Harvard first year student standing in front of student artwork on wall.

Incoming first-year Harvard student Ezra Feder is working at the Artists For Humanity (AFH) in South Boston this summer, a program that challenges young people to effect social change through the creative process.

Photos by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

A summer of helping

Program for incoming first-years offers an opportunity to sample public service

4 min read

Plan an art show with no budget. As a summer volunteer. In less than six weeks.

That was Ezra Feder’s assignment when he started in July at Artists For Humanity (AFH) in Boston, a nonprofit that provides paid employment in art and design to lower-income teens in the city.

Working 80 hours over five weeks, Feder ’23, an incoming first-year Harvard student, single-handedly organized and promoted AFH’s Summer Exhibition, slated for Aug. 22 at the AFH EpiCenter in South Boston. He found event sponsors, solicited donations for refreshments, and exercised community outreach across the city to spread the word about the exhibition, which is an opportunity for AFH’s artists to display and sell their work to gallery visitors.

As photography mentor Mary Nguyen (center) looks on, Molly Keenan of South Boston shows Feder her black-and-white print of a carousel. Feder is organizing the exhibition in which Keenan’s work, along with that of other AFH participants, will be for sale.
Feder and his supervisor, Courtney Ford, discuss exhibition options as they survey the space where the works of nearly 200 Boston-area teenagers will be featured.

“It was really terrific meeting and working with the artists because they’re such an exuberant and creative group,” said Feder, a native of Sharon, Mass. “This kind of work requires a lot of teamwork from the artists and the administrative staff, and that’s something that’s really impressive to see in action. I hope to keep that impression with me as I move forward.”

Feder came by this venture into public service as a participant in Harvard’s new Service Starts with Summer Program (3SP) for incoming first-year students. The program calls for participants to commit to giving at least 100 hours to a community project in or near their hometowns during the summer before starting school. Feder devoted 80 hours to direct service and 20 to professional development activities, including webinars, cohort meetings, and a day of service on campus. Typically, participants work with nonprofits and are unpaid, so they are eligible to receive a $1,500 stipend from 3SP.

Feder and Ford (right) watch while Elaine Chung (center), graphic design mentor at AFH, arranges some of the Moleskin notebook covers designed and printed by the young artisans.

Student walking through easels in an art room.
Besides painting the artists work in video, animation, photography, and graphic design.

Feder reached out to AFH for a volunteer placement on the recommendation of a sibling who had volunteered there in the past, and was quickly drawn to the organization’s mission to help young artists gain self-sufficiency skills, career training, and educational assistance.

The AFH artists work in a variety of media, including video, animation, photography, painting, and graphic design. They get support from mentors in their chosen fields to learn technical and business skills specific to their interests. AFH has sold or leased pieces to big clients including John Hancock, Nixon Peabody, Champion, and the Massachusetts Port Authority.

“There is a term in Hebrew, tikkun olam, which means to ‘repair the world,’ not just to help yourself but to help others,” said Feder. “That’s always been a significant value in my life, and it’s a natural extension of that value to participate in 3SP and to continue doing community service at Harvard.”

Artist Ashanti Dejesus (right) points out some of the details of her nighttime cityscape to Feder and mentor Jameel Radcliffe (center).

Back at his desk, Feder trades ideas with Lauren Pellerano Gomez, communications director at AFH. Feder reached out to AFH because he was drawn to its mission of helping young artists gain self-sufficiency skills, career training, and educational assistance.

Feder starts his commute home after a day at the program.