Developing Communities at Home and Abroad
Authored by: Lisa Dugan
Photography by: Candace diCarlo
Before arriving at Penn to pursue an MSW and MPA, Perfecta Lacenski was highly engaged in social service both within the United States and abroad. Upon completion of her Bachelor’s degree, the Wisconsin native spent two years with the Peace Corps in Niger, West Africa. One of the poorest countries in the world, Niger is ranked second to last on the United Nations’ Human Development Index, a composite statistic used to rank countries in terms of standard of living.
“Niger lacks very basic infrastructure—electricity, running water, education and health care services, roads—are not widely available,” says Lacenski. In a country with such tremendous need, Lacenski had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects including building wells, educating residents about the importance of protecting and cultivating natural resources, and raising awareness about HIV and malaria prevention.
When she returned to the States, Lacenski continued to hone her social service skills at Congreso de Latinos Unidos, a Philadelphia nonprofit focusing on the Latino community. There she held several positions starting as a case manager, then working in civic engagement and ultimately as operations coordinator.
“It was a terrific experience, but eventually I came up against my limits,” says Lacenski. “I knew that an MSW was important for advancing in the nonprofit world, but I also wanted to increase my skill set in fiscal management. The MSW and MPA compliment each other, providing a strong foundation in both the practical aspects of nonprofit leadership and the theoretical underpinnings of social work.”
Her internship at Esperanza, another nonprofit serving the Latino community, sparked an interest in community development and led her to obtain a Community and Economic Development and Growth Certificate from Fels. The year-long program offers development leaders a practical education in running a successful organization—skills that will come in handy in Lacenski’s new position as Executive Director of Housing and Economic Development at Esperanza.
As she completes her final year at Penn, Lacenski says she is better prepared to tackle her broad range of responsibilities which include co-facilitating a 10-year neighborhood planning process for Hunting Park; overseeing housing rehabilitation, reclamation of vacant land and large-scale commercial redevelopment; and leading a community-wide impact measurement project.