A favorite volunteer opportunity among undergrads is the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project (WPTP), an initiative operated by Civic House, Penn’s hub for community engagement. The program matches volunteers with local schoolchildren who have signed up for tutoring.
In addition to mandatory training, tutors receive an education on the historical, sociopolitical, and economic factors at play in a large, urban school system like Philadelphia’s. The goal is to form sustained, mutually beneficial connections between Penn undergraduates and students at the elementary and high school levels.
Michael Beavers, W’19, initially joined WPTP because it was an easy way to get involved with the local community. He wasn’t looking to sacrifice too much of his time, however, until he realized how much he and his tutee could learn from one another. “Sometimes I would get frustrated that he lacked some general arithmetic skills,” Michael says, “but as I got to know him, I gained a different perspective on why his relationship with academics was tenuous.” Reflecting on the benefits of his own education, Michael then increased his engagement with WPTP and has served on the Student Board for three years.
At Du Bois College House, the OURStory program gives Penn students from the African diaspora the chance to spend time with students at nearby Powel Elementary School. Darrian McAfee, C’21, welcomed the one-on-one structure of the program. “I was looking for focused, meaningful interactions,” he says, “mentoring was a great way to volunteer in the way I was most comfortable.”
Whether playing games, learning new dance moves, or just chatting, for many of the mentees in the program it is the first time they’ve had a mentor who looks like them. “It warms my heart that my presence has gotten my mentee more enthusiastic about school,” says Stephanie Ureña, C’20. She has this advice for any students who want to volunteer in the community: “Come into the neighborhoods surrounding campus with open ears and an open mind. There is so much that you can learn from other people and that they can learn from you.”