Three teams were awarded Penn's inaugural Projects for Progress prize, a grant fund for social justice initiatives in Philadelphia.
Projects for Progress is an initiative managed by the Office of Social Equity and Community that aims to promote equity and inclusion in the city of Philadelphia. The three winning teams were awarded grants of up to $100,000 to implement projects that address eradicating or reducing racism, achieving educational equity, or reducing health disparities, Penn Today reported. The teams were a part of the Shelter Health Outreach Program, Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center, and Bridging Gaps and Building Capacity initiative.
Undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members were all represented among the prize winners.
Since its founding in 2019, the Shelter Health Outreach Program has sent Penn undergraduates to Philadelphia homeless shelters and meal sites to improve primary care awareness.
While their in-person volunteer efforts were halted during the pandemic, SHOP spoke with local leaders to best determine how they could continue serving people experiencing homelessness, a group hard hit by COVID-19, according to 2021 Wharton graduate and a member of the SHOP team Evelyn Gotlieb. Shortly thereafter, they began providing people experiencing homelessness with personal protective equipment and vaccine information, in addition to connecting them with meals, fundraisers, and information to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even though we couldn't serve this community in the way that we usually do, we really wanted to do what we could remotely,” Gotlieb said.
The Cobbs Creek Community Environmental team plans to use the grant money to update its Community Center, which currently features a garden, lab, classroom, exhibit and meeting room, and bird feeders. They hope that the upgrades will enable Cobbs Creek to be used more widely in schools to help students learn about and explore the natural sciences.
Third-year graduate student in earth and environmental science Cooper Yerby, who is a member of the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental team, said that in addition to planning field trips and after-school activities, the team hopes that students will participate in projects or research in tandem with Cobbs Creek.
"We’re definitely working with teachers to understand what they hope their students get out of the center," Yerby said.
The Bridging Gaps and Building Capacity team, which includes faculty and staff from the Graduate School of Education and the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, hopes to assess the impact of the pandemic on both students and teachers, said GSE Director of School and Community Engagement Caroline Watts. The project began after a conversation with a local superintendent, and team members have worked closely with educators from the School District of Philadelphia to prepare for school re-openings, Watts added.
The team plans to use the prize money to conduct programming and professional development at multiple summer learning sites in West Philadelphia, with the goal of assuring elementary school students and teachers' readiness for the fall, Watts said. The program also aims to provide support to teachers, many of whom are experiencing mental health issues as a result of the pandemic.
While each prize-winning team was composed of a maximum of five members, all stressed that there was a larger network of people supporting them towards their goals, including their relationships with local leaders.
The teams also shared that Penn students interested in becoming involved with the initiatives were more than welcome to do so. Rising College senior Deepti Tantry added that her experience with SHOP has been foundational to her college experience.
“[Volunteering] has been one of my most treasured opportunities,” Tantry said.