EngagePerspectivesConnecting with Philadelphia’s Green Spaces While Fostering Community
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Connecting with Philadelphia’s Green Spaces While Fostering Community

Senior Mari Andrzejewski (N’24) reflects on her experience in the SNF Paideia course Nature Rx and how a SNF Paideia small grant expanded her appreciation, awareness, and practice of fosting wellness through nature and within her community.

three women facing camera smiling

Throughout my time at Penn, I have taken several Paideia courses, one being Nature Rx with Dr. Elizabeth Mackenzie this past fall. The course allowed students to connect with themselves and the natural world by practicing meditation and mindfulness within Philadelphia’s urban green space. As someone who is passionate about preserving and exploring outdoor spaces outside of my nursing coursework, I felt as though this course allowed me to find a new way to engage with nature. I also became aware of my personal separation from my environment because a lot of my time spent outside in Philly was not enjoyed mindfully. Whether I was listening to music on my way to class, answering emails while I headed to a meeting, or taking calls on my way to the store, I was not walking with awareness, reaping the calming effects of engagement with nature and grounding myself through being aware of my surroundings. I also walked away from the class learning that if I take care of my natural world through ways such as planting trees and “Leaving No Trace,” it can take care of me in return.

Lucy Jiménez (N’24), Ava Brook (C’24), and I spent our whole lives engaging with nature. Growing up in Connecticut, the entirety of New England served as my playground, with unique activities for every season: Swimming at beaches along the northern coast in the summer, picking and baking with fruit from orchards in autumn, skiing through Vermont mountains in the winter, and nurturing gardens in the spring. I am so grateful for my abundant access to a variety of activities in the natural world throughout my childhood. With Ava growing up in New Jersey and Lucy in Massachusetts, we all had these shared experiences which allowed for this class to pique our interest. Throughout the semester, we bonded over our shared passion for the class content as well as the SNF Paideia Program pillars: wellness, dialogue, citizenship, and service. When we engaged with our natural world, we served our Philadelphia community as active citizens; we appreciated spaces where Penn students and West Philly residents could reap the physical, spiritual, and emotional benefits of nature, such as the Woodlands Cemetery, and the Morris and Awbury Arboretums. We learned about our shared needs as temporary residents and our common goals to sustain a mutual relationship with nature through preserving Philadelphia’s green spaces.

After the semester ended, my classmates and I wanted to continue our shared passion for wellness. As members of Penn’s club soccer team, Lucy and Ava connected us to their coach’s “Show-Up Day” event at the F-45 fitness training club in Northern Liberties. The event was from 12-3 PM on February 3rd and involved a 45-minute functional workout, lunch, and journaling/mindfulness activities. The workout was circuit-style and involved high-intensity weight training. In a short time, we felt tired, but also strong, and accomplished. After celebrating with a healthy lunch, we knew that we were truly embodying SNF Paideia’s wellness component!

Following our lunch, we journaled about what it means to “Show Up.” We asked ourselves, “Why did we show up today” and “What does it mean to show up?” While I journaled, I focused on how I try to be present where I am, engaged in what I’m doing, and give 100% of my tank, even if it is small on a given day. I noticed that I was focusing on how I show up for others. When discussing our perspectives, everyone around me shared about how they show up for themselves. This made me realize how I do not normally think about showing up for myself, even though I want to and should do that first. I started to ask myself, “What does it mean to show up for myself?” I learned from my group while I thought about my answer. The women around me focused on intention. They came to the event to work on their mind, body, and heart. I realized that while I, too, was doing these things, I was missing this awareness and intention. This would allow me to practice wellness through self-care and love so that I can better “show-up” for all of the people and the things that I care about. I then realized how my past and present experiences came together; I started to wonder: If I mindfully engaged with the natural world as I practiced in my Nature Rx Paideia course, I could better understand myself and take care of my needs so that I could have the capacity to intentionally engage with my environment and the communities within it.

Our discussion was followed by a mindfulness activity that got us out of our comfort zone. Every person at the event paired up with someone they did not know. After we introduced ourselves, we put our hands on each other’s knees and stared into each other’s eyes for five minutes. It was an intimate experience that required trust that you do not typically invite from someone you just met. However, we grounded ourselves in our shared purpose: showing up for ourselves and each other. It was an opportunity for us to sit with this intimacy and check-in with ourselves. It made me realize that I am not used to showing up for myself and being perceived. I think I could benefit from more activities that allow me to work on my confidence, a key component of emotional wellness, so that I can be my best and authentic self in all my identities.

I am so grateful for the Small Grant Program’s generous funding that allowed me and my classmates to be able to attend this event. The “Show-Up Day” allowed me to foster community with others like me and gave me a lot to think about in terms of self-care and showing up for myself. I hope to take this knowledge and further it through more events like this, and even bring it into my SNF Paideia class that I am taking with Dr. Ropp this semester, Communications 2510: Good Talk: The Purpose, Practice, and Representation of Dialogue Across Difference. As I take this class to generate meaningful dialogue with my communities, it is important that I use activities like this event to reach individual understandings about myself, my perspectives, what I bring to the spaces I “show up” in, and how I will communicate within them. This journey all started with my time in my Nature Rx class, which allowed me to reflect on my bi-directional relationship with nature and how I can be a more active participant within my environment. After moving onto the “Show-Up Day” where I was able to learn more about myself, I am confident that I have the holistic awareness needed to generate “Good Talk” with myself, my environment, and others. This journey will begin in the classroom, yet I know that this SNF Paideia foundation will follow me in my post-graduate years to come.

Mari Andrzejewski (N’24) is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Nursing.

Image (l to r): Classmates and friends Lucy Jiménez (N’24), Ava Brook (C’24), and Mari Andrzejewski (N’24) at the February 2024 “Show Up Day” event at the F-45 Training Facility in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, PA.

About the SNF Paideia Small Grant Program

The SNF Paideia small grant program hopes to incubate new ideas, pilot new programming and foster original research. After taking an SNF Paideia designated course, Penn undergraduates may be inspired to propose an event or program for the Penn community that fosters dialogue, citizenship, wellness and service. Alternately, students might want to continue a research project they started in an SNF Paideia course. SNF Paideia Small Grant funding can be used for both programmatic ideas or to support individual research projects.

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