Those Who Lend a HAND
"Every house director will remember the first group they worked with," says William H. Gump '85-86, director of the Public Service Program. "Mine was Tutoring Plus in the basement of a burned-out building. I thought it was the greatest thing. I'll always hold an affinity for that group. I'm still planning on marrying Marisol Colon who's nine years old now. She was five when we met."
Gump also remembers teaching in a wrestling program at Margaret Fuller House. "I spent the time trying to convince the students that Olympic-style wrestling was real and not what they saw on TV. They wanted to jump off ropes and hit people on the head. Once a kid got up on a chair, grabbed me, and pointed at me while he looked me in the eyes and says, 'Some day you're going to call me macho.'"
Maybe it is because experiences like these are part of the Public Service Program that an increasing number of students are getting involved. Gump expects more than 500 students to participate in this year's programs. "Last year was good. This year's amazing," he says.
The program operates the House and Neighborhood Development (HAND) programs, the Harvard Outdoor Program (HOP), where volunteers take Cambridge children on field trips on the weekend, and the Freshman Week Urban Program, where incoming freshmen come to the city and work in urban projects.
Through the program's primary program, HAND, each of Harvard's houses, except Dudley, is linked to one Cambridge neighborhood. The houses provide students for the neighborhoods' after-school programs, coaching, day care, tutoring, aid for the elderly and other social programs.
In this effort the houses develop close relationships with their neighborhoods. "When the Robert Neighborhood plays the Peabody Neighborhood in floor hockey, it's also Quincy House playing Cabot House," HAND Coordinator for Cabot House Eliot C. Heher '85-'86 says.
The competition also helps attract increased student participation. Levrett has traditionally had low participation, but this year 66 students showed up at the orientation meeting, Gump says. "Leverett is rolling now because they won the Floor Hockey League last year," he explains.
Another mainstay of the HAND program is the after-school programs. The Peabody Neighborhood, linked to Cabot House, alone runs classes five days a week in gymnastics, jazz, embroidery, Spanish, piano, cooking, science, Dungeons and Dragons, computer games, and more.
Many of these classes have 15 or 20 screaming kids ranging from ages three to 13 with one teacher and desperately need one or two volunteers to help, Heher says.
"I'll go help with an after-school science class and while half of the class is looking at things under the microscope with the teacher, I'll take the other half outside to find things to look at. And then they'll switch," Heher says.
Meanwhile, in an "All That Jazz" class at Peabody School, Cabot House resident Gigi M. Dopico '86 helps the dance instructor control a dozen three-to 13-year-olds on a particularly rowdy Friday afternoon. While the teacher shows the kids how to "roll-slap-clap-slap-roll" to the tune of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," Dopico is busy one minute consoling a girl with a sore throat who can't dance, but who can run all around the auditorium, the next minute jumping around on stage, helping the smallest girl in the class remember when to clap and when to roll.
During clay class, the teacher, along with Cabot House Resident Laura R. West '86, helps 13 students design everything from a play gun and a helicopter to a pet turtle.
West helped soon-to-be nine-year-old Margaret Randolph make a turtle for her uncle. Thanks to Laura, Margaret says, "It was fun and it wasn't boring. I thought it was going to turn out like a sloppy nothing and it didn't." But, more importantly, "Laura is fun because she plays with us. We have a lot of fun together," adds Margaret, who also showed up later that week in the jazz class.
"Without the Harvard volunteers, we couldn't be doing the program in this way. I can't send one teacher alone with 12 kids and have them set up, clean up and give attention to all those kids--especially when half of them don't speak English and half of them are naughty," Ryan says.
Each volunteer, like Gump, also has a collection of favorite moments and anecdotes.
Heher recalls when a group of Peabody students came to Cabot for a Spring Day program. "One girl came up to my roommate who was wearing boxer shorts under his pants. She asked him if he had underwear under his pants. He says 'yes.' And she says giggling 'I saw it,' and ran away."
And each student also has an individual reason for becoming involved in the program.
"I'm selfish. I like to get away from Harvard for a little while every week and this is a way. Otherwise, you can start to feel like you're living in an ivory tower," HAND Coordinator for Kirkland House Amy L. Rosenberg '86 says.
"The most special feeling is when the kids get off the bus and come into Kirkland House and they recognize you," Rosenberg says.
"I'm trying to make a little difference in the Cambridge community," Margot B. Kushel '89 says. Kushel works in a Big Brother/Big Sister program for the emotionally disturbed through the Freshman Volunteer Program. "It's rewarding working with the emotionally disturbed. The kids in general benefit by having a stable figure in their life--by having someone there to help them."
"People can get so wrapped up in school. This helps to bring them back to earth," HAND Coordinator for Adams House Jill K. Vialet '86 says. "It's a lot of fun. And it's what I like to do."
Vialet, along with Mimi Winsberg '86, also directs the Harvard Outdoor Program, a Saturday program that takes kids from the inner city outdoors. Past programs have included biking at a state park, going on a ropes course, ice-skating, and climbing Mount Monadnock.
As part of the HAND program, many of the houses also run special parties during Christmas and Easter to bring children into the house. This year the program, with the help of more than 150 freshman, sponsored a huge Halloween in the Yard. More than 300 Cambridge children showed up for the event.
"I'll never forget the Easter party the first year when we let loose 400 kids in the Yard with eggs hidden all over. People were walking through the Yard, standing around in awe watching the kids. And Wayne Meisel '82, one of the program's original directors, was hopping around in a bunny suit going up to President Bok," Vialet says.
And with that many kids wandering around, Vialet says, "You can't get too much of public service."