UA Community Service

UA Launches Community
Service Committee

UA Launches Community Service Committee

When Kelly Barton ‘19 first came to MIT, she was inspired by the passion her fellow students had for their extracurricular clubs and groups but was disappointed to learn there was no student-run group focused on helping students to explore a variety of smaller service projects in their free time. “It seemed like the community was in such different ‘pods’. People really love what they do and are passionate about their projects but that can be very isolating. I wanted to get involved to change that and community service seemed to be the perfect way to bring people together,” said Barton.

After joining the Undergraduate Association and finding that several of her fellow representatives shared her feelings on the matter, they approached then-UA president Sophia Liu about forming a UA committee dedicated to getting the MIT community involved in service. “She was surprised we didn’t already have a community service committee and since what we wanted to do didn’t fit any of the current committees, we got approval to create something new. Barton, along with co-chair Joaquin Giraldo Laguna and vice-chair Bamlak Gessessew ‘20 wrote bylaws and recruited members to form the UA’s community service committee. " I think that service and volunteering is the easiest and best way to break the bubble," said Giraldo Laguna". "I think that exposing yourself to the perspectives of those in need is something necessary to develop as a student."

The committee currently has several targeted tasks, including growing their membership and gathering and sharing service opportunities. Their larger aims are more ambitious. “Our main goals are to inspire community between MIT and the Cambridge area and also community within MIT,” said Barton. “With the external community, we want to make sure MIT students recognize the area we’re in and raise awareness about the impact that MIT has on the Cambridge community--for better or for worse. On the internal side, we want to inspire students to reach out with no “brand” attached other than MIT. Lots of clubs and groups on campus do community service, but we want to plan opportunities that are accessible to the whole student community. The long-term goal is to really encourage students to make community service and involvement, whatever social action that they take, a part of their life after they leave at MIT.”

Committee officers have been reaching out to local nonprofits to introduce their group and hear about each organization’s needs. Some organizations indicated that partnering with large groups like those assembled for City Days can be difficult to accommodate but that they were eager to have support for specific needs. “After doing some outreach, we realized we would need to make it a much more individualized program. For example, the Margaret Fuller House may say ‘we need a single person to help carry boxes on Wednesday afternoon,’ and we would like to help make that connection with someone at MIT,” said Barton. As rewarding as helping others may be, the committee’s officers want to ensure participating students know the agencies they serve are the top priority. “We want students to realize that when they’re going [to do service work] they are going 100% as aids and not as a burden. There is a fine line between doing community service for yourself and actually helping where you’re going.”

Though this measured approach has delayed some service projects from getting off the ground right away, the committee is determined to make sure participants are well-informed and trained before going out into the community. As they get started, committee officers are working closely with staff from the PKG Center to review best practices and engage in training. “Sarah [Borchard] helped us with training members of the committee focusing on logistics. She gave them so many resources on how you have to reach out, which waivers you need, and reviewed other things that as a new committee we wouldn’t think of or it would take a lot of time to put together,” said Barton.

Eventually, the committee will be segmented into three areas: logistics, outreach, and reflections, but as they work to get up-and-running, all members are working together. Students who are interested in getting involved are encouraged to reach out to the committee officers ( “We’re always looking for more dorm representatives and we’ll have to refresh that group every year because we do have some seniors. The more that logistics ramp up, the more help we’re going to need. The goal is that this becomes a very multi-faceted group that works with branching between groups that already exist, like Next House Service, and seeing how people can help eachother out internally,” said Barton.

No matter how students end up getting involved with the committee, Barton believes every student has something to offer. “It’s been really interesting working with Bamlak and Joaquin and seeing how so many students interpret ‘community service’ in different ways,” she said. “I think our community has the opportunity to bring students together to do something really powerful. MIT students have a different air of being so humble and wanting to help people to make the world a better place with no gain for themselves and we want to give MIT students the opportunity to do that in whatever form that takes.”