Community Service

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If you’ve taken a look at my short biography on the “Meet Your Bloggers” page, you’ll know that I’m a member of the Crimson Key Society.  The Crimson Key Society (Key for short) serves the Harvard Community by leading tours, helping with large events, and by through a service program called TEACH.   Adding to the tradition of service, I volunteered to spend the day working on a Habitat for Humanity house in Boston with a group from Key.  Here’s the general deal: Harvard has its own Habitat for Humanity house that a bunch of different student groups have been contributing to over time, and the Crimson Key Society decided to get in on the action.  It was such a great experience, and I can’t help but share it with all of you.

It was a really refreshing change from my typical Lazy Sunday.   Key is full of outgoing and exciting individuals, so I knew that I was in for a good time.  We all decided ahead of time that if we were working with power tools, we needed to look the part.  With that in mind, we assigned a “lumberjack” theme to the outing.  It was a fun little spin on the day.  We all came out in flannel and jeans, ready to get some serious construction done.

After a brief orientation, and a few words of caution, we were let loose on the house.  Even though I had signed up to participate in the build, I hadn’t really given much thought to the fact that I would be expected to perform manual labor.  The experience taught me that I have absolutely no future in construction work.  In fact, I can confidently cross it off my list of potential careers.  Regardless of my inability to properly wield a hammer, it was a FANTASTIC day.

Everyone having fun during a work break.

The obligatory post-build photo shoot.

My team worked on placing the siding onto the house, so we were up on rafters most of the time.  It was so scary! There were a couple of moments that really had me frightened, but it at the same time it was kind of great to overcome my minor fear of heights.  We were responsible for measuring, cutting, and placing the panels on the house.  Like I said, I am no handy-woman, but there is something to be said about getting to see the physical results of your labor.  Each time I successfully hammered a nail into a panel this ridiculous feeling of pride came over me.

Separate from the service part of the trip, it was really nice to be able to spend more time with the people I love from Key.  It felt more like a social event, than work.  When it was time to hand up our tool belts, I didn’t want to leave.  Working on the Habitat house was a nice change of pace for me, because I don’t usually take the time to venture into Boston.  It’s too easy to get caught inside the Harvard Bubble, so I know that I would love to do something like this again in the future.  Hopefully Key will do it again, and I can update everyone on the status of the house!

The group of volunteers from Crimson Key Society, as well as volunteers from Habitat for Humanity.

The crew after at the end of the day. All smiles!


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Carolyn Chou, sophomore, Pfoho, Sociology
PBHA Afterschool Program Group Officer

Hi, my name is Carolyn Chou and I am a sophomore from Lower Merion, Pennsylvania.

When I arrived at Harvard the fall of my freshman year, I expected to do some community service, but I did not expect public service to become the largest component of my first year. After participating in the First Year Urban Program (FUP) before orientation, I realized how important it was to me to prioritize service during the year. I learned about the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) and found out about the countless service programs run through the organization.

When I walked in to the Phillips Brooks House (the home of PBHA) for the first open house, I didn’t expect to become so involved so quickly. The open house was overwhelming (PBHA runs over 85 programs!) and I didn’t even know where to start. However, after talking to different people, I decided to get involved with a few programs that work with recent immigrant youth and gender issues. I now participate in both mentoring and tutoring programs, and I love working with kids of all different ages and both teaching them and learning from them.

PBHA is an amazing organization on campus; it is a student-run nonprofit that works in many different communities in Boston and Cambridge and has programs focusing on all kinds of different services from afterschool programs to environmental advocacy programs to teen mentoring programs to spring break trips (I got to go to the Mississippi Delta on one of these trips last year!), PBHA really has a program for anything you could be passionate about.

PBHA has provided me with an outlet to both do service work and think and talk about what that service work means to me and how to do it most effectively. PBHA has really pushed me to think critically about my role in service work and has supported me in really thinking about the work I am doing. Because of this, I decided I wanted to get more involved with the organization, so I ran to be an officer at the end of my first semester. It has been another really rewarding experience so far!

Along with becoming an officer, I also became a director of a tutoring program with recent immigrant and refugee youth in Boston. Being a director means that I help coordinate the program and make sure everything is running smoothly. I love getting to get off campus and explore a new part of the city while working with kids and other volunteers. Directing has taught me a lot about running a program so far, and while it’s been a lot of work, it has been really valuable.

For example, we had a field trip for our students one weekend, and it was so much fun! We brought them to campus to watch the Harvard men’s lacrosse team play Dartmouth. It was sunny but cold so, after the game, we made hot chocolate and played soccer together. All of the volunteers and the kids had a great time, and it was nice to bring the kids to our home and show them around!

Hanging out at the lacrosse game during our field trip with Elizabeth and Tai.

PBHA has been a huge part of my time at Harvard so far, and it has been a great way to make friends who share my passions, explore Boston and meet people outside of Harvard, and work toward social justice.

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