Campus & Community

Matching funds free volunteers

6 min read

Your dollars may count twice for the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA).

An anonymous donor is promising to match every dollar up to $250,000 contributed by faculty, staff, and students to PBHA’s Centennial Endowment Campaign. That includes money contributed through the Community Gifts Through Harvard Campaign 2000, which runs through the month of November.

Photo of Trevor Cox and Susan
Trevor Cox ’01, Student Centennial campaign chair at PBHA, and Susan Collings, director of development, talk about their upcoming fundraiser. Cox says, “The real message is that we want more time to volunteer. A successful endowment campaign will allow us to stabilize the organization’s finances and spend less volunteer time raising money in the years to come. It will really take the pressure off.” <i>Staff photo by Rose Lincoln</i>

The PBHA supports more than 70 community service programs serving nearly 10,000 people in the Boston and Cambridge area. It is the largest student-run public service organization of its kind in the country. Approximately 1,800 Harvard students participate in a variety of outreach efforts, ranging from after-school mentoring to environmental action to prisoner education. On average, they volunteer about 240,000 hours every year.

Organizers hope to raise $7.2 million during the three-year Centennial Endowment Campaign. Contributions are earmarked for PBHA’s permanent leadership, volunteer training, and innovative programming.

Harvard alumni who were active PBHA members during their undergraduate days are among those being encouraged to give. Alumni who designate their gift for the campaign can also receive class credits from the Harvard College Fund.

“I think it’s important that people recognize that PBHA is more than just a student activity at Harvard,” says Susan Collings, director of development at PBHA. “We are a nonprofit organization and we’ve been around for 100 years. This is our centennial and it’s a wonderful way to celebrate the PBHA student volunteers’ commitment to social justice by giving and collaborating with the communities of Boston and Cambridge.”

Employees can direct their contributions to the Centennial Campaign by marking the green pledge cards contained in the Community Gifts Through Harvard Campaign 2000 package distributed in early November. All cards must be returned by the end of the month.

“Reaching out to the Harvard professional staff and faculty and giving them the opportunity to support the students’ efforts is really a way of challenging them to get involved with this wonderful organization,” Collings says. She believes the $250,000 challenge grant will only increase the incentive for people to contribute.

With only about a third of its $1.5 million annual operational budget coming from Harvard, the PBHA is constantly raising money on its own. “Students have to spend a lot of time working at this,” Collings explains. “Whereas it is a wonderful experience for an undergraduate to learn how to raise money … it’s not something they necessarily chose to do while they’re here.”

“I’m here to volunteer, and it’s frustrating at times not having enough time to participate in more of the programs we run,” says Trevor Cox ’01, Student Centennial campaign chair. “The real message is that we want more time to volunteer. A successful endowment campaign will allow us to stabilize the organization’s finances and spend less volunteer time raising money in the years to come. It will really take the pressure off.”

Indeed, a top priority for the PBHA is funding professional staff positions to support the student-run organization while also expanding the range of services it offers to the community.

“The endowment is going to benefit all of the programs,” Cox explains, “not only through support for staff salaries and internships and scholarships for students, but also through seed money for new programs and support money for the existing Summer Urban Program, which are some of the most important but also the most expensive programs that we run.”

Cox, who began volunteering with Phillips Brooks House during his sophomore year, is actively involved in the Refugee Youth Term-Time Enrichment (RYTE) program that provides tutorial services for local immigrant high school students.

“Some students have been here for less than two months, and come here speaking very little English, so it really is a challenge,” Cox says. “It’s satisfying to see people picking up the skills they need and assimilating. It is also fulfilling for me and our tutors to learn about other cultures, and it really speaks to the challenges we’re all facing in terms of equality in this country and of making sure everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.”

The RYTE program is one of many that will benefit directly through the money contributed to the Centennial Endowment Campaign.

“We have a fleet of eight vans,” Collings explains. “They are very expensive to maintain and insure and to keep safe and reliable on the road. The Harvard students like to take teens in the refugee program home at night. They also like to provide safe transportation for field trips year-round so the kids can get out and get to know the city and the resources that are available. So one of the direct ways PBHA supports all the individual programs is being able to provide this fleet of vans, which is absolutely critical to the kind of programming that we offer.”

Collings also points to other pressing needs at PBHA, including training for volunteers. “It really is a different world than it was when somebody was here back in the ’40s or ’50s,” she says. “We have licensing requirements for summer camps. We need additional staff support to help the students. The students are wonderful leaders … but there are certain things that undergraduates need to learn, and the experience of a staff with an institutional memory that has worked in human services for a number of years can really assist them.”

A healthier endowment will allow the student volunteers to do what they do best.

“There are so many ideas out there,” Cox says. “We have a long tradition of student initiative and that’s what we’re all about. There are so many ideas out there and not enough money to implement them. So the best way the Harvard community and alumni can celebrate what we’re doing now is by helping ensure that we’ll be able to do similiar things in the future by providing this support.”

To make a donation to the Phillips Brooks House Association Endowment for Community Service, or any other charity, simply designate the charity on the green charity-of-my-choice pledge card contained in the Community Gifts Through Harvard package and return the card to your local keyperson.