So one topic that I’m kinda shocked I haven’t discussed yet on this blog is my involvement with the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), especially since it’s a BIG part of my life on campus!
The Phillips Brooks House is an umbrella organization at Harvard that supports 86 volunteer programs (now 87 with the inclusion of a new program aimed at helping Alzheimer’s patients) in the Cambridge and Boston areas. We pride ourselves in the diversity of both our constituents and our volunteers, meaning its all one big family devoted to public service and social justice!
I became involved in PBHA the October of my freshman year when I signed up to participate in Elderly 1-2-1, a program that pairs up student volunteers with senior citizens in the Cambridge area and supports them in fostering friendships! Basically that is just a more official way of saying we visit senior citizens in the area and talk to them, read to them, walk with them, and generally hang out with them. It’s really fun and has been something that has made a HUGE impact on my Harvard experience.
Starting the second semester of my freshman year, I took over as Director of Elderly 1-2-1, which has been a BIG job but super rewarding! Nothing makes me happier than when I go on our introduction trips and witness a volunteer’s first meeting with his/her participant! In what other venue would I get to witness the start of long-lasting friendships over and over again?
As the director of Elderly 1-2-1, I have responsibilities including recruiting both student volunteers and community participants, maintaining relationships with social workers and other community organizations that have similar goals, arranging volunteer-participant pairs, evaluating the effectiveness of our program, leading meetings and reflections, and basically staying on top of things. It’s really an exercise of human relations and organization.
In addition to the responsibilities I have to running the Elderly 1-2-1 program, I also have responsibilities to the greater PBHA organization. To that end, I go to Cabinet meetings once a month (a gathering of all of the directors) to go over mission statements, vote on important decisions, and learn how to better lead my program. I also participate in fundraising campaigns like the Phone-a-thon, interviews of officers, cleaning efforts of the Phillips Brooks House (yes, we are actually housed in a house – it’s in the Yard and is super gorgeous), and much more!
A few weeks ago, Cabinet met to elect our new PBHA student officers – those that make everything PBHA does for the community possible. After a lot of thought and consideration, I decided to run for Programming Co-Chair – one of the two people that makes sure that all of the programming in PBHA (meaning all of PBHA’s community efforts) runs smoothly! And guess what? I WON!!!! That’s right, you are now reading the blog of Kate Meakem, Programming Co-Chair of PBHA. It’s a huge job, but I feel ready to take on the challenge! So be ready for MANY more posts on the workings of PBHA, because starting next semester, it will be by far my largest extracurricular activity.
But this post has two parts to it – the first to tell you about the marvelous-ness of PBHA and my involvement in it, and the second to talk about finding my “place.”
I think a large part of my college experience thus far has been finding my “place” or identity on campus. When I was in high school, it was easy for me to identify myself to people – “Hey, my name is Kate Meakem, and I am the oldest of five kids” or “…the Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook” or “… a smart student working really hard to get into college.” I felt like I was passionate about my activities as was indicative of the amount of time I devoted to them.
Since coming to Harvard, a lot of me has felt sort of lost. A big question I’ve been asking myself has been, “Do I know who I am if I don’t have a defining activity that I’m passionate about?” So far I’ve been all over the place in my extracurricular involvement – PBHA, Kappa Alpha Theta, blogging, Women in Business, working at Lamont Café, acting in plays – and up until now, no one thing had taken me captive.
And I think that’s all part of the growing experience of college, or really any major transitional period in life. For me, the answer was running for an officer position in PBHA because in my mind there is no greater way to spend time than to try and better the world we live in. But I also know other sophomores who are finding their niches in their social organizations, their houses, the Crimson, the Institute of Politics, or any other number of activities.
The answer that experts would probably give to my above question – Can I know myself without a major activity to define me? – is probably a resounding no. And I would agree with them. I certainly know important things about who I am outside of what I do. But what we do is really important in shaping our self-conceptions and the way other people view us. So I guess it has to be at least kind of important, right?
Obviously, I’m still trying to sort all of this out, but I am really pumped to be joining the PBHA Officer Team. If we really are what we do, I can think of no better person I’d like to be or any better thing I’d like to do.
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