From a neighborhood beautification project to curriculum development in Uganda, the second annual Global Day of Service on Aug. 30 brought together nearly 1,400 students and alumni who worked with 71 service opportunities.
Global Day of Service has evolved dramatically over the past two years, said Travis Lovett, assistant dean for Civic Engagement and Service. “We had to completely reimagine the program last year due to the pandemic,” he explained.
What had been a traditional service event for first-year orientation has become a large-scale international service day that offered volunteers the opportunity to apply their skills in everything from graphic design, to cause marketing, and even translation services.
The goal last year was to connect students to the Harvard community regardless of where they were physically in the world. To accomplish this, Lovett and his team reached out to the Harvard alumni network and found meaningful virtual volunteer opportunities around the topics of curriculum development, voter registration, and census outreach.
“What we found was that the types of service projects we offered were able to engage the students technically and allowed them to connect on a deeper level to some of society’s systemic issues,” said Lovett.
Buoyed by the success of last year’s program, alumni offered suggestions for an even broader range of volunteer projects this year. At the same time, with the campus reopening, Lovett wanted to build hands-on and social opportunities back into the day. All of this year’s virtual projects had dedicated classroom space in which to work so that team members could collaborate and socialize, and 29 service projects took place in-person in Cambridge and Boston.
One such in-person opportunity was with the Harvard Square Business Association, led by Executive Director Denise Jillson, who tapped student teams to help create business plans for locally owned shops in the Square; to develop a supply chain and volunteer support plan for the local community fridge; and to draft a historic walking tour brochure focused on women’s history.
“This year’s projects were truly helpful for us, and I believe they provided richer content for the students as well,” Jillson explained.
First-year student Daniella Suarez, who is from San Diego, was part of Harvard Square Business Association team. Her group created a community outreach plan and activity calendar for social programming on Palmer Street — an alley that sits between two Harvard Coop buildings. One concept the team was pursuing was to create a community coat closet similar to a community fridge already in the area, so that warm coats could be available for any individuals in need.
“I’ve personally never experienced a winter here, but from what I’ve heard it gets really cold, and this would be an opportunity for Harvard students to donate warm clothes for people who need them,” explained Suarez.
In Allston, another service team performed traditional clean-up work at the Gardner Pilot Academy, a pre-K through eighth grade Boston public school. The team trimmed bushes, painted picnic tables, and cleaned up the playground by removing weeds and laying new mulch. Many of the students saw their work as a chance to integrate into the local community, and to gain a better sense of place.
“I’m new to Boston and don’t know all of the neighborhoods, so doing something like this actually helps me make that connection and that transition to college life,” explained Min Ko Ko, a first-year student from Houston.
The teams also saw the day as a chance to learn about future volunteer opportunities. Tahj Johnson, a first-year student from New Orleans hopes his work at the Gardner Pilot Academy will extend to more direct work with youth through mentoring. “I love my local community in New Orleans and I developed a passion for community service there, so I thought that I should extend that work into Boston and expand my passion. I want to do a lot of mentorship, particularly with people of color while I’m here,” explained Johnson.
The day went beyond the project work, with the afternoon including opportunities for alumni mentoring, voter registration outreach and community conversations.
“We were very intentional about connecting this back to community conversations, which were focused on inclusion and belonging. We wanted to do that because we feel that service is part of a broader perspective of community mindedness,” noted Lovett. In addition to connecting with alumni and community partners, the event also engaged 20 separate departments across the University.
“This event truly demonstrates the One Harvard vision. Just being able to harness so many ideas and so much energy across the university has transformed what we’ve been able to do with this day,” said Lovett.