Alumni Voices, Impact House

Alumni Voices – Arielle Brousse


A year ago, I definitely wouldn’t have been the type to pick up a stranger from the airport. But this summer, I did just that. I rented a car, swung out to Philadelphia International, picked up two men I’d never met, and drove with them four hours to the middle of nowhere.

If you’re like me, those sentences out of context might make your skin crawl.

But let me tell you this, to clarify things: though I’d never met them, these people were also part of the Penn Social Impact House community. I picked them up as part of a carshare we arranged independently to get to Norfolk, CT, for the Social Impact House Alumni Fest.

I’ve come to believe so much in this community that I did this naturally, and without fear.

When I first was introduced to Social Impact House as a Fellow in May 2014, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was a naturally shy person, terrified by the idea of getting-to-know-you games, and reticent to talk about my aspirations lest I look conceited, or worse—delusional.

But what I found in the people who greeted me there was an earnest, energetic acceptance that went beyond mere tolerance. They didn’t just encourage us to dream big; they connected us with people who could help us pursue a greater reality.

So, yes, in the past year, I’ve let down a lot of my walls to allow people like this into my life. Even strangers, and even into my car.

And I’ve been right to do so. By the time Robert, Eric and I pulled up to the door of the house, we were giggling together with excitement. And by the time my new friends and I parted ways at the end of Alumni Fest, we’d exchanged home addresses to send each other postcards, pictures, and resources we thought might help each other’s ventures.

This year’s Alumni Fest was the first of its kind. So much of what’s magic about Penn Social Impact House is the community—not just that it’s forged so quickly, but that it continually builds on itself. Alumni Fest was a way to take the downtime at the house in Norfolk, and to create space for alumni of different iterations of the Impact House to meet, reconnect, and recharge.

And in just three days, through unconferences and brain trusts and the simple act of sharing space, we did all that and more.


In fact, when I sat down to reflect on my time at Alumni Fest, I had trouble figuring out what, exactly, I was going to write about. I could have recapped the skillshares we each presented. Or remarked that we had only to mention something we were struggling with in order to hear half a dozen friends chime in to suggest ways we could approach the issue differently (not to mention to offer personal assistance).

Or I could have talked about just how good it was to get away—to shake up the status quo by retreating to a beautiful environment, to walk around barefoot in the grass while discussing personal challenges, or to float around on inner tubes in a natural spring while swapping tips and tricks we’d learned from the past few months of work.

Or else I could have reminisced on the way we took up work to maintain this powerful sense of community—immediately pitching in in the kitchen to make meals for each other, or voluntarily extending our stay to meet the new cohort of fellows and help them get settled in, happily kicking off the experience for the next generation.

I could talk about any of these facets of the gathering at length. But if you’ve been to Penn Social Impact House, or if you’ve ever read any descriptions (and you should, here!), then you already know all of that. I’m here to tell you about what I experienced.

And here’s what I’m most equipped to say: being involved with the PSIH community has changed me.

My involvement with PSIH has taught me in a tangible way that opening yourself up to people is a powerful and positive thing. It’s taught me that asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of; in fact, it puts you in the path of more opportunity.

Testing these ideas out in the supportive environment of PSIH was world-opening. The friends I’ve made and the things they have encouraged me to try—even when I’ve failed—have only made me braver.

This is not to say I’ve become a social daredevil. I’m not going to hitchhike across the country anytime soon, and even the idea of UberX still makes me slightly itchy.

But I’d never bat an eyelash at reaching out to a fellow member of the Penn Social Impact House tribe. And I know they’d never hesitate to help me.

I can’t think of anything more safe.

Arielle Brousse, PSIH 2014