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Christian Union

Seniors Help Launch Program for Homeless

by anne kerhoulas, staff writer

Becoming a follower of Christ during college was not part of the plan. But for Penn senior Steffen Cornwell, finding community in Christian Union Martas reoriented his vision for his future. Part of the prestigious Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology, Cornwell has taken a newfound interest in social entrepreneurship and spearheaded a program that allows individuals experiencing homelessness to store important personal identification documents in a secure website.


ANewIdentitySmallChallenged by Martas’ Leadership Lecture Series, Philia, and through discipleship with Ministry Fellow Fuji Kim, Cornwell was captivated by the Gospel of grace and the servant-leader Jesus. Before he became a Christian, he read the Bible on his own and “was fascinated by the teachings on righteousness and morality.” But it was through conversations with Christian Union faculty and peers that the idea of justification through faith, rather than works, really took hold. It also spurred him on to consider how he might live differently, knowing that any good work he does is in response to the grace and goodness of God.

Kim has been impressed by the change in Cornwell since his freshman year. “Steffen has grown and is standing more firmly on the Gospel,” he said.

“The atmosphere [on campus] was [centered on] parties and people going for fancy jobs. People didn’t seem to care about things beyond themselves,” recalled Cornwell. A disillusionment with this culture pushed him to consider how he might use his interests and skills in a Christ-like way, and, as he began his senior year, a project came his way that intrigued him.

Keep.ID was first pitched to him by a professor who worked closely with Mike Dahl at Broad Street Ministry, a local church with a passion for the marginalized.

Cornwell’s interest was piqued and he quickly took the lead.

As he assembled a team of students to help develop the idea, Cornwell recruited fellow Bible course member Jackson Foltz ’20, who now runs the communications side of Keep.ID and is one of the founding members.

Tucker Else, Christian Union’s ministry director at Penn, reflects: “[Steffen’s] leadership through this homelessness initiative has been wonderful. He has enlisted the assistance of his fellow Penn students and has done a remarkable job bringing everyone together and providing direction that others want to follow.”

While living in Philadelphia, both Foltz and Cornwell developed a heart for the homeless population, wondering how they might best help the people they meet. A conversation here, buying a sandwich there; Cornwell found himself wanting to create something that would help individuals experiencing homelessness in a long-term and practical way.

Keep.ID aims to care for those who are in need by providing a practical service. Cornwell detailed how when most individuals become homeless, they have personal documents with them, but belongings are often stolen or lost. A lack of identification documents can be crippling when applying for jobs, housing, or benefits.

“The goal of Keep.ID is to break barriers to homelessness services by providing an online platform for the homeless population to get available aid in an easier manner. Those experiencing homelessness can keep scanned documents on Keep.ID and will be able to file aid applications while navigating homelessness resources online. Our long term goal is to help those experiencing homelessness reintegrate into employed society, and we desire to show them the love of Jesus by using our skills to create a product designed specifically for their needs,” says Cornwell.

Foltz adds, “We want to see those experiencing homelessness to feel empowered in their pursuit of work, hope, and a future.”

But this kind of social entrepreneurialism has not always been on Cornwell and Foltz’s minds. Currently enrolled in a senior Bible course that focuses on vocation, Cornwell admits he used to think that certain jobs were perhaps less godly than others and struggled to conceive how his future in computer science and business might be a God-glorifying endeavor.

“Coming to faith in Christ has changed how I think about vocation because I have come to realize that if all Christians are to have a job title, it is to be ‘kingdom workers.’ Our life here is temporal, but God has everyone here to serve Him and others through our life,” reflects Cornwell.

This shift in thinking has also shaped how Foltz and Cornwell desire to lead in the future.

“Through Christian Union, Christ and His presence has helped me to put off many of the cares that the world glorifies, including desire for money, selfish pleasures, and prestige (although I still struggle) in a career,” said Cornwell. “This freedom has allowed me to pursue options which I would not have considered by myself alone, and I have been led to trust God and take a leap of faith in Him where He has brought me to a certain service.”

Foltz adds that their Bible course has totally reshaped his views on work and leadership, saying, “By engaging the teachings of Jesus Christ, Christian Union has upended many of our preconceived notions about leadership. Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. Leadership to us has become the service of others.”

When it comes to leading the Keep.ID team, Foltz explains how these ideas are taking root in real life. “The humility inherent in considering leadership to be public service is a key tenet of the workplace culture that we hope to establish,” he said.

“We want to honor teammates’ time, ideas, and commitment levels, while simultaneously honoring the idea with which Mike Dahl (executive director of Broad Street Ministry) initially presented us. Faith without works is dead, faith that works is the imperative that we can take delight in as the adopted of the Most High.”

Cornwell notes that he has been blessed by such leadership during his time in Christian Union Martas, observing how the Christian Union faculty he has spent time with have consistently modelled this Christ-like leadership.

Though graduation is coming soon, Cornwell and Foltz hope that Keep.ID will not only be used in the Philadelphia area and at Broad Street Ministry, but can become a tool to serve the homeless nationwide.