Harvard Donates to Boston Summer Programs

BOSTON—Dressed in the crimson and black warm-up uniform of the Harvard tennis team and toting his racket under one arm, University President Lawrence H. Summers joined Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino on a Roxbury tennis court Wednesday morning to celebrate successful summer programs for the city’s youth.

The short ceremony at Carter Playground culminated in Summers’ presentation of a poster-sized $475,000 Harvard check to the city of Boston in support of the Boston Youth Fund and the Harvard After School Initiative (HASI), a group of 16 organizations offering educational programs for local youth. The event—which featured brief speeches from Summers and Menino—centered on Tenacity, an after-school and summer program combining free tennis lessons with reading-skill development.

Both leaders emphasized that the event reflected a successful collaboration between the city and the University on support for local youth—even though the ceremony came in the wake of tense land disputes between Harvard and Boston.

“You have to separate the issues,” Menino said, explaining that he respects Harvard’s efforts to help the city’s young people. “There will be some rough spots, but Larry and I are committed to moving forward.”

Standing at a podium positioned in the middle of the tennis courts and shouting over an occasional whistle from the nearby train line, Summers lauded Menino—whom he called “my friend, the mayor of Boston”—for his leadership.

“The universities in this city have a great partner in Mayor Menino,” he said, “and the people of this city have a great leader in Mayor Menino.”

$225,000 of Harvard’s most recent donation will go directly to HASI while the remaining $250,000 will support the Boston Youth Fund, a federally initiated nonprofit organization that provides Boston young people with a variety of summer jobs on city beautification projects.

The University’s grants—the third round of donations it has provided—support the city’s summer programs in the wake of fiscal cutbacks. HASI organizations encompass more than 4,300 students, while the Youth Fund supported 240 young people this summer.

Summers spent most of his time at the podium addressing young people from the Tenacity program, about 50 of whom were seated in rows on the surface of the court and in the nearby bleachers.

“Look at the way he’s dressed,” Kevin McCluskey, Harvard’s Director of Community for Boston, told the young tennis players as he introduced the University president. “Which sport do you think he plays?”

“Basketball?” shouted one child.

“Golf!” another cried confidently.

Summers made a few notes on the backhand grip and then discussed the Harvard tennis team’s success last season.

“The players work very hard, practice very hard, and study very hard,” he told the young tennis players. He expressed his hope that some of them would one day join Harvard’s team.

“Today, we are all here to say we will invest in young people’s future,” Menino told the assembled group of youths and organizers from the 16 HASI programs. “I want to thank President Larry Summers and Harvard for really stepping up to the plate to help our summer programs.”

Menino emphasized that Boston’s summers programs for youths of different economic backgrounds were among the very strongest in the country.

Shortly after Summers presented the grant to Menino, each Tenacity student received a paperback copy of Louis Sachar’s Newbery Medal-winning Holes as a gift from Harvard. The students broke into three groups and moved from the tennis court to the shade of nearby trees as it began to drizzle.

Sitting in two folding chairs near the edge of a baseball diamond, Menino and Summers took turns reading the beginning of the book to a group of seated children. Soon they forfeited their seats to student readers.

Then Summers took to the tennis court once more. He and his daughter Ruth volleyed with Yamira Lacey, who is enrolled in Tenacity, and Roland Abichaken, a past participant who now works for the program.

“I think there’s always been a good relationship between Harvard and the city and this reflects a continued strengthening of that relationship,” McCluskey said of the day’s events.

Still, Menino suggested that the relationship between Mass. Hall and City Hall is not yet pristine as he joked with the assembled crowd at the end of his address.

“I thank Larry Summers and Harvard for being part of our city,” he said. “And they are part of the city—they own more land in Boston than they do in Cambridge.”

—Staff writer Nathan J. Heller can be reached at heller@fas.harvard.edu.