Penn Charter Builds Community on Day of Service

Day of Service Perri Keehfuss Stop Hunger Now Penn CharterPenn Charter students and faculty, numbering more than 450, fanned out across 16 zip codes last week to pitch in with schools and nonprofit organizations that work on issues of education, poverty and food insecurity. The work on Friday, Oct. 14, was the centerpiece of the 19th annual Louis Savino Day of Service, part of a tapestry of service work Penn Charter students do throughout the school year and into the summer. More photos on Flickr.

Penn Charter senior Perri Keehfuss, a member of the Upper School Service Council, spent the morning packing dried vegetables, rice and fortified soy into packets for meals for Stop Hunger Now. The packets, combined with other meals, will be delivered to one of 37 international partner countries where the need is greatest. “Service plays a big role in my life,” Keehfuss said as she worked. “I’m applying to service councils in college so I can continue to do service, and I am excited about that.”

At 22 sites, Penn Charter served meals, raked leaves, helped teach gym class, wrote poems, cleaned up parks and neighborhoods, sorted clothing, helped with recess, read to children, painted, assisted physically disabled students in the pool and sorted groceries alongside members of the communities in which they served.

Students worked on projects with longstanding service partners Widener Memorial School, the Whosoever Gospel Mission, the Salvation Army Kroc Center and Share, among others. They read to children and gardened at the Norris Square Neighborhood Project; students organized books and painted at Tree House Books, spent time with homeless men and women at Project Home, and learned about urban farming, composting and grassroots organizations at Philly Urban Creators.

A group of Penn Charter seniors traveled to the Young Scholars Charter School, in the Poplar section of Philadelphia, to work with eighth graders on their high school admissions essays. “Our seniors are in the midst of writing their own college essays,” Sharon Ahram, assistant director of the Center for Public Purpose, said. “What great symmetry for 12th graders and eighth graders looking toward their academic future to work together.”

The Penn Charter Center for Public Purpose, established in 2013, is a manifestation of the school’s distinguished heritage of service.  Service is not only a function of “what we do” at Penn Charter, but also “who we are” as America’s first Friends school. Penn’s Purpose will help fulfill Penn Charter’s vision of what a 21st century independent school should look like. The center is both a physical and figurative representation of a desire to imbue Penn Charter students with the capacity and confidence to live lives that make a difference.

Omar Woodard, executive director of the GreenLight Fund’s Philadelphia office, spoke to students as the day began. Woodard told students how his life was directly affected by the philanthropy of others and his ethic of service. The GreenLight Fund seeks groundbreaking solutions to solve the challenging issue of deep poverty and invests in those ideas to bring positive change to the lives of Philadelphians. 

“When you think about service, you aren’t there to just help people. You’re there to build a community. To be a part of it. To put yourself in their shoes,” Woodard said. “Spend what little time you have today to build empathy. … I ask that you not just serve your community, but build a new one.”