Panel Pays Tribute to Harvard Square Homeless Shelter

The Harvard Square Homeless Shelter hosted a panel discussion Wednesday that focused on a College alumnus’ new book about the organization.

The book, “Shelter: Where Harvard Meets the Homeless,” was written by Scott C. Seider ’99, who volunteered at the shelter from 1995 to 1999 while he was an undergraduate.

Seider, who moderated the discussion, began the event by sharing his thoughts on how college-aged students are able to impact the lives of the homeless in a way no other demographic can.

“College is the peak period of optimism and idealism for students,” Seider said, explaining why he believes a shelter run by undergraduate students can be successful. “Students aren’t just patient with the guests—they’re enthusiastic.”

Recalling the help he received from the Homeless Shelter as one of its former guests, George Caponigro, echoed similar sentiments.

Caponigro said that part of the organization’s strength is the willingness of its student volunteers to connect with the shelter’s guests.At one point during his stay, he said, two undergraduates volunteering at the shelter asked him to write letters of recommendation for their post-college endeavors.

“That made me feel like I was worth something,” Caponigro said. “I owe so much to this place.”

According to Seider, working at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter—which, he said, is the only student-run homeless shelter in the nation—has a profound effect on the students who volunteer.

“It kind of ruins you for life,” said Reverend John H. Finley IV ’92 with a chuckle. “Once you realize what it feels like to be needed and useful, it’s hard to go back.”

Finley, who once volunteered at the shelter, continues working in a community-oriented capacity, having helped found a tuition-free private school in Dorchester for students hailing from disadvantaged communities.

The packed audience at the discussion included current and past volunteers.

Whitney W. Donaldson ’12, who has volunteered at the shelter for the past three years and is now a supervisor, spoke enthusiastically about her experience.

“It’s been one of the most important and impactful experiences I’ve had at school,” she said. “There is no other group on campus I would rather be involved with.”

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