News Release

PHILADELPHIA—Two volunteer initiatives to create more green space in Philadelphia—which can help improve mental health—are among the 22 projects to receive Penn Medicine CAREs funding this quarter. From leading these local park cleanups to providing student-athlete support in Lancaster, employees across Penn Medicine volunteer their time and resources to strengthen the communities they serve, supported by the CAREs program.

Philadelphia has lost about 6 percent of its tree population over the past decade, and the city’s West Poplar neighborhood has little green space. Thanks to CAREs funding, Donna Gonzales, a research specialist with the Center for Cellular Immunotherapy, will be able to help revitalize a vacant lot that was donated by the city.

“We have many hardworking families living in our neighborhood, and we work hard to improve things for our neighbors. It’s amazing that Penn Medicine offers funds for neighborhood improvement, and I believe it's important to offer these types of programs to encourage community involvement,” Gonzales said. As a member of the West Poplar Tree Tenders—one of the many tree tender groups throughout the city—Gonzales will plant shrubs and trees, making the space pleasant to view and safe for those who live near it.

Vernell Stewart, a Central Processing Technician at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, is also utilizing CAREs funding to improve space in the city. Stewart’s grant will fund a project to spruce up “The Triangle” at Union and Sloan streets in West Philadelphia. The area is used as a quiet place to read, meet with friends, meditate, and exercise—and as a location for special events for children, as well as local colleges and universities.

“It is so important to give back to the community and I was thrilled to get funding through the Penn Medicine CAREs grant program. I’m eager to clean up the space and provide another park for members of the West Philadelphia community to enjoy,” said Stewart, who has been cleaning up areas in the neighborhood for decades. Stewart’s grant will go toward adding flowers, shrubs, and repairing the sidewalk.

Other CAREs projects awarded funding this quarter include:

  • After School Athlete Snack Program: Despite all children in the School District of Lancaster qualifying for daily free breakfast and lunch, there is no nutrition provided if students stay after school for sports. Kimberly Cisneros, an athletic trainer with Lancaster General Health, serves as one of three athletic trainers for the school district, serving about 1,500 student athletes. Cisneros’ funds go toward starting an After School Athlete Snack Program to provide student athletes with nutritious snacks for their energy needs after school as they practice and compete.
  • Heart Health Bridge to Care: Justine Wang, a medical student in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, was awarded funding to support the Heart Health Bridge to Care (HHBC) clinic. The clinic provides long-term care to underinsured individuals in the Parkside neighborhood of Philadelphia. Medical students work with nursing, pharmacy, and social work students, as well as faculty, to develop care plans for patients with heart disease. The clinic also provides care via telemedicine and mails equipment and medications directly to residents.
  • Stepping Up for Sports: Shavonda Lovett, with Penn Plastic Surgery, has been volunteering with the Cibotti Recreational Center in Southwest Philadelphia as a “proud baseball mom” for four years. After her 9-year-old son lost two classmates to gun violence, Lovett was inspired to help neighborhood children participate in sports to bring fun back to the community. Her CAREs grant funding will help offset the costs of uniforms, safety equipment, and registration fees for the children ages 5 to 16, so they have a safe and enjoyable space to play and grow.

Since 2011, the CAREs Grant program has provided more than $750,000 in funding to over 750 service initiatives across the region Penn Medicine serves, from Philadelphia and Lancaster and Chester counties to the suburbs and shore communities of New Jersey. More than 120 projects have received grants so far over the past fiscal year.

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.

To view all of the recent CARES Grant recipients, visit For more information on the CAREs Grant or community outreach programs, visit


Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $8.9 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $496 million awarded in the 2020 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 44,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2020, Penn Medicine provided more than $563 million to benefit our community.

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