Santa came to Harvard a little early last week (Dec. 13). He sat comfortably in a chair on the second floor of Phillips Brooks House, clad in his familiar bright red outfit with white trim, plus the less familiar, yet practical, Merrell hiking shoes. He was taking a brief break between meeting groups of eager children anxious for an early Christmas present.
The young excited crowd was part of the annual holiday party hosted at the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) that brings participants from their various mentoring programs around Boston and Cambridge to campus for a day of fun, foods, presents, and the chance to meet the jolly man himself (aka Steve Griffin, PBHA vehicles manager).
“It’s really important to have them get these gifts, and make them feel special,” said Valonda Harris ’09, the mentoring program group officer at PBHA who helped organize the event. “The day is really about them; it’s definitely their day.”
All of the gifts for the party as well as the snacks and treats for the day were provided by Harvard University Health Services.
A group of children with their student mentors from Harvard camped on a stairway landing, playing a freshly opened game of Chutes and Ladders. On the first floor, several children gathered around a table, festively decorating holiday cookies, while a collection of new teddy bears, scattered in various chairs, looked on. In a room across the hall from where Saint Nick was handing out personalized presents, 7-year-old Henry Huynh of Dorchester sat beside his mentor, carefully painting a paper snowman a deep shade of brown. He smiled a wide, toothy grin and nodded emphatically when asked if he was having fun, confirming that he was very happy with the cowboy-themed Legos Santa had just brought him.
The event was one of a host of outreach activities and programs taking place across campus as the holidays approach. The wide range of initiatives reveals that despite the hard economic climate, or perhaps because of it, the Harvard community is as committed as ever to helping those in need.
PBHA has a long tradition of helping others. Founded in 1900, the student-run organization is dedicated to social service and social action; each year, close to 2,000 volunteers participate in 79 community programs. In addition, for more than 14 years, PBHA has annually organized a holiday gift drive, collecting toys and other gifts from departments around the University that it distributes to various local organizations.
“I think it’s more important this year when many people in the community are really facing hard times,” said Executive Director Gene Corbin. “It’s amazing what a gift or a small gesture can do to bring encouragement to people. I am proud of the students and staff at Harvard for supporting this mission so strongly.”