For many Penn students, Reading is just the name of the farmers’ market on the opposite side of the Schuylkill. (Note: It’s pronounced Redding. It’s the fifth–largest city in Pennsylvania. The more you know). But one Penn alum holds Reading dear to his heart, so much so that he’s making a TV pilot based around the city.

Dr. Santo D. Marabella is, first and foremost, a professor of management at Moravian College. At Penn, he earned his doctorate in social work in 1991 and was a lecturer in the School of Social Policy and Practice for some time. Throughout his professional life, he has consulted for more than 100 corporations.

His focus is on creating a sense of community, both inside and outside of the classroom. Raised in Reading and educated in the Philadelphia area, Marabella has a strong attachment to his local community, and he uses his art to communicate it. When he’s not teaching, he works as Reading’s film commissioner. “Art feeds me and my art needs to be meaningful in some way that effects change,” he says. For his work, he was honored as one of the “Newsmakers of the Year” by the Reading Eagle. After producing an art installation in the abandoned Franklin Street Station, Marabella pitched a TV show set in the station to tell the story of Reading.

The pilot episode will center on former employees of the Reading Railroad and one passenger who are waiting for trains at the station. The production shoot will be from March 5 to March 11 this year. Marabella’s goal is to zoom in on the universal feeling of being stuck. “We feel fear when we are faced with challenges, and then sometimes we just stop,” he points out. 

This metaphor is especially resonant in Reading, which has seen a steady decline since 1981 when SEPTA stopped passenger service on the Reading Railroad. In 2011, Reading was the poorest city in the United States per capita. According to Marabella, many people in Reading tend to focus on its past rather than its future.

Marabella sees his artistic creations as another way—apart from teaching at universities—to teach empathy. “The lesson is to be there for people who are feeling stuck and help them find a path,” he says, and his TV pilot itself is doing that job. He hopes that Franklin Street Station would be revitalized as it is used as a TV set, and he is planning to hire real residents of Reading as extras in the episode.

Through his time at Penn Social Policy and Practice, Marabella learned to communicate with others in a more authentic and purposeful way. His experience working at a center for mental health led him to realize that social work had to be authentic; otherwise, people will notice right away. He wants to tell current Penn students that it’s easy to lose focus on what’s really important at Penn; we are constantly in competition. 

“What really matters is that passion plays a significant part of your life. You should be willing to compromise around core values but not sacrifice them." 


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