At Penn, Sophomore Anea Moore Finds Purpose and Community Amid Loss

Halfway through Anea Moore’s first semester as a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, she lost her mother to a heart attack, just months after losing her father to lung disease. Through that grief, she has found a way to heal by reaching out to help others.

Now a sophomore at Penn, Moore’s community-engagement efforts earned her the 2017 Undergraduate Student Award from Penn Women of Color and the Newman Civic Scholars Fellowship.

Moore, who is from Southwest Philadelphia and is double-majoring in sociology and urban studies and minoring in Africana Studies in the School of Arts & Sciences, says, “I look back at my life sometimes and I know my parents are the main reason as to why I am where I am today. I’m not drawn to engagement because I want to be. It’s because I have to be.”

Her urgent sense of loss drew Moore to the work of Penn’s Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships.

“I just wanted to be closer to my parents in some way,” Moore says. “My parents’ deaths are a part of a larger system of inequities that places like the Netter Center are trying to restructure.”Through engagement opportunities with the Center, Moore has made a mark in West Philadelphia. Last summer, she worked as a teaching assistant in the College Bridge program, which brought 16 students from Sayre High School and West Philadelphia High School to campus and helped prepare them for college.

She’s also become actively involved with the Henry C. Lea Elementary School, a University-assisted community school, working to strengthen its family programming as Lea’s assistant family-engagement coordinator. Moore also manages Lea’s music program and serves as the director of its K-5 choir. This semester, in collaboration with the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative staff, she introduced a family cooking class at the school.

“This was particularly important to me because of my parents’ health issues,” Moore says. “I wanted Lea students and their families to know how to eat healthy.”

Moore, says the after-school programs and summer activities helped her to remain focused: “I couldn’t have made it without them.”

“Anea has made an invaluable contribution to the work of the Netter Center and to the improvement of both Penn and the West Philadelphia community,” says Ira Harkavy, the associate vice president and director of the Netter Center. “She has served as a thoughtful and passionate mentor and role model for many of her peers at Penn, as well as West Philadelphia students. She exemplifies Benjamin Franklin's vision for Penn students to develop an inclination joined with an ability to serve.”

Moore’s community engagement also extends beyond the Netter Center and her work with the Lea School. She served as a Policy Fellow in the Office of City Councilmember Helen Gym, where she conducted research and where the staff inspired her to think about public service and community engagement in ways she never thought possible.

She is also involved with Penn First, a network of services for first-generation students.

“During my most hopeless moments,” says Moore, “the Penn First community served as a supportive environment that could help me face my problems. It is a trailblazing organization that has made things happen.”

She is now a passionate advocate for the program. Moore says she wants first-generation, low-income students to feel at home on campus. She has worked with Admissions to welcome FGLI students during Quaker Days and helped to establish the First-Generation, Low-Income Student Center, which helps connect students with resources addressing food insecurity and mental health needs.

This summer, Moore’s engagement will take her to Rwanda for 10 days to live in a village that serves as a boarding school for children affected by genocide. Then, for two weeks, she’ll help Lea to complete a research project and plan its end-of-the-year events.

Afterwards, Moore will work as a legal intern at the Public Interest Law Center

Following graduation, she plans to attend law school and do civil litigation for low-income citizens, along with policy work for non-profit organizations.

She recalls the immediate days following her mother’s death and reaching out to many of the on-campus resources and networks that Penn has to offer. Moore says her most transformative moment was when she realized that she was not alone.

“There are so many wonderful people out here that just want to help me has been the greatest lesson I’ve learned,” Moore says. “Many people at Penn helped to ensure that I was not alone and have always supported me.”

Moore says she is particularly grateful to Molly McGlone, the assistant dean for advising; Valerie De Cruz, the director of Penn’s Albert M. Greenfield Intercultural Center; Heather Williams, the Presidential Professor of Africana Studies and the undergraduate and graduate studies chair; along with the staffs of the Netter Center and the Office of the Vice Provost for University Life.

“I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror every day if I was living a good life and making six figures, knowing that there are still women out there like my mom, who are making $7.75 an hour as a part-time cashier at 50 years old and I wasn’t doing everything that I could to help them,” Moore says. “After nearly 20 years’ worth of sacrifices, it would be a shame if I turned my back on the very people who got me to where I am today.”