When I first arrived at Harvard, I immersed myself in public service on campus, starting with the First-Year Urban Program. That exposed me to the many opportunities to help others that are available at Harvard, including the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA).
My first interaction with PBHA was through its Harvard Square Homeless Shelter as a resource advocate. I worked with guests at the shelter to connect them to housing, food, and documentation resources. The summer after my first year, I directed the Cambridge Youth Enrichment Program, a summer camp for 150 low-income youths. I soon grew more involved with the community, working with parents to start an after-school program in North Cambridge for many of those who had taken part in the summer program.
In the fall of 2007, PBHA’s Cambridge After School Program started with 10 kids and six volunteers, and it since has grown to 30 kids and 60 volunteers.
Since I realize that direct service is only one aspect of assisting, I became more involved with advocacy, working on education issues and with PBHA’s Student Labor Action Movement, which partners with Harvard workers (many of them from Cambridge) to advocate on issues involving wages and rights.
In my interactions with the Cambridge community, I’ve learned far more than I ever could give back. Entering my fourth year, I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work so fully with community members. Through these efforts, I realize that a life of service does not mean a certain number of hours worked, but rather is a lifestyle that one adopts in congruence with one’s ideas on how the world should be. I have grown to recognize how much I learn from the community work that I do and the complexity of issues facing the people I meet.
School-system issues affect homelessness and are affected in turn by the lack of resources for low-income families. Public service is a central aspect of my life now because I believe that everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status or other identity factors, deserves equal access to help and education.
For example, a child in our program, who entered as a second-grader, was one of our most difficult youths. Now, three years later, he models positive behavior for others. When I speak with his mother, she often praises our programs for not giving up on her child and for providing the year-round, multiyear relationships that she credits as transformative in her child’s development.
That story captures why I am excited that Geoffrey Canada will be the guest speaker and awardee at our third annual Robert Coles Call of Service Lecture. Canada emphasizes that, no matter the quality of a program, piecemeal solutions won’t do.
My service through PBHA has allowed me to understand better what I want to do with my life, and has affirmed my desire to work for educational equality. Geoffrey Canada’s work with the Harlem Children’s Zone is an excellent model for what I would like to do in the future.