Chase Sutton

Penn’s service groups are determining how to give back to the community under new coronavirus distancing restrictions.

After determining how they can be most effective to the communities they partner with, individual student groups such as A Moment of Magic, Camp Kesem, and West Philadelphia Tutoring Project all decided to operate virtually this fall.  

A Moment of Magic is a new service group on campus in which college students dress up as popular childhood characters — such as Belle, Spider-Man, and Woody — to visit and provide creative programming to children in local hospitals and social service institutions, such as orphanages and foster care centers. Rising College junior Lia Brodrick, who founded the Penn chapter of the nationwide organization in spring 2020, is planning new ways to “bring the magic” to the children.  

Last semester, students FaceTimed with children who lived at home or had been placed in Intensive Care Units. In the fall, Brodrick said she plans to increase the amount of virtual programming by substituting physical visits with “hotline calls,” during which Penn students will wear costumes and video chat with participating children. 

The chapter also plans to continue with weekly online training where Penn students will come up with “personal individual goals” for their video chats.

Rising Nursing junior Ronit Kempler is one of 90 people volunteering as a camp counselor for the Penn chapter of Camp Kesem, which operates free summer camps for children whose parents have experienced cancer. This year, the camp will be entirely online. Camp Kesem will mail campers “camp-at-home kits” and help them complete fitness challenges, art projects, and scavenger hunts remotely. 

The camp volunteers are using online training videos and bunk-wide Zoom calls to plan for the summer camp. Their annual Make the Magic fundraising campaign, usually held as an in-person silent auction, was moved online with members advertising the event over social media and participants submitting bids through Google Forms.

Kempler said having groundwork from this spring and summer has made planning for the fall semester and next summer easier. Despite the uncertainty of whether camp can safely be held in person next year or not, Kempler said the organization feels “grounded” because it has an outline for what online programming will look like and how volunteers can stay in touch safely. 

“Virtual camp will be awesome, but I’m hoping it can be in person [next year], even if it’s [socially distant], because it’s much easier for campers to connect with counselors,” Kempler said. 

West Philadelphia Tutoring Project will also operate virtually this fall with one-on-one tutoring sessions, according to its website. WPTP is the largest community engagement group on campus, with over 300 Penn students who tutor local elementary, middle, and high school students each week at Civic House or in local elementary schools. 

WPTP did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

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