The atmosphere was cheerful and upbeat as volunteers, young and old, from Harvard and beyond, gathered on a bright autumn morning last Saturday (Sept. 29) for what organizers and University officials hope will be the first in a long tradition of an annual University-wide Day of Service.
Under a large tent adjacent to the Science Center, students, alumni, and staff munched on doughnuts and sipped coffee at the event’s kickoff breakfast as Harvard President Drew Faust thanked them for their participation and welcomed the day as a chance for Harvard to unite and further its commitment to public service and community involvement.
“In the shared commitment to service, you unite the University and you establish bridges as students and as active volunteers that will have an influence well beyond the service activities in which you are today engaged. You help show us what we can accomplish when we as a university unite together in a common purpose.”
Faust said she considered it part of Harvard’s responsibility to give back and use its resources for the betterment of the world, and hoped the day would spark a new generation of students dedicated to public service careers.
“I hope the day of service will grow into a very strong tradition and that it will have a broadening reach both within Harvard, within this community, and across the world. I also hope that those of you who are undertaking service activities for the first time at Harvard find it so rewarding today that it becomes a part of your lives, and that you remind us all how much it’s a part of the life of a university.”
An entirely student-led initiative, the event was co-chaired by the Harvard Graduate Council, the Harvard Undergraduate Council, and the Phillips Brooks House Association. The initiative was the brainchild of Crystal Fleming, a doctoral student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), and Jason Rafferty, a student at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the vice president of Graduate & Professional Student Advocacy for the Harvard Graduate Council. The two attended an annual Ivy League summit last year where they discussed the idea of a day of service that would unite the University around a common goal. After 10 months of preparation, more than 400 volunteers branched out around the state Saturday to paint, clean, serve meals, build homes, work with children, aid the homeless, and get to know the issues and concerns of the surrounding communities.
With the help of the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), which identified areas of outreach and coordinated the service sites for the day, the event partnered with 28 organizations from around Greater Boston.
“This event really coincides with the PBHA mission of fostering student leadership and getting students involved in [the service] community at Harvard and beyond Harvard,” said PBHA President Angelico Razon, a member of the planning committee.
Volunteers saw the day as a chance to meet and connect with other members of the University, an opportunity to become familiar with their environs, and, above all, a chance to help others.
“I was very excited to see Harvard was doing something like this; it’s a very important thing for universities … to show their faces in town and get to know the citizens of the community —especially those who need help,” said Shane Dunn, a program assistant at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study who helped organize a similar event at his alma mater, Cornell University. “Community outreach is equally as important as the educational mission or educational outreach of the university.”
For a group of Harvard Business School students who donned working gloves, grabbed plastic bags, and helped clean up the 12-acre Ringer Park in Allston, the day allowed them to be part of a bigger picture.
“Often as a student you are kind of just worried about the classes,” said HBS student Ellen Lee. “It’s nice to be a larger part of the community than just the Business School.”
Allston community members welcomed the Harvard-sponsored help.
“This is a positive thing for Harvard,” said Valarie Lima, president of the Friends of Ringer Park board of directors. “It shows concern about the community and a commitment to be involved.”
Across town, another group of volunteers was busy harvesting green beans at a garden in Dorchester run by The Food Project, which fights hunger through community-based farming sites.
Stephanie Hanson, an HMS student, said she was glad to be part of the event as she took a break from the sun in the shade of a tree.
“It’s a great introduction to a lot of the service projects around Boston.”
The event was followed by two panel discussions at the Science Center with University officials and members of the community on Monday (Oct. 1) to discuss the overall meaning of service how it fits into the mission of the University.