The Philadelphian Society, created in 1825 and now incorporated as the Princeton-Blairstown Center (Campus Notebook, April 6), is America’s oldest University-affiliated service organization. A social entrepreneurship innovator and incubator, the organization helped found the intercollegiate YMCA movement in the 1870s, Princeton-in-Asia in the 1890s, the Student Volunteers Council in the 1960s, and Outdoor Action and the Alumni College seminar program in the 1970s.
The Philadelphian Society’s project called “the Princeton Summer Camp” began in 1908; the camp’s 11 cabins each were built by Princeton classes from 1894 to the 1939 “Freddy Fox” cabin. Thousands of Princeton students and tens of thousands of urban youth have come together since for outdoor-education programs to mutually strengthen character, leadership, and stewardship. Recently we have collaborated with Outdoor Action, the Center for African American Studies, the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, and the Program in Teacher Preparation.
Like Dwight Hall at Yale and Phillips Brooks House Association at Harvard, we are an independent nonprofit receiving human-resource services and other assistance from our host university. For many undergraduates, a summer’s work at Blairstown has been among their “best courses at Princeton.” For urban youth participants, the center has been a place to learn hope — believing in one’s self when others might have doubted, and gaining skills to pursue goals once thought beyond reach.
We are honored to be a part of Princeton’s unique commitment to include local service as a part of global citizenship, and to develop the civic conscience of students alongside their intellect, honoring what Woodrow Wilson in 1896 called “that progress which conserves.” In considering whether our work sufficiently supports Princeton’s core mission, we hope the University will continue our close partnership so together we may help lead society’s efforts to pursue urban equity and sustainability.