PHILADELPHIA—The Penn Medicine CAREs Grant program supports faculty, students, and staff who volunteer in community-based programs outside of their jobs. This quarter, Penn Medicine CAREs awarded grants to 28 projects, many of which aim to fill vast needs in the community created by the COVID-19 pandemic, while others seek to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Since 2011, CAREs has provided grants to over 730 service initiatives across the region Penn Medicine serves, including programs in community centers, farmers markets, and places of worship from Philadelphia and Lancaster and Chester counties to the suburbs and shore communities of New Jersey. So far this year, 62 projects have received grants.
“Penn Medicine has put the community we serve first at every step of the way during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the members of our workforce who also volunteer their time are amplifying the ethos of service which is foundational to our institution’s mission,” said Patrick V. Norton, vice president for Public Affairs at Penn Medicine. “The CAREs Grant program helps extend opportunities for better health and well-being beyond our walls, and that approach has become more important than ever due to the economic and health inequities which have widened as a result of the pandemic.”
One of the most recent programs awarded funding is the Penn Neurosurgery EMPOWER program (Establishment of Minority Pipeline Of Women in Education and Research), a minority female summer-pipeline program. The program, which is in development, aims to inspire and prepare local high school and college women to pursue neuroscience.
“The goal of EMPOWER is to increase the number of minority women who become future surgeon-scientists,” said Zarina Ali, MD, an assistant professor of Neurosurgery in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and director of EMPOWER. “We hope EMPOWER will encourage women trainees to pursue and establish careers in neuroscience, and this CAREs Grant funding is crucial in helping us further develop the program.”
The 10-week summer program intends to provide mentorship, neuroscience research, and leadership experience under the guidance of surgeon-scientists. EMPOWER will also provide a unique “how she does it” program, focusing on life and leadership skills.
Other CAREs projects awarded funding this quarter include:
- Rise St. Lucia Youth: Venus Cherry, a senior instructional designer in Information Systems at Penn Medicine, is a native of St. Lucia. COVID-19 has been devastating for St. Lucia. In addition to impacting the tourism industry on the island, students have struggled with distance learning. Cherry raised funds to purchase and distribute hundreds of tablet computers to students through Rise St. Lucia. His CAREs grant allows him to provide an additional 26 devices to students.
- Philadelphia Phone Project: The inpatient psychiatric units at Pennsylvania Hospital typically provide services to individuals who are homeless and with limited funds. However, as many outpatient appointments and therapy sessions moved to telehealth during the pandemic, it could be a challenge for patients with little or no access to phones to continue their care. Anne McGibbon, a psychiatric social worker at Pennsylvania Hospital, received a CAREs grant to provide cell phones for these patients.
- Epic Experience Beyond Cancer During COVID: A volunteer at Epic Experience Beyond Cancer, Julie Uspal, MD, an assistant professor of clinical Emergency Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, also refers patients to the nonprofit. Among its offerings are virtual camps and events for cancer patients to connect and support each other. Uspal’s funds will support several virtual workshops for cancer patients.
Since the start of the CAREs Grant program, more than $735,000 has been awarded to support volunteer efforts.
CAREs funding can be used for projects big and small, or for new or existing community outreach efforts. Grants are awarded based on the quality of the program, the needs of the community it aims to assist, and potential overall impact.