This story was written by Aizhaneya Carter, C’17, who worked as the Community Outreach Liaison between the Van Pelt Library at the University of Pennsylvania and Lea Elementary School in Philadelphia. 

In her role, Aizhaneya managed a team of 30 students, supported Philadelphia public schools by training new members, assured that all necessary employment documents are processed, and stayed up-to-date on public education policy concerns. She also tutored and conducted mock interviews with the elementary school students to ensure that students are surpassing reading levels and are prepared for high school interviews.

The story has been edited for length and clarity. 

Sometimes work-study positions can feel like punishments to economically disadvantaged students. Often, these students must take 20+ hours a week to work in order to feed themselves, pay rent, put clothes on their backs, socialize with their peers, participate in annual Class events, and purchase books and graduation regalia, to name just a few financial constraints. The Community Outreach Program focuses on both the work and the Penn student workers at the heart of the Program. It recognizes the importance of success not only as an employee but also as a student—the main reason we are here. 

[The Community Outreach Program] recognizes the importance of success not only as an employee but also as a student—the main reason we are here.

The Community Outreach Program, which the work-study students have nicknamed the Peeps Gotta Eat Initiative, seeks to ameliorate student workers' concerns not only through employment but also by going further to ensure that their academic, financial, and social needs are consistently met. The program receives support from the H. Carton Rogers III Community Outreach Fund, established by Penn Libraries Overseer Jeffrey Seltzer, W’78, PAR’09, and Ana Seltzer, PAR’09. The Seltzer family also recently donated gift cards to the program for the purchase of supplies for sandwiches and fruit for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks for Community Outreach student workers. This was especially timely because many work-study students have to pay their own way during the summer and provide all their own meals on campus when dining halls are closed.

In addition, the Community Outreach Program has partnered with the Greenfield Intercultural Center (GIC), a pioneer in assisting First-Generation, Low-Income (FGLI) students on campus. The GIC has, most notably, started a lending library for students who cannot afford to purchase books needed for core classes. It also houses PennFirst, a student-led organization for FGLI students, which has advocated to bring the concerns of FGLI students to the Penn administration. 

It seeks to ameliorate student workers' concerns not only through employment but also by going further to ensure that their academic, financial, and social needs are consistently met.

I could go on and on about the ways in which I have seen the Community Outreach Program greatly assist students and bring freedom for students who may be overlooked. If you want to flourish and take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities available, Penn can be an incredibly expensive institution. However, the Community Outreach Program creates a more seamless integration for students who have not historically had that assistance – leading to better Penn experiences for more students and demonstrating again the Program’s and the Penn Libraries’ commitment not only to West Philadelphia public school students in need, but also to students right on Penn’s campus.

The Penn Libraries thank Aizhaneya for her contributions to the Community Outreach Program and for partnering with us to share her experience!